New London cannery opens its doors for the season

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By John Barnhart

The New London Cannery kicked off the canning season with an open house last week.

Located behind New London Academy, the cannery is designed to help people with large gardens to produce in quantity. Gardeners canning in quantity can get the whole job done in one morning.

You buy your cans when you come in. These are regular tin cans, like you see on store shelves. The big difference is that when you're done, you know exactly what's in them because you put it there.

Once you get your cans, you use a Sharpie to mark the bottoms so you won't end up with mystery cans later. Susan Prillaman, of the Virginia Cooperative Extension, notes that a Sharpie must be used because the markings will survive the pressure cooker. The cooker's 240 degree, 15 pound per square inch steam will take the writing off if you use another type of marker.

You need to wash your cans. The cannery provides dish washing detergent, but customers must bring their own dishrags and dish towels.

Prillaman canned green beans as a demonstration. After washing them, the beans were steam blanched. This stops bacterial growth. The beans then went in cans with water and a little salt and the open cans were run through a steam tunnel to kill bacteria before they went through a machine that put a lid on them, sealing the can. Finally, they went in large pressure cookers where steam, heated to between 240 and 250 degrees under a pressure of 15 pounds per square inch heats them. The time that this process takes depends on what's in the can.

"People can meat in here," said Scott Polinek, the cannery's facility manager. "That takes an hour-and-a-half."

"Later on there'll be a lot of people coming in here with deer meat," he commented.

Polinek said that, in addition to deer meat, he has seen people come in with elk and moose meat, from hunting expeditions out of the area. He's also seen bear meat getting canned.

County employees operate all machinery and handle everything done with steam. This is for safety's sake.

Even though there is lots of steam around, it wasn't hot in the cannery. The work was being done in the morning and two large window fans pulling air in from outside, plus a large exhaust fan at the opposite end of the cannery kept the temperature comfortable.

Prillaman said that food safety is a big part of her job at the Cooperative Extension. Canning is safe, if done properly, and she can show people how to do it. She can also test the gauge on a home pressure cooker to see if it registers pressure correctly. She can be reached at 586-7675.