Backyard produce and fruit picked from local orchards flavor Carole Evans’ homemade jellies. - Bob Pennell

You CAN do it

The economic climate of Crescent City, Calif., where fresh produce was expensive and work opportunities limited, convinced Carole Evans of the value in home canning.

"That was, like, my job — the garden and the canning," she says.

A 10-year stint living in Seattle without room to garden deprived Evans of home-canned goods. Moving to Medford three years ago, Evans rededicated herself to home canning, becoming certified as an Oregon State University master food preserver who volunteers for the university's local Family Food Education program.

"I eat a lot of things I would not eat because I don't want to spend the money," Evans says, pointing to a pantry jammed with glass jars.

"I would never have marionberry pie filling, but I have a fence full of marionberries, and they want three dollars for a little basket."

Not least among them the ailing economy, several factors are driving renewed interested in home food preservation and classes that teach safe methods, say employees and volunteers at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center.

"Overall, we are seeing a clear upsweep in both attention to and attendance at these classes," says Sharon Johnson, associate professor of family and community development.

In approximately the past year and six months, participation in the Extension's Family Food Education workshops has surpassed expectations, sometimes nearly 20 times over, Johnson says. Master Food Preservers already have a full crop of students seeking certification, although the course won't be offered until next summer, says volunteer Jeanne Evers.

The trend is reflected in sales of the popular Ball canning jars and supplies, said Chris Scherzinger, vice president of marketing for Jarden Home Brands, maker of Ball products. Retail sales of Ball canning products have increased nearly 30 percent this year, and sales of the company's plastic freezing containers have doubled over last year, according to market data from Information Resources Inc.

"It fits with what we've seen historically from the 1970s and even before then: when people tighten their belts, they focus a little bit less on convenience items and convenience foods and focus a little bit more on staying home and making their own, whether you're talking about food or fun," Scherzinger said.

Fun evolved into fervor for 68-year-old Evans, who picked 50 pounds of cherries and more than 200 pounds of peaches at local orchards this summer. She can't pass up windfalls either, whether it's 10 pounds of plums her neighbor offered last year or the bushel of apples a friend brought by last week.

"You should ideally not can more than you'll eat in a year, but I'm out of control," she says. "I just love when people come over, and I can just open up cans of stuff."

And the quality of Evans' home-canned goods doesn't suffer for quantity. Of the 35 different jams, jellies, salsas, relishes, pickles, chutneys, sauces, fruits and vegetables she entered in the Jackson County Fair this year, 26 won a ribbon, 19 of them first place.

Beloved by her family who aim to eat organic, her home-canned food holds no unpleasant surprises, Evans says. Concern over food purity and quality is leading more families to consider home canning, experts say.

"People are terrified of everything from peppers to tomatoes," says Lori Campbell, owner of Blackberry Lane Farm in Grants Pass.

At the urging of customers who visit her farm stand at the weekly Grants Pass Growers Market, Campbell is holding her first class next month on food preservation methods. Beginning gardeners who purchased plant starts from the Growers Market in droves this spring are eager to maximize their efforts, she says.

"There's a huge resurgence out there for canning and preserving," Campbell says. "And it's not just the stuff that mom used to make anymore."

Novice food preservers also are interested in dehydrating and freezing, Evers says. Making freezer jams, she says, is one of the simplest methods to capture the harvest, and some fruit — like strawberries — taste better in that form.

"If you don't have air-conditioning, that's the way to go," Evers says.

See the accompanying story and recipes for instructions to make freezer jam. Or take a tip from Evers and freeze whole berries until cold weather strikes, along with the ambition to make standard, cooked jam.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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