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Two years ago I was in one of our local grocery stores in town and happened to see a brochure at the register for the Riner Cannery.  I was intrigued, so I slipped the brochure into my grocery bag to check it out later.  Then I proceeded to put it on my to-do list – for two years.

Part of my delay was the goal (what I now see as an unattainable goal) to produce enough of my own vegetables to warrant going to the cannery.  But I just had to face the facts that I don’t have a big enough garden to grow that much at one time.  For example, to put up just 7 quarts of tomato sauce, one would need to arrive at the cannery with 42 POUNDS of tomatoes.  Not gonna happen, my friend.  So as soon as I got over that and hit up the farmer’s market for my tomatoes, we were in business.  well, sort of.  you’ll see.

So let’s begin the tour:  Welcome to the Riner Cannery.  Riner is a small community within Montgomery County (the county where I live).  This cannery first originated during WWII, when Victory Gardens were the norm and everyone was doing their part to help in the war effort.  The cannery was, until a few years ago, a part of Auburn High School, since it was built by the very hands of some industrious Auburn highschoolers back in the 40’s.

Today, the purpose of the cannery is to accommodate families or non-profits who would like to can and either need a little guidance, or don’t have their own equipment.  Ross and I fell into both categories.

I’ve already mentioned that our mission that day was tomato sauce.  The first step was to flash steam them so that their skins would easily slip off.  This is the contraption that does that.

Then the tomatoes go under the sprayer to get cooled off before we peel them.

We decided that since we were making sauce, popping all the tomatoes through the food mill would help break them down and make a smooth sauce.  This is me and our volunteer teacher extraordinaire, Kelly, giving the food mill a test run.

Let the food milling begin.  The tomatoes get loaded in from the top, and then seeds and any extra skins come out one hole, and wonderful tomato juice/pulp comes out another.

We ran the tomatoes through twice to make sure we got all the juice we could.

Then it was ready to add whatever other ingredients we wanted.  Our recipe called for garlic, onion,  basil, salt, and pepper.

Next the whole thing goes into this large pot that is rapidly heated with steaming water underneath.  This was both the slowest and most heartbreaking part of the process:  as the sauce thickens, it also reduces. and reduces.  and reduces.  until you just about wonder why you even came because there’s like one tablespoon of sauce left.  We never weighed them, but I think we only showed up with 10 or so pounds of tomatoes, which seemed like a lot to me at the time.  Final yield:  2.5 quarts of sauce.

oh well, you live and you learn.

Finally, after lots of waiting and stirring, the sauce goes straight into our clean glass quart jars.

This ancient guy is an industrial version of a pressure canner.  It works its magic to seal the lids, heat up everything, and make it ready to be stored on a shelf until we use it.

so that was our first experience at the cannery.  i think that i could potentially take on a small project like this on my own now, but it was definitely nice to have some guidance and some really efficient machinery for our first time.  it seems like canneries aren’t that common anymore, so i’m so glad we got a chance to use ours.

and look, they even have their own little promo video on youtube: