BUSHTON — Harkening back to the days of yesteryear prior to rural electrification in central Kansas, food was kept in the first half of the 20th century by home canning and smoking. Women would work through the night to ensure that food was safely preserved for their families.
In the 1970s and 1980s canning fell out of favor for the convenience of commercially prepared meats, fruits and vegetables. Following the nationwide trend and coming full circle, this tradition is regaining its popularity to take advantage of fresh, home-grown produce.
Quivira Heights High School family and consumer science teacher Susan Patterson chose this fall to teach the skill of canning to her students using tomatoes from the Bushton Community Garden, apples from a local orchard and sand hill plums, which grow wild in the area.
And the homemade salsa, pizza sauce, apple butter and plum jam met with rave reviews from the students.
“It was fun,” said QHHS Junior Justin June. “I had never canned before. It’s a lot better than store- bought.”
Another student, Nathan Kratzer, also had never canned before, but recalled his grandparents making jelly. He had never tried salsa before either, so he was introduced to a new food.
The students went to the Bushton Community Garden during the first couple of weeks of school and picked approximately 100 pounds of tomatoes, putting up with itchy arms and muddy shoes.
They then sorted the tomatoes according to ripeness and variety. Roma tomatoes were used for pizza sauce, and the other tomatoes, including heirloom varieties, were used for salsa.
Tenth-grader Nichole Smolic also enjoyed the whole process. She liked the fresh taste of the produce. It didn’t come easy though. “It’s a lot of work,” she said.
“It takes a lot of elbow grease,” agreed Kratzer.
The students scalded and removed the skins from the tomatoes. They also peeled them, cored them, processed them and then ran them through a hot-water canning bath. They ended up with 25 quarts of salsa, 12 pints of sauce, 11 jars of apple butter and jars of sand hill jam, managing to complete the lengthy process during school hours.
The canning jars were all donated to the school from the community. Such items as vinegar, sugar and spices were purchased.
In addition, the students picked apples at the local apple orchard which was also a new experience for some. The classes made caramel apples, cookies and apple crisp, but those are all gone.
“The kids that went to the apple orchard were overwhelmed with all the different kinds of apples,” said Patterson.
Patterson came up with the idea to introduce students to canning, gardening and eating fresh food, wanting her students to see the whole process and the amount of work required to make the food.
“I can at home for fun,” said Patterson who grew up on a farm. Her family especially enjoys her salsa.
“My kids love it and there is no fat in it,” she said. “It is also a way to be economical and appreciate where things come from.”
The classes will sell pizza sauce, salsa, apple butter and sand hill plum jelly at the Powder Puff Football Game tonight at Quivira Heights High School. The proceeds will benefit Family, Career and Community Leaders of America organization which provides workshops and leadership events for students.