Woodstock’s Preservation School teaches canning techniques to new generation

Amanda Olsen remembers the jars of preservatives lining her great-grandmother’s basement.

Her great-grandmother was someone Olsen greatly admired, raising a family through the Great Depression.

“It left such a great impression on me in terms of being self-sufficient,” Olsen said. “It felt magical to me to see all this stuff in the garden and then see it transformed.”

About 10 years ago as she was finishing college, Olsen began canning for herself.

“I liked to eat better than what I could afford, and preservation was a great way to have some of those specialty products I’ve always been interested in at farmers markets and u-picks,” Olsen said. “It goes hand-in-hand with my great-grandmother, who used to preserve everything under the sun, so I was fascinated with it from a young age.”

Olsen, of Woodstock, since has launched Preservation School to teach her canning techniques. For $30 a person, she offers monthly classes after hours at The Sugar Circle bakery on the Woodstock Square, as well as private classes.

One-on-one in-home classes cost $50. The price goes down as more people attend; a group of five or more has a flat rate of $250.

“I do all sorts of water bath canning,” Olsen said. “Jams, jellies, tomatoes, salsas. I do pickles as well; a little bit of everything.”

First-time canners are welcome, as are general cooking novices.

Some kitchen know-how is helpful, but anyone who can boil water and use a knife to cut produce is able to can, Olsen said.

“A lot of people think of this giant pot of water that weighs 40 pounds and bushels of produce at a time,” she said. “You certainly can do that, but you don’t have to. You can can with your regular stock pot at home.”

Canning doesn’t have to be scary, and the end result doesn’t have to be a cellar lined with jars upon jars.

“You can do it in a small pot,” Olsen said. “You can get a quart or two of produce at the farmers market and make jam or jelly. Try a bunch of different flavors rather than getting 27 jars of the same thing.”

The best thing about canning is the natural flavor that comes through, Olsen said.

“You can’t beat homegrown, home-produced,” she said. “When you make jam, it’s literally just the fruit and the sugar. There are no preservatives in it, no dyes, no funky stuff that would be in there when go you to the supermarket.”

Crystal Squires recently attended a cranberry sauce canning class at The Sugar Circle and loved it.

“I’d never canned before and I’ve always wanted to, but I was intimidated,” Squires said. “I was very surprised at how easy it was … I walked away with a lot of knowledge, and I’m no longer scared about doing it on my own.”

Olsen brought all the materials needed, and Squires left with a jar of cranberry preserves she opened on Thanksgiving.

“We bombarded her with a lot of questions, and she was able to answer all of them,” Squires said.

If you go
What: Preservation School’s DIY Champagne Jelly
When: Saturday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m.
Where: The Sugar Circle, 203 Main St., Woodstock
Cost: $30. Tickets available on [ ]

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