March 11, 2010

Down economy fuels a hunger for food-preservation workshops

— Lots of folks are putting in recession gardens this year to help take a bite out of their spiraling food budgets.

But what do you do in August when you suddenly have tomatoes coming out your ears?

Apparently, lots of other people are wondering about that too. Kathie Savoie, a food-safety expert at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service, says she has been swamped with requests for food preservation workshops this year. She's already done 14 since March.

Five years ago, Savoie said, she would have offered maybe six during the entire year.

''I think there has been a bit of a rebirth in the whole arena of peoples' self-sufficiency skills, in meeting their own food needs,'' Savoie said, citing increased interest in everything from growing vegetables to baking bread. ''There's just a whole rekindling of wanting to know those skills.''

She added that people who are already growing and eating locally grown foods see canning and preservation as a way to extend access to those foods year round.

Other people who attend her workshops already have these skills but need a refresher course because the USDA guidelines regarding both recipes and equipment have changed. Savoie said the ''a-ha moment'' for many of the people who take her classes comes when she starts talking about canning home-grown tomatoes.

Home-canned tomatoes require the addition of acid from bottled lemon juice to be canned safely, Savoie said. And gone are the wire-and-glass cap jars your grandmother used. The only type of jar recommended now, to ensure a vacuum seal, is the standard canning jar with a two-piece screw band and dome lid.

To handle the increased demand for workshops, the extension service has teamed up with Whole Foods Market in Portland to offer a series of free food-preservation demonstration classes this summer and fall in the store's cafe area, which can seat 50 people. The store is located at 2 Somerset St., just off Franklin Arterial.

The first class will be held June 27 and cover jams and jellies. The July 18 class will focus on pickles, and tomatoes will be covered on Aug. 15. On Sept. 12, the topic will be apples, and the final class on Oct. 3 will talk about root-cellaring.

All of the classes will be held from 9 to 10:30 a.m. No registration is required. The classes are demonstration only -- the store doesn't have the facilities to allow hands-on work.

''The idea here is to do a demonstration to give people an idea of what canning is all about, answer specific questions and really talk about the USDA guidelines,'' said Barbara Gulino, marketing team leader at Whole Foods.

Whole Foods is also sponsoring the hiring of two program aides to assist the extension service in offering food-preservation education. It will have a ''5 Percent Day'' fundraiser this fall in which 5 percent of the Portland store's sales will benefit the Cumberland County office's food-safety and food-preservation programs.

The extension service has a Web site that lists all of the food-preservation workshops it will be conducting this year. For a county-by-county list, you can go to www.umext.maine.edu/foodpreservation/workshops.htm, or call (800) 287-0274.

MASTER CLASSES

Home canning experts, here's a new opportunity for you: the extension service has started a ''Master Food Preserver'' program much like the Master Gardener program.

This program involves a 10-part, 30-hour training course that costs $125 and includes hands-on sessions in a kitchen. Master Food Preservers must also complete at least 20 hours of volunteer service teaching others what they've learned.

This year, Savoie received 78 requests for applications for the Master Food Preserver program, and of those, 26 people actually submitted applications. A dozen applicants were accepted, Savoie said, and there is now a waiting list for 2010 -- a waiting list just to get an application for the program.

'EDIBLE GARDEN TOUR'

That's not the only page the food-preservation experts have taken from Maine's gardeners. Every spring, garden tours sprout up all over the state so that gardeners can peek across the fence and see what other people are doing with their landscapes.

On Aug. 8, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension will be holding a ''Backyard Locavore'' tour for people who are interested in learning more about growing food at home. There will be lots of local foods to sample.

''It's really an edible garden tour,'' Savoie said. ''It's intended to be a really fun day. It's the first of its kind in our area, and I think it will be quite popular.''

The event, to be hosted by Master Gardeners and Master Food Preservers, will focus on ''do-it-yourself'' strategies for growing, raising, harvesting and preserving foods.

Savoie said tours of 16 to 20 gardens are being developed in the Cape Elizabeth and Yarmouth/Cumberland/Falmouth areas, focusing on topics such as developing an orchard, bee keeping, root-cellaring, raising chickens for eggs and meat, composting, vegetable gardening, and canning and freezing foods.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for seniors. Children get in free. To buy tickets, which come with a map of the gardens, call 780-4213.

For more information, visit the garden tour Web site at www.umext.maine.edu/tidewater/gardentour.htm.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

mgoad@pressherald.com

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