There isn't much in the way of traditional art hanging on the walls of Cured, the farm-to-table restaurant housed in the Pearl Brewery's former administration building. Slabs of hanging meat take center stage, while a nearby shelf displays canned beets, banana peppers and a summer peach jam that often accompanies their staple charcuterie board.
"Having [those jars] on my wall is better than any kind of art I could go out and buy," said chef Steve McHugh, owner and self-described Wisconsin farm boy who learned to can not at the Culinary Institute of America where he graduated from, but in his family's kitchen growing up.
"My mom and dad did it out of necessity. It was a time when pretty much everyone they knew was poor and they didn't have the kind of outlets for food we have now," McHugh said. "Today, it's more of a niche as we as a society are really getting back into food and thinking about what we're eating."
Connie Sheppard, who works for the Texas A&M AgriLife program, grew up on a farm on the outskirts of San Antonio and has been teaching locals about urban agriculture for the past 31 years. She said her students' reasons for wanting to learn about food preservation vary.
"There are people who remember their grandma canning and they want to revisit those memories and family ties, or people that want to can to accommodate special diets or food allergies," Sheppard said. "Others want to make extra money by selling their product at a farmer's market and some are just really dedicated to the local food scene and want to know how to make the most of the produce they buy."
Through her monthly classes (find a full schedule at backyardbasics.tamu.edu), Sheppard connected with Di-Anna Arias, vice president of sales and culinary vision at Don Strange of Texas.
Arias helped Sheppard coordinate classes at the Don Strange Ranch and uses her own knowledge of canning, picked up from her grandmother, to create special garnishes, sauces and jams for the company's catering events.
"We've really gotten into [canning] in the last three or four years. It's something I wanted to have our kitchen experiment with and we've made some unique condiments and pickles to serve alongside dishes," Arias said. "Our customers have really enjoyed it."
Whether it's being served next to pork pâté at Cured, in a class or at a catering event, all three canning nuts agree that good canning starts with advanced planning and the right resources.
"Be careful of what you find on the internet — just because there's a recipe online doesn't mean it's scientifically going to work," said Arias, adding that there are a few tried-and-true resources every canner should reference including the National Center for Food Preservation and the Ball canning book.
"I call it the 'canning bible,'" Arias said.
The method — as well as proper sterilization of your kitchen — is also important.
"You can use a pressure canner or a water bath — it depends on the acidity of the produce and the type of germs it carries," said Sheppard, noting that pickles and jams are among the simpler and cheaper things to can. "Any pot can be made into a water bath and that's a more economical and easier way for people to start off."
As canned goods become more popular at local farmers markets, the trio said it's important for consumers to ask questions.
"Whoever you buy from needs to be able to tell you how it's processed, so you know you're buying a safe product," Sheppard said. "It needs to be in a canning jar and the jars need to be sealed. If the seller can't explain how it's processed — walk away."
Sally Drew, co-founder of HGD foods, has been selling her jams, salsas and pickles at the Pearl Farmers Market since she helped start the market six years ago. Her advice is to source quality, seasonal produce from local growers.
"It's really important for me to know who the farmer is and what they're packing," Drew said. "Almost every farmer here at the Pearl is chemical free. I like buying from them because I know what their dirt looks like and I know how their family harvests. Plus, it's putting money back into the pocket of the people I work with."
According to McHugh, buying from area farmers also gives his team a better appreciation for the growing process.
"With my employees, I really try and get them to understand what these farmers are doing. There's a whole chain of people who work really hard to raise that beautiful animal or tomato or cauliflower and if you ruin it, you've wasted a lot of people's time and energy," McHugh said. "I love being able to give someone something made by hand using techniques that are hundreds if not thousands of years old. It's a science and an art form that takes people back to a different time."
7 Farmers Markets To Check Out Now
Whether you're a hipster, a farm-to-table enthusiast or someone who just enjoys marveling at the core strength it takes to do acro-yoga, there's something for everyone at the local markets popping up around San Antonio.
For Social Butterflies:
Pearl Farmers Market
Saturdays 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., Sundays 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., 312 Pearl Pkwy., atpearl.com
This market celebrated its sixth anniversary in 2015 and shows no signs of slowing down. Rain or shine, it's always bustling with activity as families, couples and dogs stroll through the stalls checking out artisan breads, scented soaps and organic produce. After filling your canvas bag with goodies, shop around at the nearby boutiques, watch as acro-yogis defy gravity on the lawn near Local Coffee or visit the information booth for a free, guided tour of the historic grounds.
The Back Yard Market
Sundays, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
5300 McCullough Ave.
Now on its third life (after having previously been the Quarry Farmers & Ranchers Market and then The Yard Farmer's Market), this resilient band of vendors are re-building using a co-op sort of governing system and the cozy locale of the Yard shopping center. Fresh bagels, cleaning supplies by Organic Chix and take-home Indian food are all part of the draw.
Dignowity Hill Farmers Market
The 2nd and 4th, Sunday of the month, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., Dignowity Hill Park, dignowityhillfarmersmarket.com
Started by an East Side school teacher determined to introduce fresh and affordable ingredients to local residents, this growing grassroots market offers more than just food. Health expos, free pet care, cooking demos and book giveaways are common, as is buying produce grown just down the street at the community garden. Visitors can also buy plants if they want to start gardens of their own.
Sam Houston High School Farmers Market
3rd Saturday of the month, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. 4635 E. Houston St.,safoodbank.org
A new addition to the Eastside, this market is inspired by a group of students who, after researching "food deserts" for a class project, pitched the idea to the East Side Promise Neighborhood Committee with the help of the San Antonio Food Bank. Now, they're working on providing bicycle deliveries to homebound residents in the neighborhood.
Main Plaza Farmers Market
Tuesdays, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. 111 Soledad St., mainplaza.org
This smaller market, which takes place during the summer, partners with the San Antonio Food Bank to break up the workweek for downtown dwellers and tourists alike. Cooking demonstrations take place every second Tuesday of the month while vendors offer healthy, alternative lunch items. Be sure to check out the Food Bank's Catalyst Catering booth, which serves up a hot meal each week. Past favorites include fish tacos with pineapple salsa and Irish colcannon cakes.
Hill Country Farmers Market
10 a.m. – 3 p.m., Fridays: St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, 16320 Huebner Rd., Saturdays: Deerfield Neighborhood, 16607 Huebner Rd., Sundays: The Rim Shopping Center, 17503 La Cantera Pkwy., hillcountryfarmersmarket.org
This roaming market boasts fresh seafood from the Gulf, farm-raised beef, gourmet pastas, roasted nuts and more. But the most unique vendor award goes to the veteran who works out of his trunk to sharpen "anything that cuts" starting at just $2. That alone might just be worth a visit. — Tommie Ethington
For Just About Everything:
Castle Hills Farm To Market
Sundays 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., 2211 NW Military Hwy., (210) 259-8359
Launched by C'est La Vie Baking Co. owner Taylor Becken, the market has just about everything under the sun. Located in the same shopping complex as the baking shop and other business offices, the Castle Hills Farm to Market carries ready-made Indian meals, Filipino noodles, paella made on the spot by Cocina Heritage Catering, The Pickle N' Jam Factory, sudsy homemade soaps via Soapzees, produced out of Austin's Johnson's Backyard Garden, excellent coffee via Theory Coffee.