My grandmothers cantina was most beautiful every fall. The room was approximately 10-feet by 10-feet and three walls were lined with short, narrow shelves, the perfect size for large canning jars. In the centre was a concrete wine press, the favoured cork screw kind of Italian home winemakers.
The large cantina was in the basement of the house with a few small vents that let in the outside air covered with mesh that my grandfather replaced each year to keep out the rodents who were eager to feast on our delicious work.
To feed a family of 13 over the winter the walls would hold well over a hundred jars of vegetables and fruit, sauces and jam. Sometimes the neighbours would collect in the garage with my grandmother and my aunts to help turn the bushels of roma tomatoes into tomato sauce for our all-time favourite meal, spaghetti and meat sauce. I was lucky enough to be part of these communal canning events. Some would can while others would cook. Perhaps it would be some fresh tomato sauce used to make cabbage rolls, lasagna or a meat sauce that was spooned over a board of polenta.
Peaches would be another great neighbourhood event of laughter, sharing food together and canning. We lived in an agricultural community where the Italian women worked on farms in the summer. After a hard day on the farm, they would bring us bushels and baskets of seconds. We would go into the house, put out a bowl of the best specimens and put a pot of water on the stove to boil for the rest. We would can them all. My favourite was the crimson jars of sweet cherries in a sticky syrup.
From our own garden we would harvest and eat what we wanted and then put the rest away. There would be green beans that stood proud and tall in the jars or a mix of vegetables, chopped and pickled. Braids of garlic and onions hung from nails pounded into door frames and wooden crates of potatoes and turnips lined a concrete step built to keep heavy items off the damp floor. Each day during the summer and fall a few more jars of delicious food would find their way into the cantina. Even when it looked full and the shelves bulged from the weight of the food, my grandmother would always find more room to store a few more jars of gooseberries soaked in white wine or burnt red peppers (that were a favourite on pizza).
Then in the winter when we opened a jar and sat down to eat, I would remember the summer days with my grandmother in the kitchen and feel like my world was right-side-up when I tasted the bright flavours of summer.
For those of us who grew up setting summer food aside for a cold winter day we are blessed with family traditions and the most delicious of memories not to mention good food to eat. But the world moves too fast for most people to indulge in canning any longer – pity.
But lately there has been a resurgence in the activity of canning as a new generation of consumers concerned about food are collaborating with market farmers or growing their own food. This makes eating locally a year-round experience.
If you are one of those who hunger for the satisfaction of putting your favourite foods away, I’m sharing some great recipes with you. Won’t you please share with me?
Quiet Acres Sweet Cherries in Southbrook 2011 Triomph Cabernet Franc Rose, VQA
2 cups (500 mL)rose wine
½ cup (125 mL) sugar
3 cups (750 mL) whole sweet cherries
Add the wine to a large saucepan and add the sugar. Heat the wine to almost boiling, reduce heat to maintain temperature and stir to dissolve sugar. Add cherries and cook gently for 5 minutes. Remove cherries with a slotted spoon into 4, 250 mL canning jars. Increase the heat and boil the liquid for 6 to 8 minutes or until slightly syrupy. Pour over the cherries in the jars. Wipe the top of the jars clean and attach lids and rings. Process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Remove from water and place on kitchen towel. The lids will ‘pop’ soon after.
Quiet Acres Sweet Cherries in Southbrook Rose Syrup
3 cups )750 mL) sweet cherries, stemmed and pitted
1 cup (250 mL) sugar
2 cups (500 mL) rose wine
2 teaspoons (10 mL) cornstarch
2 tablespoons (30 mL) red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon (2.5 mL) icewine (optional)
Heat a large, wide saucepan over medium high heat and add the pitted cherries and sugar. Mix a few tablespoons of red wine with the cornstarch in a very small bowl until it’s dissolved and set aside. Pour the remaining wine and the red wine vinegar over the cherries. Bring the heat up to a boil, then reduce the heat so it’s at a low boil and cook, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes. Add the cornstarch and let the mixture boil an additional minute or so to thicken. Turn off the heat and stir in the icewine (if using). Spoon into 6, 125 mL canning jars. Wipe the top of the jars clean and attach lids and rings. Process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Remove from water and place on kitchen towel. The lids will ‘pop’ soon after.