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Savoring summer

Canning for farm-fresh produce year-round

Created date

May 25th, 2010

Like many Marylanders, for retired kindergarten teacher Margaret Cutchins, nothing says summer like juicy home-grown tomatoes. While others are heading to the beach or relaxing by the pool, Cutchins is busy in her Charlestown kitchen slicing, dicing, and mixing farm-picked produce in preparation for canning favorites like jam, jelly, pickles, relish, and tomato sauce. There s a world of difference between home-canned tomatoes and store-bought, says Cutchins, who has been canning as long as she can remember. The store-bought stuff just doesn t come close in taste. And when I can my tomatoes, they are solid tomatoes in juice I don t put any water in them. Cutchins says she used to grow her own fruits and vegetables in the gardens at Charlestown, but after a few extremely dry summers that didn t yield much, she gave it up. Now she shops at roadside stands, where she usually buys enough to produce two or three batches of quart-sized jars.Since I have spent most of my life around this area, I know the best places to get really fresh fruits and vegetables, she says. I have a favorite vegetable stand not too far from Charlestown, and there s also an orchard in Westminster where I pick my own peaches, plums, cucumbers, and onions. Fresh fruits and vegetables especially berries have a short shelf life once they re picked. By canning them, I m able to preserve that goodness and enjoy it all year long.

Can-do attitude

According to a 2009 survey, the food-centered website run by Reader s Digest, Cutchins is t alone in her favorite pastime. Canning is attracting a new group of devotees, with half of all canners now under the age of 40. And while 52% of those youngsters turn to the Internet to learn the basics, for lifelong canners like Cutchins, the pastime was passed down from generation to generation. When I was growing up, canning was done out of necessity because we lived in a small town and the grocery store was a ways away, says Cutchins. It was also done to save money. I was the youngest of five kids, and I remember watching my mother and helping her in the kitchen in the summer. She got so much joy out of making things. That s why I do it for the sheer joy of it! I m never happier than when I m in the kitchen making jam and jelly. I guess I ve got my mother s genes in me. I still have some of her canning books. Cutchins granddaughters and daughter-in-law have expressed an interest in learning how to can. My granddaughters helped me make a batch of jam once, she says, adding that they hope to do more canning in her daughter-in-law s sizable kitchen sometime soon. I gave them the recipe and stood back and watched and told them what the next step was. They really enjoyed that and said when they were done, it tasted as good as mine.

Canning queen

Over the 12 years Cutchins has lived at Charlestown, she has become well known among her friends and neighbors for her jam. I laugh when I go to the restaurants here at Charlestown and they have biscuits, says Cutchins. I ll say, Oh my, this would taste so good with a little bit of jam on it. And people will say, Well, that s your department. Cutchins loves to cook and has no plans to stop canning anytime soon. I have a sister who lives in Richmond, Va., she says. We write back and forth to each other and I ll tell her about all the stuff I m canning. Every summer, she ll get on me and say, Why do you do that? I thought you moved to Charlestown to retire and relax. I tell her it s not my nature to do nothing. And seeing friends and other people enjoy the fruits of my labor is the best part for me. I love doing it, and knowing that someone else is getting joy out of it, too, makes it worthwhile.