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Fare Well in Local Canning Competitions

Rule of thumb: Stick with the standards

Once something of a dying art, home canning has enjoyed a mini resurgence as more and more people rediscover the joys of country living. And county fairs are a great place to see what others in your community are putting in jars — and maybe, if you’re up for a challenge, seeing how your efforts stack up against the competition.

If you’re hesitant to try your hand at canning for fear of making a mistake – or making someone ill — think about taking a course in canning. Local county extension offices offer classes that walk a would-be home canner through the dos and don’t of food-preservation safety.

Also, the USDA publishes time-tested canning guidelines and recipes on a “Complete Guide to Home Canning” webpage that’s easy to find and follow.

Judging in the home canning arts category is no joke to Shelly Barnes, an agriculture extension officer in Wilson County. Food safety is the number one concern for canned goods, she said.

What judges like to see are entries that have clearly been properly processed in clean mason jars, with brand new lids and rings.

So, for example, a bright red jar of tomato sauce that has not been processed long enough is sure to be skipped in favor of a browner product. And if your jelly jars are sticky with jam, that is an indication that something went wrong in processing and it will not likely winning a ribbon.

In fact, Barnes said she’s not above refusing to award a blue ribbon if no entry is worthy of one.

The Competitor View

Tapatha Ray of Smithville knows a few things about blue ribbons. Last year she won an astounding 55 of them in the Dekalb County Fair.

Her farm sells produce at the farmers market on Saturdays. But what doesn’t sell is carefully preserved for winter use by her customers and family. When county fair time arrives, Tapatha chooses samples from her store to submit for judging.

Ray said that in her experience, what “doesn’t work” is getting too creative in canning competitions and coming up with odd concoction and mixtures that judges likely haven’t seen before.

“One year I added bright red peppers to my pickles and those jars were not chosen, probably because they were not your usual pickle,” said Mrs. Ray.

No Taste-Testing

It’s pretty obvious to anybody who’s tried them that home-canned foods taste better than their store-bought counterparts.

So it might seem a little strange that Tennessee fair judges don’t typically perform taste-tests on the contents of the jars they’re evaluating. Wilson County Fair’s Barnes said that’s because they have no way of knowing whether the submissions were in fact properly packed, processed and handled. And the equipment required to check for safety is expensive, she said.

In sum, if you want to make a winning impression at your local fair, choose your produce carefully, use proper mason jars, measure the “headspace” and make certain to follow established guidelines and conservative recipes.

Catching a judge’s eye in a good way often means signaling that you’re confident enough in your canning skills to put traditional simplicity to the competitive test.

Nicole Sauce is a homesteader, publisher, podcaster and local coffee roaster. Reach her at LivingFreeInTennessee.com.

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Best Local Bets for a Good Cup of Joe

There’s obvious truth in the observation that unforeseen slips often come ‘twixt cup and lip. It’s easy to forget, though, that much goes into making the cup’s contents worthy of attempting a sip to begin with.

Local roasting experts agree that starting with freshly roasted coffee beans makes all the difference.

Coffee flavor stems from the bean itself and Eric Tate of Bootleg Roasting Company takes time to learn the best roasting profile for each bean he sells.

Bootleg specializes in a dark roast, but they have found certain high-end beans, such as those from Hawaii’s famed Kona Region, taste much better at a medium to light roast. BRC, derived their name as a joke about being a black-market bean provider: they were an underground source for fantastic coffee for their family and friends.

Calfkiller Brewing Company’s fire-roasted blend sprung from roaster Don Sergio’s love of a quality cup of coffee and a need for something special to add to a coffeehouse stout beer. After experimenting with a homemade contraption over an open fire, Sergio developed his own roasting system to take advantage of his unique take on flame-based roasting.

It isn’t too difficult to fashion your own intermediate-sized coffee roaster, like this one one built into a propane grill.

Roasters in our region all tell a similar tale that starts with equal parts love of good coffee and passion for local marketing. They began roasting at home, then grew to providing coffee for family and friends. They built their own intermediate-sized roasters – each adding a unique take on the concept. And as their skills developed, they took the plunge into the retail market.

Yet there is more to roasting coffee than simply applying heat to a green bean, according to Zach Buckner of Broast in Cookeville.

Ambient temperature, airflow and relative humidity can impact the speed of the roast as well as the flavor of the end product. Buckner compares using freshly roasted coffee to using fresh herbs.

Buckner says there is just no comparison between a coffee roasted four days ago and one that has been sitting on a shelf for six months. In sum: Freshness matters.

With the growing number of micro-roasters in the Upper Cumberland region, there is likely a fresh bean that meets the preference of any coffee drinker. Consider trying something new in your morning brew from a local craftsman.

Local Microroasters
● Calfkiller, Sparta: http://calfkillerbrewingco.storenvy.com/
● Broast, Cookeville: http://www.broasttn.com/
● Bootleg Roasting Co., Cookeville: https://www.facebook.com/bootlegroastingco/
● Holler Roast Coffee, Lancaster: HollerHomestead.com

Nicole Sauce is a local coffee roaster, backwoods podcaster and publisher of Center Hill Sun. Learn more about her homesteading endeavors at LivingFreeinTennessee.com.