Living life with a personal touch

For whatever reason — maybe it was the advent of convenience foods and the availability of inexpensive, factory-made clothing — a generation of women put down their knitting needles and tossed out their canning pots. And with that, they abandoned traditions that are usually handed down from parent to child.

Today there is a renewed interest and appreciation for the “domestic arts” of knitting and food preservation, and for those who have not learned these skills from a family member or friend, there are classes through Wilton Continuing Education that will fill the gap.

Canning 101: Preserving the Bounty, Knitting Basics, and Knitting Circle will be offered this month.

Pam Lillis, a nutritional health coach who lives in Wilton, will offer a two-hour canning class on Tuesday, Sept. 16, at 7 p.m., in the Culinary Arts Room at Wilton High School. It will be a combination demonstration and hands-on class on hot-water bath canning. There is a $15 supply fee.

“There will be a few food demos and then participants will make their own pickles,” Ms. Lillis said. That way, she said, people “won’t be mystified about how to do it at home.”

In her class, Ms. Lillis wants to change the image of canning as an overwhelming process.

She is going to focus on “small batch canning. It’s popular because you don’t have to set aside a whole weekend with bushels to can.”

“We’re not pioneers,” she said with a laugh. “It’s not like we have to put up the stuff, but if we do want to eat organically and locally in New England, we have to recognize we have a short growing season.”

When Ms. Lillis speaks of small-batch canning, she means using pint-sized jars and one water bath. “It’s seven jars,” she said. “You can do it in an hour or two and have things to eat that are healthy and in season. You can eat strawberries in winter, but they will be from Mexico. If we want to save our summer, you can can it safely and easily.

“Look at compotes,” she continued. “Everyone loves a jam or jelly. People are eating Greek yogurt and they want to top it with less sugar. You can prepare food the way you want it. When you use it later it can be sweetened or thickened for a pie filling.”

While there are fancy canning jars at specialty stores, the best jars, she said are those still sold in hardware stores.

“It’s cheap,” she said. “You don’t have to go crazy buying a lot of equipment.”

Home canning is not just for women. “I have three boys and a girl and everyone loves to can,” Ms. Lillis said. “My sons in college like to make salsa to take to school.”

Recognizing people’s time is limited, Ms. Lillis put it like this. “Convenience wins out. We’re all busy. Canning is the new convenience food. How great is it to take something out of a jar that you actually made?”

Ms. Lillis will also give out recipes, but she said there are many new recipe books available “written by young foodies and cooks.

“But at the end of the day, the Ball canning book that’s been around since the 1800s … that’s still the bible.”

Knitting

To the uninitiated, reading a knitting pattern is like reading a foreign language. But once you learn to decode it, knitting, purling and slip stitching are not all that mysterious.

Charlotte Taverna of Hemmelskamp Road is ready to help those who would like to learn to knit or those who want to brush up on their skills with Knitting Basics, a 10-session class offered on Friday mornings, beginning Sept. 19, from 9:30 to 11:30, at Comstock Community Center.

Ms. Taverna, who grew up in The Netherlands, learned to knit in first or second grade. She knitted sporadically growing up and moved to Wilton 17 years ago.

“Fifteen years ago I got back into it,” she said last week. She and several friends who like to get together socially and knit started the Wilton Knitwits. They started doing group projects and have done knitting for charity events, including wreaths for Ambler Farm’s wreath festival, baby caps for Save the Children, and layettes for ABC House auctions.

Today knitting is riding a wave of popularity that has been cresting for a while, particularly online.

“There are tons and tons of blogs and online stores have up-to-date modern patterns,” Ms. Taverna said. “It’s not so much your grandmother’s knitting anymore. … There’s a huge influx of new knitters.”

A quick scan of Vogue Knitting shows patterns for sweaters, hats and cowls, even a silk wedding gown.

There are also many new fibers, Ms. Taverna pointed out. In addition to acrylic and angora or sheep’s wool, there are yarns of cotton, silk, alpaca, mink, camel and more.

“There’s a lot of handspun and hand-colored yarn,” she said. “You can compare it a little to the farm-to-table movement in restaurants. A lot of farms dye their own yarn and there are more local yarn shops opening up.”

There is a $10 supply fee for the class and for that students will receive a set of basic needles and a ball of yarn. They will learn how to cast on, knit, purl, and cast off. When they are ready, they can start on a project.

Simple projects might include a scarf, kitchen towel, pot warmer or a hat.

Knitters who complete the class and would like to continue will have the option of signing up for a second five-week session that will begin Jan 9. New knitters may also opt for that class.

Those who cannot make the Friday morning class may join the Knitting Circle that will meet 10 Tuesday evenings from 6:45 to 8:45, beginning Sept. 16, at Middlebrook School. Knitters of all abilities as well as those who simply like to knit in a social atmosphere are welcome. Ms. Taverna will help beginners and knitters who want to move on to more complicated projects. Knitters should bring their own supplies and projects. A second, five-week session will begin Jan. 6.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Ms. Taverna said about both classes. “I’m very passionate about knitting.”

For information on all classes, including tuition and registration, visit wiltoncontinuinged.org or call 203-834-7694.

editor@wiltonbulletin.com