Somerville’s new urban agriculture center, Relish, has only been open since June 1, but it’s already become a major community hub. With a shop that stocks everything from compost bins to locally made products like the Cuppow and classes on everything from beekeeping to fermentation, Relish provides the resources urban residents need to tackle projects traditionally the domain of rural dwellers.
So when founders Mimi Graney (executive director of Union Square Main Streets) and MaryCat Chakin (manager of the Union Square and Winter Farmers Markets) invited me to take a class at Relish, I jumped at the chance.
I consider myself pretty adept in the kitchen, but one thing has always intimidated me: canning. Baked goods and savory dishes are something I tackle regularly, but I’ve always been afraid of poisoning myself (or worse, someone else!) by canning something improperly. So when I saw there was a Relish class focusing on canning late summer harvests, I knew it was the one I wanted to take.
The cost for the class was $35, which included two hours of detailed instruction on how to make two kinds of peach jam, how to properly can jam (and other foods) and a jar of jam to take home. (Full disclosure: I took the class for free, but all opinions are my own.) Most of the other Relish classes are priced similarly, which I think is very reasonable compared to other area classes I’ve taken and for what you get out of the classes.
Our guide into the world of canning was Sam Musher (pictured above), food preservationist extraordinaire. Musher, a teacher, spends her summers preserving a bounty of fresh food so she can enjoy local produce year-round. She has years of experience canning and preserving food and put everyone at ease that it was highly unlikely we would sicken ourselves or others when canning jams, pickles and other food.
During the two-hour class, which was held at Relish on Sanborn Court in Union Square on a recent Saturday morning, we made two peach jams with fresh fruit from Nicewicz Farm purchased at the Union Square Farmers Market. One of the jams used pectin, a natural gelling agent, while the other one used none except what was already present in the fruit. It was fascinating to see the two different jams, as they were completely different colors despite having all the same ingredients (except pectin). The one with pectin is on the left below and the one without is on the right.
The real fun started when we learned the steps necessary to safely can the jam. I thought this was going to be really scary or difficult, but Musher was so relaxed that she completely took the intimidation factor out of the process. We all took a turn canning some jam and got to know each other while the boiling water did its magic sealing the jars. Everyone in the class was really friendly and it was so fun to meet others who live in the area with similar interests.
Once the jars were ready, we removed them and listened to the seals pop shut. Then we each got to pick one of the jams to take home. And while we could’ve saved them for the dark of winter when we’re craving fresh peaches, I couldn’t resist opening mine the next day. It was fantastic spread on some Iggy’s whole wheat sourdough toast!
I can’t wait to use the skills I learned at Relish to do some canning of my own. I think I’m going to start with pickles this weekend and try to do jam while stone fruits are still in season. If you’re looking to do some canning, the Relish shop sells everything you need to get started. It’s open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 5 p.m.-8:30 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. And if you’re interesting in taking a class at Relish, this is the full schedule of upcoming events (including some great stuff for kids).