Those poor, parched squirrels running around my neighborhood devoured every tomato plant in my backyard — the few plump red ones and even all the green ones — a couple of sweltering weeks ago. No tears were shed by me: It became one less area to have to water every morning. And, frankly, the squirrels probably needed those tomatoes a lot more than I did.
Someday, I've promised myself to learn how to "put up" any vegetables I grow (or, more likely, buy at a local farmers market) and make my own pickles. I have made jelly before, but sealing those jars doesn't seem as complicated as the summer vegetables, which require boiling water baths or pressure cookers. Canning and preserving food have always seem terrifying to me. You know, the possibility of botulism and death and all that. Those fears have always made me appreciate the easy availability of Heinz products.
But, wait! Chef Matt Chatfield at the Culinary Center of Kansas City is once again offering his popular "Preserving the Flavors of Summer" class on Tuesday, August 21, at 6:30 p.m. in the Culinary Center facility (7920 Santa Fe Drive, Overland Park, 913-341-4455). There are, currently, just six slots left open for the class.
Matt Chatfield has taught the class every summer at the Culinary Center for several seasons. When I asked him about the size of tomatoes he's seeing in local home gardens — the tomatoes that have survived both squirrels and drought — he said: "The size of the produce I'm seeing isn't as big as it might be in less intensely hot summers. People are watching their home gardens fare, well, just OK."
In his class, Chatfield says, "We tackle canning and preserving tomatoes in sauces and salsa. We discuss pickling chiles and other things. And we make quite a lot of marinara sauce so that everyone taking the class gets a quart jar to take home."
Interestingly enough, Chatfield doesn't personally eat canned vegetables. "I'm a professional chef. I only want to eat fresh vegetables," he said.
Yeah, so did those solid pioneers who settled this area back in the 1800s, but during the harsh winter months, they didn't have a convenient Price Chopper a couple of blocks away. Canned fruits and vegetables were a joy to have on the supper table. (Actually, they were in my childhood home, too — my mother wouldn't have known what to do with a fresh vegetable if someone had handed it to her on a silver platter).
Chatfield's focus in the class will be putting up high-acid produce, like tomatoes. Or vinegar-based canning, as for pickling chiles. "We do a salsa," he says, "and make a very good marinara sauce."
"It's not as difficult a process as you might think. And when you seal the jars with a hot water bath, you can have an almost 100-percent success rate."