Growing up in Warren County, Ga., she watched her mother and grandmother can blackberry jelly.
“My earliest memory was 4 years old,” English said. “We would go to people who had blackberry bushes, and we would pick blackberries.”
Her father had a strawberry patch in the backyard, and they froze strawberries, too. As a teenager, she learned about canning in home economics classes in high school, and she continued learning about the technique in college when she majored in home economics.
Today, English still cans jams and preserves for Christmas and birthday presents, and she freezes fruits and vegetables from the farmer’s market. As a family consumer science agent for the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension in Augusta-Richmond County, she teaches people about canning, freezing and other food-preservation techniques.
“Canning is not a dying art,” English said. “It is becoming very popular to can … because food prices are going up and people are growing their own fresh produce. And (people shop) the farmer’s markets that are so prevalent around here.”
There’s an initial investment for canning equipment, canning jars and other supplies, but people can save money with food preservation over time.
Food preservation has changed since the days of her mother and grandmother, English said.
“What our grandmothers and mothers used to do, sometimes we no longer recommend,” English said. “Research has found that the environment has changed, and bacteria and viruses have changed. Another reason is that back then, you ate that food soon.”
Research indicates that mold growth on fruit might not always be as harmless as believed in the past, according to materials from UGA’s Cooperative Extension. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Cooperative Extension endorse a boiling-water canning process for jams and jellies, which minimizes the potential for mold spoilage.
Also, paraffin or wax sealing of jars is no longer considered an acceptable choice for any sweet spread, including jellies. Any pinholes, shrinkage or cracks in the wax or paraffin allow airborne molds to contaminate and grow on the product.
In addition, leaks or holes in the paraffin can allow product to seep out during storage. The seepage will provide nutrients for molds to grow on the surface and enter the jam or jelly in the jar, according to UGA’s Cooperative Extension.
Jan and Tom Adkins, of Evans, started canning after having a successful harvest in their raised garden beds last summer.
“I’m a novice at this,” Jan Adkins said. “All of a sudden, you start having all this produce come in, and you’re thinking, ‘What are we going to do with this?’ You give away as much as you can, but you’ve still got more. I didn’t want it to go to waste.”
Adkins decided to enroll in English’s food-preservation class, which introduced her to canning. Her family didn’t have a garden growing up, so she never learned about it.
“I think that’s where part of my apprehension was, that I had not grown up being around canning or preserving in any way. It (the class) gave me the steps and the confidence to try it,” she said.
Adkins has canned basil jelly and frozen zucchini and squash.
“When you have success, it kind of makes you want to try some more things. One thing I have not done is can some tomatoes, and that’s the next thing on the list,” she said.