Tasty traditions: Sarah Hammock brings food growing, preservation to life

Sarah Hammock

TUPELO — Reaping what you sow takes on a whole new meaning for Sarah Hammock, North Mississippi Medical Clinics population health director.

A native of Tishomingo, wife and mother of two, Hammock finds peace and clarity working in her garden and preserving foods for her family.

“In my role, I help provide ambulatory case management for patients across our system to really help them improve their overall health. To me, the Improve Health initiative is really about things you can do to improve your health and life. It can be as simple as opting for healthier choices versus processed foods or even growing a small garden,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a drastic lifestyle change; you’re really just focusing on the simple things you can do to improve your overall health.”

Hammock shares her story to help members of the NMHS team and surrounding communities get involved in the Improve Health initiative, where one of the supporting health behaviors is teaching food preservation skills.

Family tradition rekindled
A strong love and interest in food preservation began in Hammock’s early life as she watched her mother and grandmother grow and preserve fruits and vegetables. Now, in her role with NMHS and matriarch of her family, Hammock’s passion for food preservation has been rekindled.

“I grew up in a house where my parents and grandparents grew a garden every year and preserved what they grew. It was a way of life and necessity for them,” Hammock said. “Some of my summer chores and favorite memories as a child were hoeing the garden, shelling peas, picking vegetables and helping my mother preserve them.”

Hammock uses a freezer method to preserve her strawberry jam. Courtesy photo/Sarah Hammock

Hammock feels that embracing and teaching this nearly lost art to future generations is incredibly important.

“Learning these skills is truly a way to preserve history. We lose skills and our behaviors change over time, and this has almost become a lost art,” Hammock said.

Early in their marriage, Hammock and her husband, Kelvin, tried their hand at gardening and saw success with things like cucumbers for pickles and fruits for jams and jellies.

When the busyness of life, children and work came along, they put aside their interest in gardening. At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, they found themselves with extra time and rekindled their desire to grow and preserve foods by building four raised beds and packing them full of fruits, vegetables and herbs.

“This really makes me feel connected to my mom and my grandmother who, for many years, did these same things. It brings me back to what they taught me, and I love being able to teach that to my children and hopefully my grandchildren one day,” Hammock said.

Homegrown foods

After pickling, sauerkraut can be stored in the refrigerator and eaten over several weeks, or it can be preserved using a hot water canning process. Courtesy photo/Sarah Hammock

Above all, Hammock is grateful for the opportunity to provide fresh homegrown foods to her family. Some of her favorite creations include sauerkraut, strawberry freezer jam, salsa and vegetable soup.

“If you’ve ever opened a fresh can of tomatoes, salsa or vegetable soup — it tastes nothing like what you would get in the store,” Hammock said. “That is what I want for my family.”

Although growing and preserving foods takes extra work, Hammock says the return is always worth it.

“I remember going to my mom and grandmother’s houses, cutting up peaches and apples and laying them on a sheet outside to dry. They would use them for pies and other desserts, and they were so delicious,” Hammock said and smiled. “When you’re eating what you preserved, you forget about the time you spent in the kitchen preparing it. You are tasting something you just can’t get from the shelf of a grocery store.”

Starting small
Hammock’s best advice to those looking to get involved with the Improve Health initiative and learn more about food preservation skills is to start small. She recommends various resources including how-to videos on YouTube.

The Hammock family uses raised beds for their growing garden. Courtesy photo/Sarah Hammock

“Start small and expand as you learn and grow. Plant things you love to eat! Make choices about things you enjoy and learn to do them well,” Hammock said.

Hammock and her husband expanded their garden in 2021 and now have 12 raised beds with free-range chickens. They look forward to continuing the expansion of their garden and learning more about food preservation in 2022.

“Throughout the last two years, we have faced challenges that often leave you mentally and emotionally drained. At the end of a workday, I have found a lot of comfort and mental clarity in my garden. Working with my hands to grow flowers and food gives me time to reflect and thank God for the blessings that he has provided for me and my family,” Hammock shared.

To learn more about the NMHS Improve Health initiative, visit www.nmhs.net/improve-health.

STRAWBERRY FREEZER JAM

Ingredients
4 cups strawberries, yielding 2 cups crushed
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 cups sugar*
1 box Sure-Jell Fruit Pectin*
Directions
Remove and discard strawberry stems.
Crush strawberries. Measure 2 cups of prepared fruit into large bowl.

Directions
■ Measure exact amount of sugar into separate bowl. Add sugar to prepared fruit or juice, mix well. Let stand 10 minutes, stirring.
■ Combine pectin and lemon juice in a small bowl. Add to fruit mixture, stir 3 minutes or until sugar is completely dissolved.
■ Pour into prepared containers, leaving ½ inch space at the top of each container for expansion during freezing.
■ Cover with lids. I have used both jars and plastic freezer safe containers. Let stand at room temperature for 24 hours or until set. Refrigerate up to 3 weeks or freeze up to 1
■ year. If frozen, thaw in refrigerator before using.
■ * Do not reduce sugar or use sugar substitute as this will result in set failures.
■ To make this recipe more diabetes friendly, make with No-Sugar or Less Sugar Pectin to provide a healthier alternative. For no-sugar or low sugar jams or jellies, use Sure-Jell for Less Sugar or No Sugar needed recipes. For exact measurements with these options, review the packet inside the Sure-Jell box.

SAUERKRAUT

Ingredients
Cabbag:
25 lbs. of cabbage (about 5 large heads)
3/4 cup Ball Salt for Pickling and Preserving, divided
Brine:
1 quart water
1 1⁄2 tablespoon salt

Directions
■ Wash cabbage under cold water, drain. Remove the outer leaves. Keep a few of these for the packing process. Remove core and slice into thin shreds with food processor or knife.
■ Combine 3 tablespoons pickling salt and 5 pounds shredded cabbage in a large bowl. Mix evenly to coat. Let salted cabbage stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour to let cabbage wilt.
■ Transfer salted cabbage to pickling container. You can use a 1-gallon glass jar or pottery style crock. Pack firmly into container, pressing until juice comes to the surface.
■ Repeat until all cabbage is salted and packed into pickling container, allowing 3-4 inches from top of pickling container. If juice does not cover cabbage, add brine.
■ To make the brine, combine 1 quart water with 1 ⁄ 2 tablespoons pickling salt in saucepan, stirring until salt dissolves. Bring brine to a boil, remove from heat and cool to room temperature before using.
■ Cover cabbage with 1-2 large cabbage leaves, place fermenting weight or sealed jar on top of cabbage to hold cabbage under brine. You can also use a sealed plastic bag filled with brine as a weight.
■ Cover container with cheesecloth or tea towel. Store container at 65-70 degrees F for 4-6 weeks, or longer if you prefer.
■ At the end of the desired fermentation period, place container directly into the refrigerator and eat cold like a slaw for 4-6 months.
■ You can also use water-bath canning as a method to process and store for a longer period.

Water-bath Canning
■ After fermentation process is complete, place sauerkraut and liquid into a large saucepan and bring mixture to a simmer.
■ Pack hot sauerkraut into jar, leaving ½ inch headspace. Ladle hot liquid over sauerkraut. Remove air bubbles. Clean jar rim. Add band and lid to fingertip-tight.
■ Place jar on the rack in a boiling-water canner. Lower rack into canner. Cover jars by 1 inch of water.
■ Process pins for 15 minutes and quarts for 20 minutes. Let jars cool and store.
■ For recipes and tips, check out resources like the Ball Blue Book — Guide to Preserving.

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