I grew up canning with my mother. We always had a small garden. Perhaps an 1/8th of an acre—peppers, tomatoes and herbs. Never corn or anything like that. We pickled peppers and canned them. She’d make salsa and can that too. She’s always been into jellies as well.
When I was growing up, we used to go to local farms. During strawberry season you could go and buy them or pick them yourself. Which is obviously cheaper, as the person picking is doing the manual labor of the picking. It’s easier when you’re shorter. You’re closer to the ground. My mom always took me and my brothers or some friends and we’d go and pick them ourselves. We didn’t think of it as work. It was fun. An activity. We’d pick, then go get ice cream and go swimming. In middle class homes growing up, people were also thinking financially. When we finally got the berries home, Mom would then make the jelly. The real reward wasn’t the berries or the jelly, it was the strawberry shortcake. Mom would always make the warm biscuits and the whipped cream. And that was the treat. As a kid, you don’t care about the jams and jellies or the processing of them.
Cara is not new to canning either. Her Aunt Tootsie always made blackberry preserves and would “put back” corn in the summer. She made Cara and the girls shuck it. “Putting back corn” is not canning. It’s actually a process where you remove the corn kernels from the cob, and freeze them.
Why does LT have canned goods?
We never began canning in order to sell. It’s something I wanted to get good at it. Though I’ve been doing it for years, I really got involved with it at the restaurant, even before we opened Lockeland Table. The reason is, you want to preserve things when they are in season in order to prepare for the time when they aren’t. As I look around at the canned goods on the shelves, I realize, this is the time of year to get these opened up and stop looking at them.
When I began trying to can by myself, I was a bit nervous. I made mistakes as my mother wasn’t there to lead the process. When I started on my own, I would make the product, cool it, then can it the following day. I called my mom to try and figure out what I was doing wrong. She explained that you have to put the hot product into the jar. What seals it is the temperature of the product vs. the temperature of the bath. That is what creates the vacuum. When you’re canning and the bubbles coming up, it’s that little bit of air between the product and the lid somehow that is being pushed out that creates the vacuum. That’s what seals the product and keeps it safe. It was my friend Farmer Kevin (an East Nashvillian who has a farm) that first said to me: Canning doesn’t care if the power goes out…freezing does.
Take our pickled ramps for instance. Ramps are a wild onion, very indigenous to West Virginia. I feel privileged to be familiar with them as I grew up in that wild wonderful state. We had ramp festivals. Cooking with ramps was just something you did. We’d spend three to five days cleaning and preserving them. You have to work hard to enjoy the fruits of your labor. What is the saying? “Preserve or die.”
Ramps are like the Poke of the south. Back in the day, Pokeweed was wild green similar to a collard and turnip. It was what poor people would forage for as it grew wild and was available to them. They’d cook it was what was available as well. Water and salt may have been all they had. But it worked. That was the beautiful thing about Poke. It would go well with their hamhock, or country ham, or bacon. Ramps are the same.
Now ramps have become one of those “cool-kid” products that famous chefs pay $28 a pound for when they first come available each year. These guys have the institutions that can afford those ridiculous prices as ramps have a mere four-week window, in early spring. We used them on our New Year’s Eve menu.
Ramps remind me of firewood. You cut it in the summer to have it for the winter. Same with canning. You’re always thinking ahead to survive. I think we missed a lot of that in the last generation. We have Kroger on every corner these days, which makes this way of life not as necessary. An article that I did in the Local Table five years ago talked about this subject.
Today, it’s important to me as a father to teach my son these things. I want him growing up knowing how to can, harvest a garden and gut a fish. I’d even like to get him into hunting a bit. Things that were special to us and that we experienced or learned in our childhood, as we become adults they become the standard and the ethics that we decide to pass down, or not, to the next generation. I’m interested in and excited about passing on these traditions. It’s all about education.
In culinary school we never visited a farm. I remember when it was the day to learn to roast a chicken. No one asked where the meat came from. We were talking about methods. Thinking time and temperature, and procedures. Nobody cared. I think as a society we’re returning to caring about the origin and source of our food again.
At Lockeland Table, we’re blessed to be a part of this movement and certainly hope this is more than a trend. We hope that we continue moving in this direction as a culture and as a society too. A way of life if you will. Grandma always preserved. Even meats. And whereas our grandparents had to grow a garden, today it’s a choice.
When it comes to the topics of canning, supporting local and regional farms, we have to commit to teaching the next generation. And, too it’s about educating our guests. Part of job as an independent restaurant is to educate the diner. They’ll ask, “Why don’t you do this or that?” and we have to explain our reasoning and methods. If it doesn’t make sense to them, we have to accept that. But it makes sense to us. We are the ones that create the standards at LT. We don’t mean to be rude in any way, but the thing about standards is this, they’re worthless unless you maintain them. Once you create a standard, you then have to live by it.
As a family, we strive to buy our vegetables seasonally and locally. In the summer we buy them from a tent-stand at a farm and there’s always the farmer’s market, too. We take our son. He sees where the food is coming from.
It’s important for us to pass these traditions and values down to him. That’s ultimately the way we’re going to live from here on out—what we have taught and left behind.
That’s why you’ll see shelves lined with home canned goods when you come into Lockeland. It’s part of our culture, it’s part of the new way the world is moving, and we’re pleased to be a part.
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