Last week, I went on a “field trip” with Dr. Hamlin from UGA.  We also were joined by Jonathan Tescher and Erin Crooms from Georgia Organics and Chip Bridges, the State Director of Agricultural Education.  Our first stop was the cannery in Stevens County.

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I’d read about canneries in history books.  When I had my preservation class here at the farm, one of the ladies mentioned using a cannery when she was small, that the community would make their jams and jellies in this facility for their own use.  I’d gone to Alaska during college and I stayed with an Eskimo family way up near Nome.  Because they were on the ocean, fishing was a huge resource and they had their own fish cannery.

But I had never seen a cannery – until Wednesday.  I’m showing my ignorance here, but I was fully expecting this to be more of a museum than an actual working cannery.  Boy, was I wrong!

Chip Bridges used to be an Ag teacher in the school that’s affiliated with this particular cannery.  He’s rather passionate about the canneries and their usefulness to the community.  He shared some history and statistics before we entered the building.

from right to left: Chip Bridges, Dr. Hamlin, Erin Crooms, Jonathan Tesher

from right to left: Chip Bridges, Dr. Hamlin, Erin Crooms, Jonathan Tescher

There are 29 working canneries in the state of Ga and they are on the decline.  Mr. Bridges would like to see those numbers reversed and now that I know how useful a cannery is, I wholeheartedly agree!!  Let me take you through the tour…

These are pressure cookers and many stainless steel working tables

There are pressure cookers and many stainless steel working tables

A person may bring in their produce and process the vegetables and fruits at the cannery.  There are two ways to do this – with a metal can or a person may bring in their own canning jars to use.

Chip explaining the different containers to Jonathan

Chip explaining the different containers to Jonathan

For ease of understanding, I’m going to use green beans to explain the beginning to end process.

A person would bring in their baskets of green beans, already snapped and ready to be processed.  The beans would be put into these large trays and run through the blancher.

Chip explaining how the blancher works

Chip explaining how the blancher works

The beans are then put into either a can or a jar and hot water is added.  There is a large pot with hot water available at all times.  Depending on the family “recipe”, salt or sugar or whatever else, is added to the can of beans.  The cans/jars are then run through a steamer for final cleaning of the cans/jars.

The cans and jars are put on the narrow track and run through the steamer

The cans and jars are put on the narrow track and run through the steamer

After they come through the steamer, the metal cans have the lids put on with this machine.

The cans are moved to the machine that will put on lids

The cans are moved to the machine that will put on lids

Voila!  Lids!

Voila! Lids!

After the lids are put on, the cans/jars are taken to the pressure cookers.  Now here’s the part I particularly liked…each of these cookers can hold 72 cans!!  My home pressure cooker can hold 7.  These take 5 minutes to reach proper pressure, mine takes about 30 minutes.  I’m reluctant to do beans at home because it takes so long – but here at the cannery it wouldn’t take that long at all!

Pressure cookers

Pressure cookers

I’m impressed already by what I’ve seen and it keeps getting better and better….

I asked the question.  If I brought in large pots of chili, or stew, or spaghetti sauce, would I be able to can that also?

Their reply, why make it at home when you could make it here!  I’m speechless!  They have these large kettles in which to cook all kinds of food.  You should see the size of the ladles!

Large kettles for cooking

Large kettles for cooking

The valve at the bottom of the kettle allows for ease in putting the food into cans or jars.  The process of canning is the same as I’ve already explained.

Can you imagine!?  I loved the idea of making all my mess at the cannery and coming home with my food preserved for the winter- all neat and tidy!  With all that I could can, it just might look like this when I’m finished 🙂

A pallet of cans waiting to be filled

A pallet of cans waiting to be filled

A popular use of the cannery is putting up jams and jellies and applesauce.  I like the idea of bringing in boxes of apples from the mountains and making applesauce at the cannery and bringing it home in jars or cans.  I’m planning a field trip for the family!!

The cost is nominal for the use of the cannery.  It’s 65 cents per can and 25 cents per jar (you must bring your own jars and lids).  There’s no charge for doing all your cooking at the facility.

Here’s a banner they had hanging in the building.

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With the increase of people growing their own food, I believe these canneries would be incredibly useful.  The other plus is that  Ag teachers from the local high school are at the cannery to help answer questions and help you through the process of canning your food.

Now, this cannery in Stevens County is unique in that it also has a meat processing part facility.  This is the only one in Georgia with this availability.  Again, I was so surprised by all that was here to be used by the community.

There is a meat locker where folks from the community may hang their meat while it “rests” or ages.   Beef needs to be hung for at least 21 days.

The meat locker

The meat locker

While it hangs, a bacteria grows on the meat which breaks down the fibers and tenderizes the meat.

People in the community are able to hang their meat in the freezer

People in the community are able to hang their meat in the freezer

This particular cannery also has a freezer for curing meat – hams and bacon, etc.

Hams, either in salt or sugar, curing in the freezer

Hams, either in salt or sugar, curing in the freezer

People in the community are also able to rent a locker box in the last freezer.  Each drawer holds about 100# of meat.

These lockers are rented by people in the community for meat storage

These lockers are rented by people in the community for meat storage

Look at the color of this meat!  It was ground and vacuum packed at the cannery.  It really doesn’t get any fresher than this!IMG_1474

Again, they have all the equipment to process meat here at the cannery. Your options are endless!  You can vacuum pack the meat or cook it down and can it, or make it into a dish of some sort and then can it.  They have all the equipment you need and all the help and expertise to guide you from the local Ag teachers that work at the cannery.

A saw used for cutting meat.  One of the Ag teachers is there to help with this job.

A saw used for cutting meat. One of the Ag teachers is there to help with this job.

Another saw used for cutting meat

Another saw used for cutting meat

A commercial vacuum sealer

A commercial vacuum sealer

This sealer will even seal if there’s liquid in the bag.  Mine at home won’t!

My head was swimming at the end of this tour.  I had no idea these were available to the communities.  They told us that people travel from all over – even other states, to use this facility.  It’s easy to see why!  It’s unfortunate more people don’t know about the canneries.

Sometimes students in the Ag classes at the high school will come over to help people with their canning.  How wonderful to know that young people are learning these skills for future use.

Needless to say, I’ve become a big fan of the local cannery.  The sad part is, the closest one is in Franklin County, about 45 minutes away.  At one time in history, one only had to travel a short distance to use a cannery.  I do hope Chip Bridges is successful in keeping the canneries alive!