August 30, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.
Dave Hemmesch mashed cooked apples through a cloth-covered colander, straining the juice into a bowl early morning Aug. 24, while his and wife Cindy’s children, Agnes, Lucy and Marcus, watched. The juice was poured into pint jars.
Canning is a regular occurrence – and a family affair – in the Hemmesch household. This was Dave’s first season making apple juice, although he has made applesauce.
Lucy tried her hand at mashing the cooked apples as Agnes held the colander passed down from their dad’s mom, Mary Jo Hemmesch, who still cans in her rural Lake Henry home. Dave’s grandmothers, Marie Hemmesch and Agnes Rothstein, also canned.
“We got a lot of Grandma (Marie) Hemmesch’s jars after she passed,” Dave said.
He has been canning close to 12 years and of his four brothers, Ron, John, Kevin and Albert, Ron and Kevin also can.
His mother has been his canning mentor and resource along with recipes.
“Sometimes it’s trial and error,” he said.
Growing a 50-foot by 60-foot, chemical-free garden after he and Cindy (Arceneau) married 10 years ago was the reason for canning. Dave was raised on a farm near Lake Henry, and Cindy is from Melrose.
His reasons for canning are four-fold.
“We grow stuff in the garden, and I wanted to preserve it for longer than the season,” he said.
They know what they are eating, they can flavor canned goods the way they like it and they see a big savings on their grocery bill.
After the initial investment, canning is not expensive, Dave said.
“I just have to buy lids every year, usually,” he said.
He still uses the three canning containers he initially purchased 12 years ago – two hot water bath canners and one pressure canner.
“I like using hot water bath because it’s not as touchy with boiling, and you don’t have to worry about pressure,” he said.
He often leaves the rubber rings on jars for one day to ensure the jars seal.
“If you press down on the lid and it pops back up, it’s not sealed,” he said.
Their “humongous” pantry, as Agnes calls it, is filled with canned goods from this season, with more yet to come. Dave names more than 15 canned goods he makes.
“Green beans; tomatoes soup; spaghetti sauce; stewed tomatoes; peaches; pears; apples; blueberry, strawberry, raspberry and rhubarb jam; beets; zucchini pickles and bread and butter pickles; beef; venison; and we freeze peas and corn,” he said.
After shredding cabbage for sauerkraut they let it age six weeks before canning it. Dave mentions a sauerkraut hotdish Cindy makes with sauerkraut, fried hamburger, cooked rice and cream of mushroom soup.
During canning season, which starts in the spring with rhubarb and ends in early winter with venison, he cans two or three hours every other day, often during his days off from Land O’Lakes in Melrose. His sidekicks often are their children and Cindy.
He also makes maple syrup, collecting syrup from three maple trees on their property and one tree at the neighbor’s, Fritz and Jean Hellermann.
“I freeze the sap, which pulls 75% of the water off and then cook it for the flavor,” he said, a tip learned from his oldest brother Ron.
Adding up the number of regular and wide mouth lids he purchased this year, he will can close to 275 jars of food – pints and quarts – this season.
“We do 80 to 100 pints of green beans a year,” he said.
“That’s not my favorite because I have to snip the ends,” Agnes said of the beans; Marcus adding, “Me too.”
Last week they canned beef. Agnes said, “It’s super easy. You just put the beef in jars and put fat on top (for flavor) before putting it in the canner.”
“To eat it, we put it in a pot to heat it up, juice and all, and I add a little cornstarch, and it’s like a beef commercial,” Dave said.
He said the first time he canned beef Cindy asked what it was, and he said beef, and she said, “It looks nasty.”
“It might not look appealing, but it’s good,” he said.
Their children know what is good. All three answered “pears” when asked their favorite canned food.
Agnes said grilled beets “are the best,” while her mom likes sweet/sour beets.
Plums hang on two trees in the Hemmesch yard, which Dave hopes to can for the first time. He is always up for new canning options.
He has advice for people thinking about canning.
“Start small and try something, because without trying you’re never going to know,” he said.
Dave will continue carring on this family tradition – and passing it on to the next generation.
That canning connection may include an ages-old colander and well used jars.