Christina Ward thinks she can help anyone learn to preserve food. Her straightforward, no-nonsense approach goes back to canning with her grandmother, one that’s grown into sharing everything she’s learned in her first book, “Preservation: The Art and Science of Canning, Fermentation and Dehydration” (Process Media, $24.95) in stores June 20.
Featuring few pictures, this is a practical guide with a look at history and science, presenting food safety and dangers along with recipes for everything from jams, jellies and pickles, to sauerkraut, kimchi, ketchup, mustard and steak sauce.
Exploring the science behind preservation, Ward studied and tested to become a master food preserver for Milwaukee County. She started teaching a few years ago, offering classes through the Milwaukee Recreation Department (her next classes won’t begin until fall, dates to be determined).
She’s unequivocal about what you should and should not do for safe food preservation, and she fields calls from all around the country. It’s all about passing on the art of preservation.
Ward, who lives in Cudahy with her husband, Dan Niedziejko, and daughter, Ruadhan, will be at Boswell Books, 2559 N. Downer Ave., reading and signing books at 7 p.m. June 23.
It’s that thing that happened to kids in the ’60s and ’70s, city kids shipped to the farm in the summer. My mother is a terrible cook. Awful. A product of that time period of boxes, cans. She made something we thought was gorified hamburgers, but it was really glorified hamburgers. Terrible.
We’d go to my grandma’s farm on my dad’s side. My grandma wasn’t a gourmet cook, but she was an old farm cook. Potatoes don’t come out of a box, corn does not come out of a can. From her garden you’re eating fresh strawberries. It was a revelation. That was the beginning, and it led me to find other people who cook.
Her first batch
I did stuff with my grandmother, jams and jellies. The first thing I remember doing on my own was raspberry jam. I did it the wrong way, the way I’d learned. It was that experience of recycled jars, which you shouldn’t do, and I put paraffin wax on top, which you shouldn’t do, because it isn’t safe.
I remember being really pleased at doing it based on this memory of childhood, but at the same time, I wasn’t comfortable. I started to think about what I was doing.
Mistakes are made
Canning, the more you do it, the more confidence you build. You can do everything 100% right and still have something go wrong. When I was trying to figure out the new steam canners, I was swearing up a storm. The first few batches, I could not get those jars to seal.
I’ve had calls from all over the country, and I will always take a phone call. I had one lady in tears. They worked all day picking strawberries and she called, “All my jars, they’re brown, they’re gross and brown.” She didn’t take the leaves and stems off.
Favorite to teach
I love making pie fillings, one of our more accessible classes.
Joy in a jar
I am not Polish, a rarity in Milwaukee. My husband is very Polish. When it is pickle time and the cucumbers are ready, we fish out his grandmother’s recipe. It has been handed down and I tweaked it for safety. We make Mary Wanda’s pickles. It is pure joy.
Becoming a master food preserver
It is a dying expertise, which is a shame. I’d argue it is even more critical because of the bad information out there.
Need to know
Based on the science, it is highly recommended that recipes published after 1994 will be safest.
What not to do
There are still people trying to do hot water bath canning on low-acid foods. That’s a sure way to get to botulism. We can’t stress the safety enough.
Her cookbook collection
I’m a cookbook junkie. There’s a bookstore in New York, Bonnie Slotnick’s. She’s the best. She’ll bring out her first edition of “Joy of Cooking” and show you where the typo is.
Then things I rely on are Milwaukee’s own “Settlement Cookbook,” and “Joy of Cooking” is my all-around for general cooking.
Cookbook she’ll never give up
There’s one from Christine Ferber from Alsace, in English. The translation is essentially “My Jams.” I taught myself to read German and I have mine all marked up. Brad Pitt drove across France to buy a couple jars of her jam.
Always in her pantry
Pickles. Also, pie filling. That’s a go-to easy dessert. Put it on poundcake or Leon’s vanilla custard, or you can put a dollop in yogurt. It’s a great sweet treat.
We also get nervous when our supply of home-canned tomato red sauce dwindles. That’s a start and cure for a thousand dinners. We just ran out of salsa. We have to wait for tomatoes, and my husband is getting twitchy.