Tom Ross: Canned goods evoke pioneer days at Routt County Fair
HAYDEN — I grew up in an enthusiastic home-canning household in Wisconsin, where both my father and mother shared the chore of canning homegrown cucumbers and dill to make dill pickles.
We made our own ketchup, corn relish, green beans and even watermelon pickles.
What’s that? You’ve never tasted a sweet pickle made from the rind of a big watermelon?
That’s understandable – they don’t make watermelons the way they used to. Today’s seedless melons come with thin rinds that don’t do justice to a pickle.
And even if they did, this is 2018. Who is going to bother to save their watermelon rinds and turn them into a sugary treat by canning them on a hot August afternoon?
You might be surprised.
The number of locavores, or maybe we should say, Yampavores, in Northwest Colorado is on the rise. And along with that trend, more gardeners are entering the fruits of their labors in the Routt County Fair — raspberry jelly, canned apricots, cherries and much more.
Home arts entries to the Routt County Fair, in many categories including canned goods, were delivered to the exhibition hall in Hayden for judging Aug. 15. They will remain on display through 2 p.m. Aug. 19. Canned goods superintendents are Nancy Mucklow and Eileen Grover.
“Five to six years ago they got just 20 to 30 jars on the shelves,” said Jackie (Sherrod) Grimaldi, who happens to be this year’s Routt County Fair parade grand marshal along with Larry Guss. “Now they get a lot out there.”
Home canning is more than a trend in the Yampa Valley. It goes back to the area’s pioneer families when the ability to put up fruits and vegetables for the long winter was a matter of survival.
“My family depended upon canning,” Jeannie (Kagie) Wixson told me this week. “We lived on a ranch, and there were eight of us. That was one way we knew our food would be fresh and knew what was in it.”
Friday, Aug. 17
Exhibition hall and midway open
Inflatable rides are free until 5 p.m. courtesy of Mountain Valley Bank
• 8 a.m. Exhibit hall opens
• 9 a.m. 4-H/FFA llama show (multipurpose building)
• 9 a.m. Cloverbud for a day (exhibit hall)
• 10 a.m. Dress your animal (multipurpose building)
• 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Heritage demonstrations (exhibit hall)
• 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. FM Light & Sons ag experience (Lockhart Barn)
• 11 a.m. Ride Free ‘til Five Fun Friday, sponsored by Mountain Valley Bank (midway)
• Noon Bucket calf show (multipurpose building)
• 12:30 p.m. 4-H/FFA dairy/beef breeding show (multipurpose building)
• 2 p.m. 4-H/FFA beef showmanship (multipurpose building)
Market beef immediately follows showmanship (multipurpose building)
• 5 p.m. Sweet ‘n’ spicy contest (exhibit hall)
• 6 p.m. Wine and beer contest (exhibit hall)
• 7:30 p.m. Hill Petroleum demolition derby and pig wrestling, tickets required (outdoor arena)
Routt County Fair royalty crowning during intermission
Find more information at RouttCountyFair.org.
She volunteers as one of the superintendents for the crafts and hobbies exhibit at the fair.
Wixson is focusing her 2018 canning efforts for the fair on pie cherries harvested from two very productive trees that originated with cuttings her grandfather gave her more than 30 years ago.
“They’re really, really good this year,” she said.
There wasn’t a freeze in the Hayden area in April, and the Nanking cherries got a fast start out of the gate. But her tomato patch? Not so much.
“Heat in the high 80s and 90s is not good for them,” Wixson said. “My tomatoes are doing horribly.”
Grimaldi, who serves as the superintendent of the quilt show, is also an avid canner. She relies on her sister Sandra’s sweet crop of raspberries, grown in the Steamboat Springs city limits, for her prize-winning preserves.
Grimaldi, whose parents Bill and Helen Sherrod ranched on the lower Elk River Valley, doesn’t take blue ribbons too seriously.
“Everyone likes to get a ribbon,” she said. “We are very generous at the fair. Everyone gets a ribbon.”
Helen Sherrod did all of the canning at the ranch, often on a wood stove, until midnight on hot summer nights. Jackie’s chores on the ranch included raking hay and taking care of the garden. Sandra’s job was slaughtering the chickens.
To this day, when Jackie cans in her own kitchen, she thinks of her mother.
“I picture her at the kitchen stove, and I think, ‘she wouldn’t do it this way, she’d do it that way,’” Jackie said.
There is little doubt that locally grown food is also a factor in the rise of canning here.
Tegan Anderson, representing a younger generation who is taking up canning, said the production from four apricot trees on her property east of Hayden is keeping her so busy she hasn’t had time to can the fruit for the county fair. She sells her apricots through the online market host by the Community Agriculture Alliance.
“The apricot trees went absolutely nuts this year,” Anderson said. “We didn’t have any frosts in late April. And we keep bees now, so maybe the trees were pollinated more heavily.”
Anderson has learned to put up canned goods safely through the annual series of workshops hosted by Colorado State University Extension in Steamboat. The final class of 2018, devoted to canning tomato salsa, will take place in October.
In Wixson’s mind, the abundance of homegrown foods at the fair dispels a myth about the challenge of growing produce in the Yampa Valley.
“People say you cannot grow fruit and vegetables in Routt County,” she said. “I hate to dispute, but that’s wrong.”
Tom Ross retired from the Steamboat Pilot & Today in June after 36 years in the newspaper business. He continues to write a regular column for the paper.
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