Traverse City Record-Eagle

Life

November 1, 2012

Everyday Cook: Canning in the kitchen

Family has history of preserving produce

BENZONIA — The recent awareness of healthy eating, buying local produce and tending home gardens have cooks following the natural progression into home canning. Sales of canning equipment are on the rise, and those trying it for the first time are learning what Bob Karczewski has known about for a long time — the lost kitchen art of food preservation.

The Traverse City resident is no stranger to food preparation. He began cooking when he was 8 or 9 and recalls gathering apples from trees at the old Traverse City Golf and Country Club (now the current site of Walmart on South Airport Road) and cooking them into applesauce in a three-pound coffee can over a campfire. He trained for a career in food service at Northwestern Michigan College, was a cook in the army, worked at Chef Pierre for 25 years and still cooks three dinner meals each week at the Grand Traverse County Jail. Home-canned food has been a part of his life all along the way.

He and his sister, Kathy Snyder, of Mount Clemens and Benzonia, often share fond memories of their great-grandparents' 1883 farmstead in Benzonia where the family gathered for Sunday dinners. "The shelves of the fruit cellar off the kitchen were always filled," Karczewski said.

What their great-grandma Guri Olsen knew to be a routine chore of turn-of-the-century domestic housekeeping has evolved into a fun, family tradition for the Karczewskis.

"Our aunts canned, and our mom canned fun things — pickles, relish, spiced peaches and pears," Snyder said. "When you compare them to commercially canned, well, there's no comparison."

"We grew up knowing how good it all tasted," said Karczewski. "My brother Dave started making 'Dilly' beans, which were easy. My daughter Amy liked them and also liked bread and butter pickles and pickled asparagus.

"I wanted to make them for her, and that's how I got interested in pickles and relishes, and I put up tomatoes every season."

Paging through the second edition of the family cookbook, Snyder said the whole family is into cooking and canning. She is the family genealogist and recognizes the importance of sharing the memories attached to each recipe and keeping them in the family. Snyder added that their niece even set out small jars of canned pickles as favors for each guest at her wedding reception.

One thing Karczewski knows is, no matter how much you can, there's never enough. This year he got his son involved. Together they put up four dozen jars of stewed tomatoes, a dozen quarts of bread and butter pickles and a dozen jars of each of his specialty relishes.

"Men like canning for the scientific aspect of it and for the fun of making unique things. It's fun, it's something that you know what's in it and it's fun to share," Karczewski said. "The whole family loves to get together on special occasions and taste what each of us has made and we like trading and giving it away, too."

While it's a fun family hobby, Snyder said if the produce harvest is good and the price is right, canning can be a money saver. At the same time, she cautions that getting started can be a bit expensive. There's an initial outlay for jars and the canner, and a food processor or grinder can be costly.

"You also have to find good produce and know ahead that it (the process) does take time," she said.

But Snyder said it's worth the investment.

"It's something that if you enjoy, you keep doing it," she said.

Both brother and sister say they think it might be time to enter their specialties in next year's county fair.

"There's a lot of personal satisfaction in preserving your own food," Karczewski said. "Part of the beauty of canning is the 'eye' appeal.

"When you stand back and look at what you've done — well, that's pretty cool."

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