Preserving Nature’s Bounty

Gardens have been super productive this year; a canning expert tells how to enjoy the produce all year long

Kathleen Awe keeps picking tomatoes from her garden in the Town of Cedarburg to preserve them, a passion she has had for decades. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Kathleen Awe has been canning vegetables and fruit for decades, but one element of the process never gets old.

“I like the end product,” she said with a laugh. “I like eating it. I like sharing it.”

But there’s more to it than that.

“It’s something you make,” she said. “It makes you so proud that you have a product.”

Awe has many. Tomatoes, pickles, pears, salsa, antipasto, three-bean salad and a host of jellies and jams, the list goes on.

She began with applesauce, working together with her neighbor in the Town of Cedarburg.

“It is so nice to can with somebody. It’s very time consuming, a little tedious,” she said. “It’s nice to talk to somebody while doing it.”

Awe admits canning is a messy endeavor. “The kitchen is an absolute disaster after I get done,” she said.

Awe gives away many of her products. She and her husband are retired and said at this point in life “nobody needs a lot of everything,” she said.

Her 2-year-old grandson loves grandma’s applesauce.

“Everyone seems to like it,” she said. “It’s something you can’t get anywhere else.”

Awe gets her canning ingredients from her huge garden. The Milwaukee native never gardened growing up but developed an interest in it, so much so that she became a Master Gardener. She is also a Master Preserver and Master Composter and sometimes lectures on the subjects.

She started with a small garden, or so she thought.

“In my first garden I had  put in a big row of zucchini, not knowing zucchini is very prolific,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do with it.”

Through years of practice, Awe has become a more proficient gardener. “It’s doing it that you learn,” she said. “You can’t really learn about gardening until you do it yourself.”

Awe has a variety of gardens on her more than one-acre lot, including cactus, shade, herb, vegetable, prairie, rock and a rain garden.

“I think it’s a wonderful natural solution to keeping the rain where it falls and not carrying the pollution to rivers and lakes,” she said.

She recommends canning guides from the University of Wisconsin Extension and has a few tips of her own for people interested in the process.

For tomatoes, add one teaspoon of bottled lemon juice to each pint. Tomatoes don’t have enough acid to combat botulism, so the lemon juice does the trick. Awe uses her husband’s pH meter — he uses it in making cheese — to measure the acidity. She suggests canning in 4.6 or less.

“We are — what’s the term? — foodies,” she said with a laugh.

For canning three-bean salad, vinegar can be used for acid. For plain beans, however, a pressure canner is required to prevent botulism.

To prevent white spots on the canning jars, add vinegar to the water while boiling them.

“Look at how many recalls there are. That’s commercial canning,” she said. “You have to be meticulous when you can.”
Instead of using bleach — “I have destroyed many an outfit,” Awe said she uses Lysol on the counters and sink “to make sure everything is as clean as possible.”

Washing the produce and your hands goes a long way, she said.

Some produce requires peeling before canning. Awe puts the food in boiling water and then ice water, which makes it easier to roll back the peelings.

Tomatoes have another option. After washing them, put them in the freezer.

“When you take them out, the peeling will come right off and I think it’s a fresher taste,” she said.

For jellies and jams, Awe had been using an old-fashioned method of turning the liquid upside down to seal them, which provided inconsistent results.

Now, she makes sure the jars go through the dishwasher or sit in boiling water to seal.

For jelly, Awe crushes fruit such as huckleberries and puts them in a cone and uses a cheese cloth to allow liquid to drain.

Jam, she explained, includes the bits and pieces of the fruit with liquid.

Canned goods, she said, will stay fresh for one year before losing some of their taste, but can keep longer.

Awe’s harvest each season starts with strawberries and currents in June but can change with the weather. The wet spring pushed back the schedule. “This season, whoever thought we’d still have tomatoes? They’ve been coming nonstop for two weeks.”

Last month, a ton of beans came in and they’re still coming.

Awe mulches leaves and puts four to five inches of them over her entire garden to help protect plants when the ground freezes — do it too early and critters burrow inside. She pushes the leaves aside as plants start to sprout in spring, which still shades the weeds while not hurting her crops.

By June, most of the leaves have gone into the soil. Then, Awe uses newspaper and grass clippings to fill in the bare spots.

Awe doesn’t grow everything she cans or freezes, however. She can’t grow corn since it is pollinated by wind and requires large fields, so she buys that and beets at Witte’s Vegetable Farm in rural Cedarburg. For gardening and canning, Awe recommends starting small. “Enjoy a small well-kept garden instead of one you lose control of,” she said.

The fresh produce tastes especially good in the middle of winter when snow covers the ground and temperatures are frigid.

“I always tell my husband, ‘This is something from the summer,’” she said.

For information on canning, visit



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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