Jelling cooking with community

Posted: Sunday, September 26, 2010

"What's the difference between a jam and a jelly?"

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Jennifer Nu / For The Juneau Empire
Jennifer Nu / For The Juneau Empire

"Do I really have to use that much sugar to make jam?"

"What can I make with high-bush cranberries?"

These questions and more were answered at Juneau's first Community Kitchens event held on Sept. 17 in the home economics room of Thunder Mountain High School. Roxie Dinstel, a visiting Home, Health, and Family Development agent from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service (CES) responded to these questions during a two-hour hands-on workshop on making jams and jellies.

"A jelly is made from juice while a jam is made from crushed fruit."

"Sugar is important for jell formation, but you can choose a no-sugar or low-sugar pectin to use less sugar."

"Cooperative Extension has many recipes for locally harvested foods. High-bush cranberry apple butter is a good one."

Following Dinstel's presentation, participants had the chance to cook up their own tasty concoctions to take home. Joey Ausel stirred sugar and pectin into the saucepot full of strawberries and rhubarb while her husband, Chad, kept an eye on the timer and set out jars.

"We came to learn the foundations for making jams first before trying out different recipes at home," said Joey. "Anyone can read a recipe, but it's always better to learn the basics from an expert."

Juneau Community Kitchens is a collaborative effort between the Juneau Commission on Sustainability (JCOS) and the Cooperative Extension's Juneau District Office. Similar to the model of The Canvas as a community art studio, JCOS member Sarah Lewis envisioned a community kitchen to be "open for public use so people could process their local catches and harvests in a community setting." Because of Juneau's geography and multitude of community groups, the initial idea of a single community kitchen expanded to create a network of existing kitchens throughout the city that would be more easily accessible to the public.

The first step in creating this network involves developing a guidebook and database of participating kitchens in Juneau.

"All kitchens are certified by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to ensure sanitary conditions and well-maintained equipment," said Lewis, adding that that oftentimes, many of these kitchens hardly get used.

Lewis is currently compiling and organizing the data needed to ensure that the guide will help people find a kitchen to meet their specific needs, including details such as location, contact information, any associated costs and kitchen-specific rules. Activities could include cooking classes, community dinners, processing locally-harvested foods into products to be sold at the farmer's market and any other activities that bring people together for the purpose of making and sharing homemade foods.

Back in the home ec room, sweet, fruity vapors filled the air and jewel-bright colors shimmered inside pint-sized glass jars. As jars were loaded into a boiling water bath canner, Dinstel set out crackers for everyone to taste-test the residues left in the pans. The results?

"Absolutely delicious," said Rich Anderson as he sampled fresh cranberry jelly. "This is a great opportunity for the people to get involved in the local foods movement and to meet others with similar interests."

A few people stayed after the workshop to participate in the hour-long open kitchen.

"I don't have this much space in my apartment, so having a place to do this is just wonderful," said Lois Dworshak as a cornucopia of summer fruit bubbled into batch of homemade jam.

Nearby, Suzanne Forsling worked with high-bush cranberries that she harvested while hiking. As she mashed them through a sieve, she commented, "Even though I'm an experienced canner, the workshop and the open kitchen were really beneficial. You always learn new tricks at events like these."

While the guide is still being developed, plans are already in the works to continue holding monthly Community Kitchens events, so people can keep an eye out for announcements in the paper, on the radio and on flyers around town. Lewis emphasized that the open kitchens will be especially important in late summer and early fall.

"Many people will be processing fish, berries, apples, meat, and the bounty of the gardens," she said.

The open kitchen will provide both space and an opportunity for aspiring and experienced cooks to exchange advice and information.

As the saying goes, the heart of a home can be found in kitchen. Juneau Community Kitchens aims to bring homemade local foods back into heart of the community.

• To learn more about the Community Kitchens Network directory and events, contact juneaucommunitykitchens@gmail.com.

• For resources on food preservation and food safety, contact the UAF Cooperative Extension Service at 796-6221 or visit the office on the 2nd floor of the UAS Bill Ray Center in downtown Juneau. Publications and learning modules can be found online at www.uaf.edu/ces.

• Jennifer Nu is a freelance writer in Juneau. Contact her at jennu.jnu@gmail.com.



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