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Food educators head to market

OSU-trained volunteers will take part in Lake Oswego Farmers' Market
by: Kimberly Jacobsen, 
Barbara Derkacht, Oregon City, left, and Cyndi MacLeod, Gladstone, help  volunteers learn how to can fresh tuna during a recent training at the Clackamas County Office of the OSU Extension Service in Oregon City.

Nothing says summer like the sweet and juicy burst of flavors that come from biting into a local vine-ripened strawberry. It signals sunshine, Farmers' Markets and an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables for months to come.

Don't you wish you could just bottle it up and save it for a cold rainy November day? Well you can, and more and more people are coming back to the lost art of canning as a way of enjoying local or homegrown produce year round.

'Most people don't can to save money or to survive the winter like their grandmother's did,' said Marge Braker, a food preservation educator and retired faculty with the Oregon State University Extension Service in Clackamas County. 'People are growing more of their own food or buying from local farmer CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture) and farmers' markets. They want to know where their food is coming from and they want to be able to enjoy it all year,' said Braker.

Because interest has peaked, for the first time an OSU Family Food Educator will be present to answer food preservation questions at the Lake Oswego Farmers' Market this year. Food preservation volunteers participate in a 30-hour family food curriculum through the OSU Extension Service in order to be certified as Family Food Educators. Their hands-on education includes general food safety, canning, freezing, drying, pickling and jam making.

Twelve volunteers are finishing up food preservation training at the OSU Extension office in Oregon City. At a recent meeting they learned how to can fresh tuna, which is typically readily available on the coast and at local seafood markets from July to September.

'There are some cost-saving benefits as well,' said Braker. 'When you buy things in season you save money and then you can enjoy them later when they are out of season.'

Tomatoes are typically $3 a pound right now but in September people are giving them away. With the rising cost of fuel spilling over into higher grocery bills and fewer trips to the store - canning is seeing a comeback, but some people never left it.

'I started canning when I was 9 and in 4-H,' said Phyllis McIntire, a student in the OSU food preservation class. 'As time has gone on I have learned new and improved canning techniques and I am able to answer my friends and neighbor's questions,' said McIntire.

When McIntire graduates she and her fellow food preservation students will be required to put in at least 30 hours of community service, sharing food preservation and safety information in Clackamas County.

Food preservation techniques are easy to learn, according to Braker, but the potential for food safety problems make it imperative to have the right equipment and to follow directions. For example, pressure canning is the only recommended method for canning vegetables, meat, poultry and seafood because they are low acid foods. Using the boiling water canner method for these foods, like you would for jams, poses a real risk of botulism poisoning.

Pressure canners with a dial gauge should be tested annually for accuracy. If you don't want to invest in a pressure canner you can still can fruits, jams and pickled vegetables with a large stock pot or canning kettle, but certain precautions must be used to avoid growth of microorganisms.

That is where the OSU Family Food Educators can help. Most of their community outreach will occur at Farmers' Markets in Lake Oswego, Oregon City and Milwaukie where you can find them with the OSU Master Gardeners or you reach them at the Clackamas County Office of the OSU Extension Service.

At a glance

More canning information and resources:

Clackamas County Office of the OSU Extension Service

503-655-8631

Mon-Thurs 8:00-11:30 and 12:30-4:30

Online:

http//.extension.oregonstate.edu/fcd/foodsafety/ .

Pressure Canner Dial Gauge testing:

Extension Service Office

Wednesdays, 1 to 3 p.m.

June 18 - Sept. 24

200 Warner Milne Road

Oregon City, OR 97045.