Canning to Preserve Tasty, Healthy Traditions

I fondly remember making applesauce from fresh-picked apples with my mom in our little kitchen up north. We made chunky-style sauce from locally-grown Macintoshes in a time when only pureed applesauce was available at the grocery store, adding cinnamon for a flavor that became my definition of delicious!

When reading labels on spaghetti sauce, sugar is often listed as a top ingredient, right after tomatoes. For diabetics, sugar is a no-no, and I don’t care for it in my sauce. My homemade spaghetti sauce does not contain any sugar and my family loves it.

Homemade foods taste better, allow for any myriad of dietary restrictions and are less expensive than their store-bought counterparts. Fresh foods are packed with more vitamins, minerals and flavor than processed. So why don’t I cook them often?

The only problem with making applesauce and spaghetti sauce from scratch is the time involved. Memories of cooking with my mom are sweet so I want to continue those traditions with my children and grandchildren, but right after work isn’t a good time for this, so I searched out alternatives.

Community Canneries

I found Citrus and Hernando Counties’ public canneries; buildings owned by the county, and run by the counties’ Parks and Recreation Departments, that house “high speed commercial food prep equipment and gas stoves/ovens to allow members to prepare food and fill their jars in a timely, safe, and clean kitchen setting.” 1

In the 1940s and 50s, women would gather in community to process that season’s harvest, preserving it for sustenance throughout the year. Not only was good food stored, memories and friendships were fused and reignited during these social occasions.

(L-R) Mrs. Ann Jerkins. Mrs. Maggie Hardin, (Mother of Mrs. Annie Langley and Grandmother of Mrs. Parl Maynard), Mrs. Helen Langley, Mrs. Carman Townsend, Mrs. Eva Townsend, Mrs. Karla Rooks, Mrs. Gladys Perryman (Mother of Mrs. Della Allen), and Mrs. Margaret Allen at the Citrus County Cannery. Image courtesy of http://www.gospel-family.net

Historic Buildings house the Canneries

Both Canneries are located in historic buildings built in the late 1930s to early 1940s by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Both were built to house schools: in Citrus County, the Lecanto School was constructed in 1938 and in Hernando County, the Hammock Consolidated School was constructed in 1941. Both buildings are limestone rock construction, built to withstand hurricanes and more.

Indoor bathrooms were added to the Lecanto School in the early 1940s, and in 1955 the Citrus County School Board closed the school, sending its students to Crystal River. It remained shuttered for 10 years, utilized only as a storage facility. In 1965, classes were once again held and two of the old classrooms were converted into a kitchen and a dining room. The classes ceased in 1967.

Around 1970, the old Citrus County canning plant was closed and the operations were moved to the former Lecanto school building where they remain. Air conditioning was added to the building in the early 2000s and the electric service was modernized.

The Citrus County Cannery is open by appointment and houses commercial equipment to process fresh foods into tasty, long-lasting, healthy foods.

Citrus County Cannery

Today, the Canning Kitchen at the Citrus County Cannery is located at 3405 W. Southern Street in Lecanto, and is open only by appointment. It contains all the necessary tools and appliances that you will need to preserve fruits and vegetables, sauces, relishes, jams, etc. – even pea shellers and juicers are available for your use. Individuals or families interested in canning should call 352-527-7549 for an appointment to use the facility. There is no staff on-site to assist you.2

Little Rock Cannery

The Little Rock Cannery was built in 1941 as the Hammock Consolidated School. The building was also used as a school for orphans and runaways, a cooperative extension site (Hammock Extension Homemakers), and a northern extension site for the Hernando County Library system. In 1974, it became the Cannery.

Kathi Commandi is on-site at the Little Rock Cannery, managing day-to-day operations and providing assistance to patrons. Image courtesy of Robin Draper, AuthenticFlorida.com

The building and property are owned by Hernando County and the Cannery is managed by the Hernando County Recreation Department. Kathi Comandi is on-site full-time Tuesday through Saturday 8am-4pm, managing all facets of the Cannery’s business.

She is a retired RN, health care executive, and former New York police officer. Kathi and her husband are passionate about engaging people in ‘Farm to Table’ and empowering people to make better food choices by “returning to our farms and canning the bountiful harvest!”

The Cannery has the capacity to pressure can up to 96 jars at one time, along with a double water bath processor, high speed commercial food prep equipment and a gas stove/oven to allow members to prepare food and fill their jars in a timely, safe, and clean kitchen setting.

Canning is a great way to preserve the taste of each season for savoring throughout the year. Most anything can be processed and canned. Image courtesy of Robin Draper, AuthenticFlorida.com.

Commercial Equipment & Community Support

Although anyone could process and can at home, these public canneries have equipment that allows patrons to produce high volumes of jars in shorter times. The commercial equipment and open layouts of these beautiful, historic canneries make it much easier to jar fresh food for future consumption.

Additionally, the Little Rock Cannery, just north of US 98 at 15487 Citrus Way, has staff available to keep newbies from ruining their creations. With a community of people interested in consuming the increasing variety of fresh local foods, Comandi shares, “I really believe it’s the community exchange that’s valuable — people sharing the knowledge of what products are available where, the recipes, and, of course, the friendships.”

Call 352-799-4226 to make an appointment to check out the Little Rock Cannery for yourself.

Making Memories while Preserving Food

The Hernando Historic Preservation Society visited the Little Rock Cannery and had a blast! Image courtesy of the Hernando Historic Preservation Society.

I started this article with my memory of making food with mom. Cooking together is a time-honored tradition that is evaporating from a lot of homes. It was recently brought to my attention that washing dishes resolved a lot of sibling conflicts because problems were worked out before we left each other’s company.

The trend to eating healthier foods is a good one. I don’t have time or inclination to fight over the causes of rampant obesity and diseases in our society, but I do know that less processing means more goodness from the food we eat. Also, more time together means stronger families and communities.

Let’s get together and process some food together – NatureCoaster to NatureCoaster. If you’re in, click here and leave your contact info. As soon as I get something organized, you will be the first to know.

1 Source: http://www.hernandocounty.us/cannery/

2 Source: http://www.citrusbocc.com/commserv/parksrec/bldgs/canning/canning-center.htm