Preserving food is an important activity for many Alaskans, but you’ve got to have the space and the know-how to do it safely. The Sitka Kitch opened its doors earlier this year, to give Sitkans access to a large, commercial kitchen. The Sitka Kitch is also ideal for classes. The University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Cooperative Extension recently brought a food preservation workshop to the Kitch, and dozens of Sitkans went to sharpen their canning skills.
KCAW’s Vanessa Walker attended the workshop, and sent back this report.
The commercial kitchen located inside of the First Presbyterian Church on Sawmill Creek Road smells strongly of vinegar and spices.
That’s because a group of about 20 Sitkans are learning how to pickle and ferment fruits and vegetables.
On this particular day in mid-July instructor Sarah Lewis provided everything this large class needs to learn the food preservation process.
Lewis works for the UAF Cooperative Extension Service, and specializes in this kind of workshop. She says food preservation is prominent in Alaska.
“It was embraced as soon as canners came up to Alaska. Alaska Natives embraced it immediately, because they have lived a seasonal, needing to learn how to preserve their food through the winter existence for so long. It was immediately a another tool that they started using,” Lewis said.
Today’s focus is on pickling and fermenting.
Angelina Rubio stands at a cutting board packing vegetables into half-pint mason jars.
“I am currently slicing some zucchinis, we’re going to be pickling squash,” Rubio said.
“This is the first part, you’re going to get your vegetables ready,” she said.
Pickling in Lewis’ classes are a team effort. Next to Rubio is Sitka resident Charlotte Candelaria, who’s prepping the pickling solution.
“What I’m doing is preparing the garlic to go in our squash pickles,” Candelaria said. “So the garlic will go in with spices and the pickling solution in our jars,” she said.
Other groups were pickling apples, onions, and green beans. After canning, each jar goes into a large pot with boiling hot water.
While the amount of time each jar has to boil depends on the recipe, the foods they were processing usually have to sit for 1 or 2 days before they can be cracked open and eaten. The jars can be stored for a year or longer, as long as the seal isn’t broken.
The class was made possible by the availability of a kitchen space that could accommodate so many people.
The idea of a community commercial kitchen came to be during the 2013 Sitka Health Summit. The Sitka Conservation Society and First Presbyterian Church worked to get the project off the ground, and with grant money, brought the church’s kitchen up to commercial standards.
Since then the Sitka Local Foods Network has taken the reins to see what direction the kitchen can go toward from here.
The goal of the space is to have multiple uses, from culinary professionals, to individual residents in need of a large kitchen space, to community education– just like this food preservation workshop.
“Maybe somebody like myself, as a public health nutritionist, might want to teach a class on how do you prepare beans from scratch, since a lot of people don’t really know how to do that anymore,” said Lisa Sadlier-Hart, President of the Sitka Local Foods Network. “This would be a great place to have a really nice kitchen, good, big facility to do some good education,” she said.
But for program participants like Charlotte Candelaria, canning and fermenting isn’t necessarily out of necessity.
“I think it’s more the satisfaction, because you’re probably paying slightly more per jar or per can– if you can it. Because you’re not buying it in bulk like the stores do,” Candelaria said. “But, you know what goes into it and I think you value it more because you realize the time and the effort and the process,” she said.
Though the reasons why some preserve their food varies from person to person, Sadlier-Hart thinks that it’s becoming a movement.
“At the tail end of the recession that started in 2008, there was this kind of resurgence of interest in helping people figure out ways to lower their food costs,” Sadlier-Hart said. “This kind of trend has continued to grow,” she said.
And maybe one answer to that problem lies in food preservation.