When I arrived, everyone was busily working away at a number of stations in the kitchen and fellowship hall of the church. Before I get into the whole story, let me digress for a minute. How cool is it for a church to have a large organic garden that feeds the community? Berea Mennonite Church and Oakleaf Mennonite Farm is located just a few miles from downtown Atlanta, but it feels like a world away as you survey rows upon rows of tomatoes, sweet potatoes, greens, squash and the multitude of produce they grow on their three-acre plot. The "first fruits" feed those in need and the rest are distributed through their CSA program and sold at local farmer's markets such as the EAV Farmers Market and Grant Park Farmers Market.
So, back to CanJam. My first task was to cut cucumbers into spears for dill pickles. Next to me, another person sliced cucumbers on the mandoline cutter for bread and butter pickles. Others tore leaves off stalks of freshly picked basil, chopped peppers and onions, peeled garlic and boiled jars and lids in large pots outside. The aroma of basil, dill, garlic, vinegar and all kinds of deliciousness filled the room – especially when the pesto making got underway. EAV Farmers Market chef, Seth Freedman, demonstrated how to make pesto and the food processor was in a constant whirl as individuals took turns whipping up basil, nuts garlic and olive oil into a delightful paste.
|Chef Seth demonstrates perfect pesto making.|
|This little guy really took to it and was quite the pro!|
|Pouring the brine in jars -- pickle magic.|
Lately when I've been giving my 3-year-old his baby carrots, he has been asking, "Who grew these?" I wish I could tell him. I dream of a world where we all know where our food comes from, what the ingredients are and what the real nutritional benefits (or detriments) are – but that's a post for another day. When he devoured the pickled okra I brought home, it was nice to be able to tell him that it was grown just down the road and that "Mommy helped to make it." I think I am going to attempt some pickled okra soon. You'll definitely be hearing about it!
For now, I leave you inspired and encouraged by coming together with a community of folks that I didn't even know and making something beautiful. The pesto that we made was so delicious and made a perfect meal the next day. We did not "can" it, but placed it jars to be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. You can also freeze it (in a freezer friendly plastic or glass container). I will work on getting the recipe for the pesto, but for now, here's a picture of the finished product and what you can do with a little forethought – and a food processor. Stay tuned for more canning and preserving experiments and recipes coming soon!