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Anyone who has canned before knows that canning is all about abundance. You can't can just one jar of tomato sauce.
Wait, let's rephrase that: You could, technically. But why would you want to? You buy all that gear, you heat up several gallons of water in a water bath canner ... You wouldn't go to that trouble and expense for one measly jar of something.
So you truck in a whole bushel or two of tomatoes or peaches and have at it. You spend a whole day slicing cucumbers and onions for bread-and-butter pickles, or wash and hull several quarts of strawberries for jam.
For people who have "day jobs," it's just not practical to can more than a few items in a typical season.
Chelsea Burket of North Point Breeze is one such person. The director of sustainable communities for Fourth Economy Consulting on the North Side, she grew up in a family of food preservationists but didn't really start canning on her own until she was grown and of the house. She and her fiance, Gabe Tilove, coordinator of adult education at Phipps Conservatory, are now "very utilitarian canners" -- they haul in bushels of produce and can plain tomatoes or plain peaches, for instance.
But "by February we're getting sick of" the 40 quarts of canned tomatoes, Mr. Tilove said. So they wanted a vehicle where they could swap some goods with other canners. It's a good way for canners not only to diversify their shelves but also to find out what they like before canning an entire batch of it.
However, the couple didn't really find a local vehicle for swapping. So they decided to create their own.
"The Pittsburgh Canning Exchange" was born back in February, when they brainstormed with friends Sara Blumenstein and Rob Burrow of Bloomfield.
They thought of not only a canning swap but also "canning parties" that would be held in home kitchens and community kitchens. Novice and experienced canners could collaborate, and everybody could go home with some of the fruits of their labors.
"To make a swap successful, we knew we needed to expand the community of canners," Ms. Burket said.
They applied for -- and won -- a Sprout Seed Award (sproutfund.org) to help them get up and running.
Thus far, they've held two canning parties: one in a home kitchen where they made dilly beans and one in a community kitchen where they made salsa (see recipe).
Two more home canning parties are scheduled this season on Sept. 21 in O'Hara (pickled peppers) and Oct. 13 in Monroeville (applesauce and apple butter). An end-of-season swap is scheduled for Nov. 3 (location TBA).
Teaching and learning canning are not the group's only goals.
"As excited as we are about promoting the art and science of canning, we also want to promote local agriculture," Mr. Tilove said. "There are a lot of young organic farmers in the area, and we want to help the sustainable agriculture community."
Also, Ms. Burket noted that canning is a good way to "connect diverse audiences." At an informational table at a community event, they met a Goth teen and other people of all cultures, races and ages who expressed interest.
Meeting in someone's home kitchen seemed like a good way to "lower the barrier" and create a less formal environment than a class.
"Some people are interested in canning, but they're a little bit nervous," Mr. Tilove said. A home canning party allows them to work with "people who are experienced."
And while Mr. Tilove and Ms. Burket are experienced, they acknowledge they're not experts, and they're likely to be shown up by some of the folks who come to their canning parties. Ms. Blumenstein, who works for CityLAB, and Mr. Burrow, a freelance subdeveloper, are even less experienced. They enjoy gardening and other types of food preservation, but they're learning to can right alongside the people who attend their parties.
The Pittsburgh Canning Exchange's e-mail list is already up to 150, and despite its newness, registrations are beginning to trickle in for the remaining events this season.
Next year, the group will offer even more events. A fund-raising event in the spring will probably focus on strawberries or rhubarb, the first local fruits of the season. And Mr. Burrow, the group's web designer, is building a trading app that should be ready in time for next summer. The app will allow canners to create profiles and upload information about what they're canning. Canners will be able to arrange trades online and show up at the end-of-season swap "with a dance card already filled out," Ms. Burket said.
For more information or to register for upcoming canning parties, go to canningexchange.org.
An Oregon Cottage's Favorite Salsa
7 cups chopped, cored, peeled tomatoes (if using a food processor, no need to peel)
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped green peppers (Anaheim, ancho or red/yellow sweet)
8 jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped (don't forget the gloves!)
3 cloves garlic, minced
6-ounce can tomato paste
3/4 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 teaspoons pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons dry oregano
1 to 2 teaspoons cayenne powder, to taste
In a large stainless steel stockpot, combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly to prevent scorching.
Reduce heat and boil gently until thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir often to prevent burning.
Prepare canner, jars and lids.
Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe rim and attach lids.
Place jars in canner, covering with water by at least 1 inch, and bring to a boil. Process for 20 minutes, remove canner lid and let sit for 5 minutes, then remove jars to cool before storing.
Makes 5 pints.
Rebecca Sodergren: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @pgfoodevents. First Published September 12, 2013 4:00 AM