September 29, 2016

Yes They Can!

Trent Rasmussen stirs his homemade salsa.

Trent Rasmussen stirs his homemade salsa.

You think canning is tough? Meet some master canners, who showed off their champion recipes at this year’s Utah State Fair.

Canning is not a dying art. In fact, it is a universe of exciting flavors that cannot be store-bought. This was quite apparent at the Utah State Fair. Think currant jellies and pie fillings that would make grandma green with envy.

Kristen Larson took home the coveted blue ribbon with 26 of her 39 entries. The competition is sponsored by the Ball Canning Jar Company, and strict USDA guidelines must be followed. Outside of these boundaries, canners go from conservative to creative.

I think this stuff has street value!

Stephanie Parker

Larson made chutneys and paired them with apple-lemon preserve, wedges of brie and “homemade V-8 juice that is scrumptious with a splash of vodka.”

Neighbors pitched in for the fair, donating apricots, jalapeños and  peaches. She loves that her canning has become a community event, and all involved are delighted to know their labors were used to make blue ribbon recipes.

“I think my excitement and passion are so evident, how could you say no to me?” laughs Larson, who lives in Cottonwood Heights.

Canning in UtahThe reasons for canning vary as much as the flavors. “I was a military brat growing up,” says Stephanie Parker, “and I never had a permanent yard. So when my husband and I bought our house in South Jordan, I noticed our tree was growing something. Finally, the neighbors asked if I was going to pick my peaches. The next year I picked buckets of them and drove to Boise to visit my mom so that I could learn how to can.”

Every fall, Stephanie takes off work for what she calls “canningpalooza.” Staying up all night, she cranks up the radio and spends hours in her kitchen, creating her Southwestern- influenced concoctions like jalapeño and tomatillo salsas and inventive flavors such as zucchini relish and carrot cake jam. “I think this stuff has street value,” she laughs.

She loves how green the process is. “Anything I don’t use goes back into the compost bin.” The jars are probably probably the biggest expense, but she’ll come to work and find coworkers have eaten the goodies and given the jars back. Nostalgic memories of families laboring together and the unbeatable fresh flavors you get from canning seemed to be the biggest motivation for Trent Rasmussen of Kaysville.

“It also honors the memory of my mother and grandmother.” He couldn’t raid her pantry for his favorite flavors from childhood, so he learned how to make them. This year’s blue ribbon recipes included plum jam, mustard relish, and grape juice. His salsa recipe is simmering on the stove as we chat,

Mary Smith’s award-winning jars

Mary Smith’s award-winning jars

This year’s blue ribbon recipes included plum jam, mustard relish, and grape juice. His salsa recipe is simmering on the stove as we chat, thickening the end-of-summer air with a mouth-watering aroma. As an ER doctor working mostly nights, salsa is the perfect snack at 3:00 a.m., and a staff favorite.

His dogs lead the way to an orchard filled with apricot, apple, pear, nectarine, peach, and cherry trees. “As a kid I didn’t like the work, but then you grow up and you appreciate the taste. It’s also honors the memory of my mother and grandmother.” Trent and his wife, Renatta, now donate the prize for the Fair champion, an engraved silver platter with the inscription, “Given in honor of Anna Dalley and Mary Jane Dalley Rasmussen.” “You come home with a few ribbons and you’re always trying to get the silver platter,” says Mary Smith from American Fork, who won the award in 2010.

She’s been canning her entire life and loves the challenge. Last year she submitted bubblegum flavored jelly bean jelly. It seriously tastes like fresh bubblegum in a jar.

“My goal in life is to make jelly that spreads,” she said. Mary, a self-proclaimed perfectionist, waits for her banana peppers to ripen first to yellow then orange and finally red. She pickles them in perfect layers. Her jams and jellies are clear and look like jarred jewels. Even her cellar is beautifully arranged by color and category.

Trent’s awards and tools of the trade

Trent’s awards and tools of the trade

It is obvious these canners are artists and fresh ingredients are their medium. I open Mary’s cucumbers, spiced with Red Hots and cinnamon sticks and feel like I know the taste of Christmas.

These champions are obviously driven by fresh flavors and the satisfaction of their labors. There is also a sense of productive urgency surrounding them; tomatoes ready on the vine, branches in the orchards heavy with gifts of fruit, and canning into the last hours of fall trying to beat the first frost.

This is a year-round, creative obsession; buying seeds and planning gardens in the winter, thumbing through new recipes, and stacking and storing hours of labor and memories. Looking at the end results displayed at the fair, I am inspired. Kristin has invited me over to make jam with her and I’m definitely going to take her up on the offer.