August 20, 2013 – When my brother and his new wife visited this summer from Connecticut, it prompted me to serve a lunch completely sourced from the mountain where my family resides. I made gazpacho from my garden, served heirloom tomatoes and basil atop delicious mozzarella lightly dressed in balsamic vinaigrette and chèvre that my neighbor made from her own goat’s milk.
It was so delicious and well received that I thought, “I want to have this delectable sensation all throughout the year. I want to preserve the abundance of tomatoes I have.”
I was definitely feeling unsure about whether or not I would actually have the time to implement what I was going to learn, but I began to get very excited about taking the canning class at Happy Girl Kitchen.
As I walked to their long storefront on Central Avenue in Pacific Grove, the mantra running through my head was, “I think I can, I think I can.” Once inside the door of Happy Girl Kitchen, it became obvious that there was work happening there! An active energy filled the room, as did the faint scent of sweetness from nuts that were baking.
I notice the decor. It’s a festive atmosphere, not a sterile learning environment at all.
Everything is placed thoughtfully, from the food on the tables to the canned and pickled items on display that are available for purchase. You get the sense that this learning process is going to be fun and lively.
My class was taught by Todd Champagne, who along with his wife Jordan started Happy Girl Kitchen. He has a great presence and kept the class light and interesting with his sense of humor.
Tomatoes are a great medium for beginner canners. Choosing varieties that are high in acidity makes them good candidates. Fruits with lower acidity need the acidity added by way of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar and require a different, more laborious method of canning. We did what is called “hot bath canning.”
I was amazed at how simple the process was. The intensity and amount of time it takes is completely up to you. If you are rushed and want to can your tomatoes with the stems still on, go right ahead! If you want to de-stem them, peel them, and take the seeds out, again, completely up to you. Canning was not the arduous task I had imagined it to be.
Our class, which consisted of 15 women from various walks of life and all different ages, was broken into three tables. The tables had some light fare: in-house pickled vegetables, Gruyère cheese and crackers, roasted peppers, chips and salsa. After a brief discussion of the history and methodology of canning, we rolled up our sleeves and got down to business. Working in small groups, we began by slicing the tomatoes in half.
When there were enough tomatoes for each person to fill two jars we peeled some garlic and picked off basil leaves to accompany the tomato halves. After filling the jars halfway you mash down the tomatoes with your clean hands, which simultaneously condenses them and creates a great amount of juice. After putting in basil leaves and garlic cloves you repeat this process until the jar is filled to the lip. At this point we stuck our knives down the inside of the jar so as to dispense any air bubbles that may have formed.
We made one jar was with just a little salt added and the next with salt and lemon juice so we could see which way we prefer them. After being careful to wipe the lip of the jar cleanly, we lightly screwed the lid on and submerged it in boiling water for 35 minutes.
Then, voila, you pull it out, tighten the lid and when it cools down you’ve got yourself a jar of garden fresh tomatoes. Talk about immediate gratification!
Our next task was to dice the remainder of the tomatoes along with some onion, garlic, and jalapeño to collectively make salsa. The salsa was a little more effort because we cooked it all together before we canned it. After three hours we went home with a sense of satisfaction, five jars of goodies, new acquaintances, and a new hobby.
Most importantly, I now have a new mantra, “I know I can, I know I can.” It was such a rewarding experience I can’t wait to take another class at Happy Girl Kitchen.