Expert Interview Series: Kristine Grego of Kitchen Kettle Village With Advice on Canning

Kristine Grego is a food specialist at Kitchen Kettle Village, a speciality food shop located in Lancaster County, Pa. that is known for its Pennsylvania Dutch products including jams, jellies, relishes and canned goods. We recently checked in with...

Kristine Grego is a food specialist at Kitchen Kettle Village, a speciality food shop located in Lancaster County, Pa. that is known for its Pennsylvania Dutch products including jams, jellies, relishes and canned goods.

We recently checked in with her to learn more about Pennsylvania Dutch cooking and get her advice on canning. Here's what she had to say:

Can you tell us a little about Pennsylvania Dutch cooking? What are the staples?

When I think of Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking, I think of things like Chow Chow, ham loaf, scrapple, pork pudding, pot pie (made on the top of the stove in a big kettle, not the kind with a top and bottom crust and browned butter; hearty stick-to-the-ribs foods. Early Lancaster (Pa.) Countians were primarily farmers. Chow Chow is a great example of using up everything - it is also known as the "end of the garden" relish, as it was a way of preserving those last little bits of vegetables before frost came.

Kitchen Kettle Village is known for its jams, jellies, salsas and other canned goods. What sets your products apart?

Kitchen Kettle Foods, Inc. has been canning for over 60 years and as we celebrate three generations of ownership, we are still committed to all aspects of food quality and safety. We practice it daily and train on it continually. We produce small batches throughout the year to allow our guests the highest quality products and the ability to watch us work.

Our flagship store, located in Intercourse, Pa., showcases our canning kitchen and draws close to 800,000 visitors each year. We don't add any artificial colors or preservatives during our processing and each ingredient panel is simple and easy to read without terms that are not easily understood. And, when you come for a visit, you can taste every product made before you buy it.

What are the must-have tools for home cooks who want to try canning?

First, and foremost, the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. It's a must read before one even begins to gather the actual canning tools.

Also, the phone number of their local cooperative extension office should any problems occur or questions arise.

The actual equipment: Boiling water bath canner, jars that are threaded, tempered glass that a two-piece closure will be able to be closed tightly on, canning funnel to place the product in the jar easily, screw on bands and the one-time-use lids, jar lifter, big kettle to cook what you will be canning, and standard small kitchen equipment as per each recipe.

What are some basic rules for canning that home cooks should know?

Remove trapped air in jar before sealing - I usually run a knife down in the product along the sides of the jar, make sure you leave about ½'' headspace at the top of the jar so a vacuum can occur, wipe off the top of the jar so there is no product to interfere with the sealing process, and follow your recipe exactly. There is nothing worse than canning and finding the product has spoiled two months later.

What are some of the most common canning problems cooks might run into? How do you solve them?

Sometimes your jelly, jam, or preserve doesn't set up. My suggestion: use it as a syrup over pancakes or waffles, pound cake or ice cream.

Jars not sealing: depending on what is being canned, it can be recanned. Reheat product in a sauce pan; place in a clean, sterilized jar; close with a new lid and screw band; and reprocess. This works great for sauces. For items that will become very soft with reprocessing, I suggest either eating it right away or if it can be frozen, placing it in a freezer container and freezing.

What are the biggest canning no-nos (things cooks should never do)?

The biggest is NOT following directions completely. Jars need to be cleaned and sterilized in boiling water; for jams, the amount of each ingredient must be used in the order specified for the set to happen. When processing, the time is of utmost importance for the proper seal.

For those who are new to canning, what are some easy recipes to get started with?

For jellies, jams, and preserves, I recommend using the Ball brand of sure-jell (pectin). Inside each box is a sheet with recipes. It's great for a beginner; after you have made several, then you can start to branch out.

I start my canning season making strawberry jam - I think it's my favorite to make. I also think apple sauce is easy: the way that I do it is to quarter ripe apples, remove core, add some water to the kettle, and cook until soft. They can then be put through a Victoria Strainer, or some other type of strainer that will allow the apple pulp to go through but not the skins.

What are some of your favorite canned foods? Why do you love them?

Applesauce, Tomato Soup, and Apple Pie Filling. These three are not made here at Kitchen Kettle. I love the fact that I can control what is going into each product. For example, my tomato soup doesn't have any sugar in it - I use carrots for getting the right balance with the acidic tomatoes. Also, I consider them to be my convenience foods - great for quick meals or dessert. I also love having them on hand if I'm preparing a meal for someone - they make a great addition. Additionally, they make great gifts.

What are your favorite resources for learning more about canning?

As mentioned previously, the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, the cooperative extension office in my county (it is affiliated with Penn State University), and other seasoned canners.

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