At first it was really just boredom.
After several years of entrepreneurship, Barb Whitelaw had started a family and after three children decided to become a stay-at-home mom. But after her youngest had gone off to school, a serious case of thumb twiddling led her to the kitchen.
Canning various foods had been a practice used in her family for a few generations and so Whitelaw began following suit.
And let’s just say she must have initially been pretty bored because she canned goods that started finding their way into the hands of friends and family, who immediately started egging her to go public.
“I was just doing asparagus, beets, carrots and salsa,” says Whitelaw. “And I started going to farmers’ markets all over. I was doing it out of the house but pretty much just giving it away. “The family all said (my food) was too good for that and said I should start a business. So that’s what I did.”
That was 12 years ago. After taking on the name Saucy Ladies – aptly given to her by her husband because she does enough work for two women — Whitelaw was off and running.
After starting slowly at markets and Christmas shows, she wanted to move into actual stores. In order to do that, Whitelaw needed a certified kitchen and so she moved into a location on 3 Avenue North, where she operates today.
Recently, the Lethbridge Horticultural Society invited Whitelaw to speak at the Lethbridge Public Library, where she gave tips on her homestyle canning process.
“Everything we do is hand-done,” says Whitelaw, who now sells canned goods in 70 stores across Alberta, including Edmonton and Calgary, plus some in the eastern part of B.C. “We use all fresh spices, no hot sauces or powders. It’s all fresh peppers and dill and each product has its own unique flavour.”
That was one thing she stressed to be very important when canning or pickling at home. She says when a lot of people do multiple foods, they will cut costs by using the same brine but what they end up with is a bunch of different items that all taste the same.
She talked about the procedures of sealing the jars with heat and how to use various appliances like a steam kettle to help heat products like salsa more evenly. Or using a hot-water bath to heat cold dills so they stay crisp and fresh for eating.
Another important tip was where to buy the produce. Absolutely everything she uses is locally and naturally grown.
“I buy a lot of products through different Hutterite colonies that grow naturally,” says Whitelaw. “We use about three colonies that grow specially for me.”
For those who want to can or pickle at home, Whitelaw says there are many benefits. Canning is a way to save on the grocery bill for one, but the real gain is in the health, proven by the numerous health food stores that sell Saucy Ladies products.
“You know what you put into it; it’s not garbage,” she says. “There’s no preservatives, it’s just all fresh and natural. And anything you have in the garden can work.
“It gives you quality control.”