Generations of women dreaded canning because it was hot, hard work, but cookbook author Kim O'Donnel says the current crop of prospective canners approach the task with a different set of worries.
"They want to know if it's safe, if they're likely to kill someone from putting up their own food," says O'Donnel, the driving force behind this weekend's Can-It-Forward festivities at Pike Place Market. "There's a lot of mythology about home canning, particularly for this generation."
O'Donnel was a late convert to canning, but is now an enthusiastic proselytizer. She believes canning is among the best ways to celebrate local bounty, extend summer's flavors, and forge friendships. And it's extraordinarily safe, she says.
"There are certainly things you need to know how to do," O'Donell says, adding that the same goes for handling raw poultry, another potentially risky kitchen chore that many home cooks do frequently and without fear.
To mark Can-It-Forward day on Saturday, organizers have invited a slew of talented canners to show how they put up pickles, tomatoes, jams, and jellies. The sessions will be interspersed with chef demonstrations highlighting the use of canned goods in recipes. Although the event is in its third year, Can-It-Forward is making its national debut this weekend via live web-streaming.
Organizers are urging in-person participants and online viewers to join Can-A-Rama on Sunday, the start of a weeklong schedule of home canning parties nationwide.
Parties are critical for first-time canners because canning alone can be daunting, O'Donnel says. Canning is processing, not cooking, so even skilled cooks usually lack canning instincts at the outset.
"If you've never canned, it's really important to can with another person," O'Donnel says. "That's part of the joy of home canning."
As canners become more comfortable with their craft, they find their own specific pleasures, O'Donnel says. While she doesn't care for canning tomatoes, she has friends who say they couldn't withstand a winter without them. Other canners enjoy experimenting with newfangled jams or mastering old recipes for dilly beans.
O'Donnel promises that canning proclivities of all stripes will be on display tomorrow.
"You'll get to watch local people in action," she says. "I think it's going to be really fun."