Yesterday I attended a Gifts from the Kitchen class taught by the Lane County Master Food Preservers. I probably sound like a broken record, but I am amazed at the incredible resources available to us in the Willamette Valley. The class featured sections on jams and jellies, chutneys, pie fillings, vinegars, and liqueurs. I canned with my Grandma and Mom as a kid and started canning for us last summer. Even though I’m not a total novice, I learned a ton from the instructors. They are not only knowledgeable about recipes, but they understand the chemistry behind it and are able to offer solid advice about food safety and nutrition. The class was incredibly well staffed – the instructor/staff to student ratio was almost 1 to 1. Each of the instructors seemed to have experimented with various food preservation recipes and techniques (safely, of course) and offered in depth experience.
We have attended other cooking class/demonstrations and gotten far less useful information (not to mention having been given a sales pitch for every product/gadget being used) and paid a lot more. The instructors clearly understood that part of the goal of making our own is cost savings and they offered their suggestions and experience on ways to stretch our dollars. They are unpretentious, budget conscious foodies.
The demonstrations included seasonal ingredients (like cranberries and wine) and offered creative ways to use them (like cranberry chutney, wine jelly). There were also several hands-on activities – my personal favorite was the make your own vinegar activity. One particularly helpful section for me was the pie filling part. I have canned pie filling – both apple and cherry, and could never find Clear-Jel. Clear-Jel is commonly used in canned pie filling recipes (all of the ones I have seen) but it is not an easy ingredient to find. I have substituted corn starch in the past, but there really is no good substitute for it. My canned pie fillings are proof of this. I discovered yesterday that the Extension Office sells it in 1 lb or 4 lb quantities. You can also buy it at Cash & Carry in much larger quantities (I think 25 lbs).
They sent us home with a couple jars of cranberry chutney, our vinegar concoction, and a raft of recipes. AND they fed us a delicious lunch. All of this fun, knowledge, and loot for $30.
They are offering more 1 day classes starting in January including a jams and jellies class, and a 4 class series on baking your own bread. If you are interested, contact the Extension Office for information on how to sign up or look for updates on the Culinaria Eugenius blog.
Read about other local food and food related sources here.