The Current

Preserving your pandemic harvest? Start slow with something you love, say experts

Canadians who grew their own gardens this pandemic summer and are looking to try pickling their bounty for the first time should start small, says an Edmonton woman who has been canning for years.

'I didn't know that pickles were an essential service, but it seems like they are,' says Johwanna Alleyne

Many people have taken up growing their own fruits or veggies during the pandemic. With winter on the horizon, they're taking an interest in learning to preserve their harvest, too. (Submitted by Ana Stoica-Constantin)

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Originally published Sept. 23, 2020

Canadians who grew their own gardens this pandemic summer and are looking to try pickling their bounty for the first time should start small, says an Edmonton woman who has been canning for years.

"You don't have to take the whole weekend," said Johwanna Alleyne, who teaches canning courses and runs a pickling business in Edmonton called Mojo Jojo Pickles, which produces everything from ketchup to jelly and relish. 

"Start with single jars, like make one or two jars of something that you're really proud of…. You'll catch on pretty quickly."

This year saw an explosion of interest in gardening as the pandemic forced people to stay closer to home. Similar to the early rush for toilet paper and flour, people are now facing a shortage of mason jars used to preserve their homegrown fruits and veggies.

Johwanna Alleyne has been pickling for years. She runs Mojo Jojo Pickles in Edmonton. (Johwanna Alleyne)

Alleyne said she's certainly noticed people getting into canning and pickling for the first time this year.

"I didn't know that pickles were an essential service, but it seems like they are," she told The Current, laughing.

"I think we've all appreciated just slowing down a little bit. And fresh, real food and good flavour and the comfort of good flavours become really important."

'A world of exploration'

Ana Stoica-Constantin is among the many people who decided to lean into gardening and canning more this summer after she moved from Toronto to Parry Sound, Ont.

She grew up watching her grandparents pickle whole cabbages so they could make cabbage rolls around Christmas, and can roasted eggplants and peppers during the fall.

They brought the tradition with them to Canada when they emigrated from Romania in the 1980s, Stoica-Constantin said.

Whether you're into making jams or pickling veggies, Alleyne suggests starting small. 'You'll catch on pretty quickly,' she says. (Submitted by Ana Stoica-Constantin)

"So that's what I grew up with. But as I got older, it kind of shifted a little bit for me," she said. 

"It turned into a world of exploration … and experimentation…. Even here in Parry Sound, I'm discovering flavours that I hadn't been exposed to before."

This summer, she said she foraged for chokecherries — a reddish berry with an acidic taste — and turned them into jam. The result was a distinctly northern Ontario flavour, she said — one you won't find on most store shelves.

As with picking up any new skills during the pandemic, the internet has proven an excellent resource for those testing their hand at pickling and canning, Stoica-Constantin said.

"There's so many resources out there — more than I think we've ever had before."

However, she advised that it's always good to double-check your recipes. She relies on Bernardin — which produces mason jars, canning products and recipes — as well as the Ball Book of Canning to check her own work.

Ana Stoica-Constantin, who lives in Parry Sound, Ont., says she first learned about canning and pickling from her grandparents, who brought the tradition with them when they moved to Canada from Romania. (Leann Weston)

Canning pitfalls to avoid

With pickling, the amount of acid in the jar and how you fill it is important, as is the processing time, said Alleyne.

That's because canning gone wrong can lead to spoilage or cause botulism.

If jars meant to preserve peaches or nectarines aren't prepared properly, for example, you may notice air bubbles, which will cause the preserved fruit to slowly spoil. Sometimes, novice canners who haven't submerged their jars fully in water will see a section of their jar go bad, Alleyne said.

She's had her own canning blunders along the way, too.

"There was a year where we ran into a process-resistant bacteria in some pickled carrots," she said.

"They would be absolutely fine when I'd load them into my car, and when I'd take them to market, they would be cloudy. And when you opened it, orange foam would just copiously spill from every jar."

At times, Stoica-Constantin said she's made her jams too tart, or the brine for her pickles too salty, out of fear of botulism.

Stoica-Constantin suggests those new to the pickling or canning should start by preserving something they know they'll love to eat. (Submitted by Ana Stoica-Constantin)

"But, you know, you kind of learn as you go and make those changes moving forward," she said.

She agrees with Alleyne that any newbies who are canning their harvest for the pandemic winter ahead should start small.

"Start with flavours you like — flavours you know you love," said Stoica-Constantin.

"Get a little basket of peaches, a basket of cucumbers, something that you know you'll like, something you know you'll eat, and start there."


Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Kate Cornick.

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