BROADALBIN - As recently as several years ago, when given the opportunity to learn how to can vegetables and meats at home, people in the area often turned their backs.
But now, scenarios similar to the one that unfolded in Colleen Rasmussen's kitchen Thursday are becoming more and more commonplace. Ten jars of freshly crushed tomatoes sat on Rasmussen's counter, basking in the sunlight, cooling after having stewed in a boiling water bath.
"I always let them sit out for a day or so," Rasmussen said, a smile crossing over her face. "To admire them."
The Leader-Herald/Zach Subar
Broadalbin resident Colleen Rasmussen lifts a can of crushed tomatoes out of a pot of boiling water at her home Thursday.
Rasmussen has been canning tomatoes, green beans, meats and other products at home for 17 years, ever since she's been married. She is a certified food preserver and attended courses this year organized by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Fulton and Montgomery Counties to learn about new developments regarding canning safety. (Tomatoes, for example, have become less acidic over the years, so a form of acid must now be added to them during the canning process.)
In attending classes, Rasmussen is part of a growing contingent of people here-and nationwide-who have expressed a renewed interest in canning. In previous years, canning courses offered by Cornell were canceled due to meager attendance numbers.
"It is becoming a thing of the past, and people just didn't seem to be interested in it [earlier in the decade]," Extension Team Coordinator Roseann Doran said. "As a response to the economic downturn, we thought there would be interest, and were hearing just by word of mouth that people were interested."
Cornell again offered the sessions, and they have become something of a hit. About 30 people showed up for a recent course, a marked difference from previous years.
Doran said some people, like Rasmussen, came to refresh their knowledge, while others attended to learn how to can from scratch. People who came learned safe ways to can-if done improperly, it can result in sickness-and how to test their product to ensure it is bacteria-free.
"People just think, 'Oh, I just don't even want to mess with that,' but really, if you break it down step by step, it isn't quite so bad," Doran said. "Sure, it is intimidating, and it seems time consuming, but you do it for a variety of reasons. You do it for the satisfaction of the process, and spending time with your family.
"And obviously, you're going to save money," she added.
People interested in canning tomatoes, apples or any other product can buy that product in bulk, which is cheaper than purchasing in small quantities. Once the food is canned it keeps indefinitely, although Rasmussen said it loses some nutritional value after one year goes by.
Either way, people who can tomatoes when they are at their peak in late summer are able to taste their freshness in the dead of winter. According to Cornell Horticulture and Agriculture Educator Crystal Stewart, a new Amish fruit and vegetable auction near Fort Plain has put locally grown food on the map for prospective produce buyers.
More and more people, Stewart said, have become increasingly interested in where their food comes from, an idea corroborated by those who attended Cornell's classes.
"Part of it is that I like knowing what's in my food," Rasmussen said.
Cornell Executive Director Marilyn Smith grew up in Utah and has been canning since she was a teenager. She learned about the process from her grandmother, who was her 4-H leader, and from her parents, who also canned at home. Spending five hours canning tomatoes or chicken, she said, is an act that connects her to her pioneer heritage.
"You do feel a sense of personal accomplishment that you are able to provide for your family, that you are able to provide to your neighbor if you need to," Smith said. "You can't help but feel accomplished when all the bottles are sealing-when all the bottles are popping, and you know that they're sealed, that's a sense of accomplishment."
Once a canning process is complete, Rasmussen said, and she is finished admiring her work, she takes them downstairs to a dark, cool place.
Smith said she looks for any open space for her cans-she puts some in the pantry, but if need be, she uses the area underneath the beds in her home-when she is finished.
But, like Rasmussen, she doesn't mind taking some time to look at the beauty of her work.
"One thing I really like is being able to open my pantry and seeing all those bottles lined up," said Smith. "I think they're beautiful."
For more information, call Cornell at 762-3909.
Zach Subar covers rural Fulton County news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.