Canning crunch

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Canning is life.

For about 50 years, that statement has rung true for Peralta resident Les Schesser.

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: Produce canner Les Schesser carries some yellow squash from his Peralta garden. Schesser has canned produce for nearly 50 years.

Schesser, 57, is an Arvada, Colo., transplant who moved to Peralta in 2003 and has made the art of canning a regular part of his daily life.

He cans produce from pickles to green beans and relies on his uncanny ability to get the right seal on each can to preserve freshness.

But his ability likely saves him thousands of dollars per year.

He has a garden and grows several types of fruits and vegetables and seems to take great care in growing each kind.

Unopened jars of dill pickles can last as long as two years from the date he first sealed the containers until the day the seal is broken. He has recipes for certain items, such as garlic cloves for pickles and salt with green beans.

“I’m a slave to my stomach, as my good friend would say,” Schesser said.

But this canner doesn’t stop there.

The Peralta resident has both a peach and an apple tree and makes fruit preserves for himself and his family to enjoy. He is especially proud of his strawberry preserves — a taste that he says is “no comparison” to the store-bought jam.

The freshness packed into dill pickles and strawberry jam is no accident.

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: Jars of cans filled with produce sit on Les Schesser’s kitchen table. Schesser cans everything from squash to chile.

Schesser uses a special pot, complete with tongs, to ensure each can is sealed to perfection.

He boils most cans for more than 20 minutes, depending on the type of produce he plans to fill the jars with, and takes pride in his craft.

With produce stored in Zip Lock bags, he uses a device, similar to a Dustbuster, to “sock the air out of it,” to prevent freezer burn.

Bell peppers and chile don’t need as much work, he says.

“I’ve had really good luck with everything sealing,” Schesser says as he knocks on a nearby kitchen table.

Sealing is the most important part.

He estimates he canned 20 pints of green beans and 34 pints of dill pickles that he can use as sides for dishes and for family barbecues when the grandchildren are over to the house.

More produce is packed into each can — a value that the canner especially relies on in the winter months.

He said a positive element to canning at home is residents shouldn’t have to worry about botulism from bent or dented cans.

“People could get sick,” Schesser said. “I don’t have to worry about that. I trust my canning process.”

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: Les Schesser shows off his pressure cooker-like pot as he talks about the canning process.

That process started at an early age after he said his mother emphasized that her children learn how to cook. By age 10, he was making roasts for his family.

Schesser, who works part-time at a nursery, said his methods have allowed him to have items such as chile and spaghetti sauce as supplements to his meals, which are ready at a moment’s notice.

Grocery costs for canned fruits and vegetables disappear in the Peralta household.

Jars of green beans, squash, tomatoes and beans fill Schesser’s pantry and he can rest easy when it comes to certain foods for the winter time. He said his ability to can food has enabled him to limit his time at the grocery store.

“Why would I (buy canned food) if I know how (to can food),” Schesser said.

Residents who want to can should have a good system of gardening first, says Schesser. He said first-time gardeners must do research on what they are growing and pay attention to their particular fruit or vegetable.

One tip that he said is paramount to growing anything is not to use fresh manure in any garden. He said fresh manure doesn’t have a chance to develop much-needed nutrients to help grow food.

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: Bell peppers are a part of Les Schesser’s garden where most end up in canning jars for later use.

But a well-balanced soil mix with compost that is at least six months old is the right combination to get great results. The blend of soil and compost must “marinate” to get a more exact science before the canning process can begin.

“If you plant a four-foot row of something and half come up, you are wasting your time,” Schesser said.

Schesser said gardening takes time and residents who want to plant certain items must become an expert to know exactly what their garden needs. Then, the canning process can take place once Mason jars are set up and ready to go.

Safety is the most important aspect and needs to be taken seriously to get the desired results of good, fresh produce at any given moment.

Schesser admits he spends a lot of time in his garden and encourages others to start up their own to see how families can save money during an economic crunch.

Every meal for Schesser, it seems, has something to do with his canning process, from tuna salad to chile.

“(Family members) can’t get enough,” he says.


-- Email the author at bruffner@news-bulletin.com.