When I got married, I was gifted a double fryer and I returned it for a pressure canner. Food preservation was front of mind for me—making jams, learning how to pickle, and playing the game of “will it dehydrate.” But the pressure canner intimidated me enough that after just one use, I abandoned it in the shadows of the garage.
If only I had discovered Sister Colette back then. Her TikTok videos would have set my mind at ease—no, I would not blow up my kitchen nor improperly pressure can my favorite Early Girl tomatoes. Sister Colette says her passion and goal is simple when it comes to teaching about canning “It's to remove the fear, anxiety, and apprehension that many of us have when it comes to learning and practicing this necessary skill.”
Sister Colette brings humor and a friendly spirit to canning—on TikTok, you might see her singing into a Mason jar or a funnel. You may find her wearing “can while you can” aprons and t-shirts. On the day we met over Zoom, her canner was busy working in the background while she took a break to talk with me.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can anybody can?
Anybody can can. What I am trying to do is to put a different image out there about the canning world. When you Google the word "canning," certain images comes up: You see people on a homestead or in rural areas.
I try to focus on inner city, urban lifestyles, and the brown and Black community at-large. Those of us in inner cities really need food preservation. Today, we're dealing with food shortages and inflation. Homesteaders already have access to the food. They can go outside and pull an apple off a tree, pull a vegetable from their yard, or get an egg from their chicken coop. I have met people that have their own farms who do not can because they always have access to the food.
Plus, you don't need to be growing your own food. You can support your local farmers market or go to the grocery store to get you some quality produce, bring it home, and can it.
Why do you think people have anxiety about canning?
Because they think they're going to blow up something. They think they're going to experience botulism, make themselves sick, and die. One thing that I'm big on: helping us get comfortable. You’re not going to blow up the thing—modern canners have safety features to prevent that. Botulism is real, but the number of people experiencing it is small. It is very important to follow proper canning steps. Invest in a canning recipe book that will tell you how. They'll tell you which jar size to use and the exact processing times.
The only thing that could possibly happen is a lid on your jar doesn't seal properly. That happens sometimes. But even that's not the end of the world, because that just means, “Hey, we're having green beans tonight for dinner.”
How did you start canning?
I call myself a newbie because I have not been canning for long. I learned to can around 2015. In my faith institution, Nation of Islam, we take cooking courses—a very full program that takes several months—which includes learning how to can. We learn about food safety before we even touch the canner. We were required to can certain amount of jars and at the end, we received a certificate of completion.
Back in November 2020, you started your TikTok account with a post about salsa. Tell me about what led you to start posting on social media?
This post got me out of my comfort zone. I’m an older woman. I'm 52 years old. I was on Facebook at the time with only about 600 friends. No Instagram. No TikTok. I was a part of a business group for like-minded individuals trying to grow a business online. The group encouraged me by saying, “You gotta start posting things!”
That was a fun first post and I thought, “Wow! I kinda like this!” The more I played around with my phone and felt less afraid, I realized I have a knack for it. But it took a little time and I'm still working on it. I'm just being myself. That's really the thing—just be your authentic self.
You seem particularly passionate about canning navy beans. Why is that? You even add them to milkshakes! That shake blew my mind, I’m not going to lie.
The navy bean is a staple in my faith group. It's because it holds so much protein and nutrients. We're big on the navy bean. We even have a navy bean pie—it’s delicious, but sounds weird. We're very famous for our navy bean pies—it’s a dessert with a lot of sugar in there.
You’re going to get proteins in that milkshake—add just a few—maybe half a cup of navy beans—in a vanilla shake. It's just delicious, smooth, and healthy.
Does your canner have a name?
Yes, they all have names. I did a video on Youtube about the importance of developing a relationship with your canner. One way is to give your canner a name. One of mine is called Big Mama because she's pretty big!
You suggest ordering pizza on canning day, which is a great idea. Do you have other canning day tips?
Plan in stages. Let's just say you're planning on canning salsa, which is one of my favorites. It can make for a long day if you're doing it all—prep and canning—in one day. I understand why people are turned off by it—this long, drawn-out thing—and think, “Yeah, I don't know if this is for me.”
Break it down into stages. Get whatever ingredients and tools you need—that's day one. The next day, prep the ingredients—wash and dice them. The following day is set-up day: clear your counter space and bring out your canner. Some of us gotta go to the basement to bring it up and sometimes that's a chore. On canning day, everything's already prepped and laid out for you, so you can go to work.
What kind of system do you have for eating through your home-preserved foods? Is it first-in, first-out?
It definitely is, but you want to be mindful of what works for you. How often you can will determine how often you check the dates on the jars and make sure that they're moving forward and easy to reach. That's pretty much it!
Having canned foods is convenient for me—it's one benefit after of course, food security. I love to reach for something I canned to add to my meals. After a long day, I wonder, “Oh shoot! What are we having for dinner?” I grab a couple of things off my canning shelf, toss it into the dinner I’m heating up, and boom!” But then of course, I'll have to replace it, you know? I really should stop eating them as much as I do.