During a cross-country trip, Sherri Brooks Vinton planned to stop in small towns, taste the local fare, and snap a few photos of beautiful farmhouses.
As she traveled from state to state, Sherri says she was "shocked to see the state of farms."
Many farm towns had become ghost towns, fields were planted with feed instead of food, and fast-food chains stretched across the Heartland.
After this trip about 11 years ago, Sherri's focus shifted toward supporting local agriculture and cooking with fresh seasonal ingredients.
First came her book The Real Food Revival: Aisle by Aisle, Morsel by Morsel, which offers practical tips for eaters seeking a more delicious, sustainable future. The natural progression for her after that, she says, was to dive into canning and preserving fresh local foods.
"The stuff only comes around when it comes around, and if you want to hang onto it, you got to stop time a little bit. So that’s where I am now. I’m teaching people how to support local agriculture by preserving food," Sherri says.
When Sherri started preserving foods in her own kitchen, one of the first things she made was strawberry jam. When she tasted her jam, she was immediately transported back to her great-grandmother's farm in South Carolina.
Sherri was five years old the first time she took the trip from Baltimore to South Carolina to visit her great-grandparents. She was homesick for the first few days, but says, "One thing I could always count on was that my great-grandmother would get up before dawn and make homemade biscuits and serve them with her homemade strawberry jam."
Years later when Sherri tasted her own jam, she says, "Thirty years had gone by in between and I hadn’t tasted that flavor until I made it myself."
Sherri says she has "shimmering glimpses" of her grandmother and remembers the warm hugs she gave and what it was like to rest her head on her soft, old-fashioned apron.
Preserving her great-grandmother's legacy for a wider audience, Sherri now teaches the art of canning and has published the book 'Put 'em Up!: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook, From Drying and Freezing to Canning and Pickling.'
The idea of canning, Sherri says, can "sometimes make people shake in their shoes" when in reality it's very straightforward.
"Once you know the basics," she says, "you can do wonderful things."
It's coming up on cherry season in the Northeast and Sherri can't wait to go to the farmers' market to stock up. She plans on making cherry and black pepper jam.
If strawberries are in season in your hometown, stock up and try Sherri's strawberry jam.
Classic Strawberry Jam
Just like Granny used to make
Makes about 3 cups
Combine all ingredients in a large nonreactive saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring and crushing to release the juice. Stir in the lemon juice. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the jam reaches the desired gel, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the jam rest for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to release air bubbles. Skim off any foam.
Refrigerate for up to three weeks or can using the boiling water method. Ladle into clean, hot, half-pint canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Release trapped air. Wipe the rims clean; center lids on the jars and screw on jar bands just finger-tip tight. Submerge in pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let jars rest in the water for 5 minutes. Remove jars and set aside for 24 hours. Check seals by removing rings and gently pressing up on them. Store properly sealed jars in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.
Adapted from Put ‘em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton, Storey Publishing 2010
From DreamWorks Pictures and Reliance Entertainment, in association with Participant Media and Imagenation Abu Dhabi, comes the drama 'The Help.' Participant Media is TakePart's parent company.