Elizabeth Heiskell will put up with just about anything. Baby purple carrots, watermelon radishes, pattypan squash. You name it. "Just look at these tiny, baby, precious okra!" she squeals. "There's something special about putting those beautiful vegetables in jars. They become a treasure in the pantry for you to savor when the winter comes."
Elizabeth, the lead culinary instructor for Viking Cooking School in Greenwood, Mississippi, helps her husband, Luke, work 25 furrowed acres at Woodson Ridge Farm in Oxford, supplying produce to local CSA members and 40 restaurants. And though she grew up packing Ball jars with her mama in the Delta—"the loveliest place on earth"—it wasn't until last year, the first harvest at Woodson Ridge, that she really found her mettle. "As a farmer and a chef, there is nothing more terrifying than 2,000 pounds of squash staring you in the face," says Elizabeth. "Trying to use up all that squash is when I really got into canning."
Once she realized how easy it was, she started proselytizing from her kitchen pulpit, using the best tool any Delta girl knows—a party. She invited friends to the farm, plied them with her heirloom tomato Bloody Marys, and taught them this time-honored Southern skill. "People have this notion that canning is scary," Elizabeth says. "Our grandmothers wanted us to think they were martyrs and everything they did was hard—but it's not.
"Not only do we have a good ole time catching up over cocktails, but we become a vital step in continuing the tradition," she adds. "We're reclaiming it for our generation."