Nothing says "summer" like opening a jar of homemade canned peaches in the middle of a long Routt County winter.

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Nothing says "summer" like opening a jar of homemade canned peaches in the middle of a long Routt County winter.

Jane McLeod: Preserving your garden in a jar

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Learn all about canning and preserving at the free demonstration Saturday at the Farmers Market in downtown Steamboat Springs. Karen Massey, of the Routt County Cooperative Extension Office, will be there with food safety advisers to answer questions and demonstrate how to safely preserve food.

From canned peaches to pears, beans to beets and much, much more, the canned goods competition at this year's Routt County Fair experienced a huge increase in submissions, which according to articles in several newspapers and magazines, is the norm across the country this year.

Some experts attribute this interest in preserving food to the economic recession, which has brought about a big resurgence in vegetable and fruit gardening, while others attribute it to the organic movement and the desire to control and better understand what is being served at the table - while supporting local produce and lowering one's carbon footprint.

Here in Routt County, if you took July's canning and preserving class presented by extension agent Karen Massey at the Routt County Cooperative Extension office, you would have learned that it also is rewarding and just downright fun.

Preserving the bounty from a garden and enjoying it through the winter was once the norm. Even if you don't have a garden, preserving the produce from the markets - commercial or farmers - and opening a jar of sweet cherries or peaches some bleak day in January or March, for example, is like opening the door to summer.

If you have never canned or it has been a while and you are rusty, there are some absolute rules: Follow the directions, and use only tested recipes. This is not the time to get creative and add a dash of this or delete a cup of that, as any modification could result in an unsafe product.

Nor is it a good idea to dust off your grandmother's or Aunt Bess' recipe, but if you are determined to do so, first take it to Massey or another expert and ask for advice. Canning something safely follows a scientific and rigorously tested route, utilizing everything from specialized equipment such as a boiling-water or steam-pressure canner, to the right-sized temporized glass jars with the proper lids and bands, to specific utensils such as a jar lifter, and my favorite - a lid wand - all designed to make the process easier and safer.

Additionally, in our area, we need to pay attention to altitude and make the proper adjustments for more processing time as predetermined in charts.

There are a number of current resources you can utilize to get going - from Massey at the Extension Office, 879-0825, who is happy to field any question; to the "2009 Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving;" to numerous other books, such as the 2006 University of Georgia's "So Easy to Preserve" book of recipes and tips. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Complete Guide to Home Canning" needs to be a post-1994 edition. The latest 1996 revision can be downloaded for free from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, at uga.edu/nchfp/index.html. I also recommend you watch for the next preserving class run by the Extension Office, as well as cruise by our own downtown Farmers Market on Saturday, when Massey and food safety advisers will run a demonstration.

Jane McLeod is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Routt. Questions? Call 879-0825.

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