(Editor’s note: Special thanks to Leslie Logemann, the manager of the Transylvania County Farmers’ Market, for her contribution to this article.)
In an era when you can purchase fresh produce at the grocery store throughout the year, it’s hard to imagine a time when preserving food was an essential skill. But for settlers in the Appalachian Mountains – who were geographically isolated and farmed in steep, rocky terrain during a short growing season – preserving food for the winter was a matter of survival.
Historically, there were many preservation techniques such as drying, fermenting, pickling, salting and smoking. But in 1858, when John Mason patented his famous vacuum-sealed jar, he made it relatively easy for Americans to safely can their own produce. “Putting up” food for the winter became an annual ritual in homes across the country, and remained that way until the advent of commercial canning and refrigeration. In fact, if you ask any local who’s sporting a few grey hairs, they can probably recall their favorite canned preserves: their great-aunt’s pickled dilly-beans, the peach honey their dad made from South Carolina peaches or their grandmother’s famous chow-chow.
Although canning is no longer commonplace in American homes, the tradition remains alive and well at the Transylvania County Farmers’ Market, and canned goods can be a great way to discover regional delicacies. In fact, while home canning may have been born out of necessity, modern day practitioners have elevated the craft of canning into something of an art form.
Since the 1980s, Betty Hargis of Mountain Made has been canning a wide array of jams and jellies, apple butter and more. Hargis was one of the original vendors at the market when it first opened more than three decades ago, and she has a loyal following of customers who keep their pantries stocked with her preserves. Like all of the prepared food vendors at the market, Hargis is licensed through the N.C. Department of Agriculture and works from an approved kitchen.
Camille and Donald Zeigler, owners of Kate’s Kitchen and Rainbow Gardens, offer 17 varieties of jams in addition to their other product lines. An abundant crop of blueberries initially got them into the canning business, and it was such a success that they started growing raspberries, blackberries, and then rhubarb, too. Over the years, Camille has experimented with a variety of combinations. If you find one that you like in particular, you’ll be glad to know that she and the other vendors will ship to customers who can’t make it to the market.
J & D’s Delights also tempts taste buds with homemade jams and jellies, such as hot pepper garlic jelly, blueberry, strawberry rhubarb, and blackberry jams, orange marmalade and more. Denise Daniels, who owns J & D’s Delights, is just one of the jam and jelly vendors who can brag at being award-winning, with ribbons on display from the Western North Carolina State Fair and other contests.
These vendors source much of their product locally, incorporating seasonal fruit, often from their own farms or other market vendors, into their products. Sarah and Morgan Decker from Root Bottom Farm even offer low-sugar jam options that include blackberry, strawberry, blackberry/strawberry and blackberry/raspberry/strawberry.
Sweet spreads aren’t the only options at the Farmers’ Market when it comes to shelf-stable products. A couple of years ago, Vegetable Kingdom joined as a vendor with many unique, hand-jarred products that include pecan pepper jelly, sweet onion jam, hot and smoky ketchup, chow-chow and over 50 more varieties that have been perfected over 10 years of business.
Part of Vegetable Kingdom’s product line focuses on making quick and delicious meals that are easily customizable to a user’s preferences, such as gumbo, Brunswick stew, Massaman curry and Creole sauce, all of which can be ready to eat in minutes. This fall and winter, they will even be adding half a dozen new shelf-stable soup options. Each of these vendors can be found year-round at the Transylvania Farmers’ Market. The market is open Saturday mornings, 8 a.m. to noon from May to November, 10 a.m. to noon from December to April.