Tony Yokley knows how to get his two grandsons to eat at least a few veggies.
He pickles them and puts them in jars.
Yokley has been canning his garden-grown vegetables for several years, nudged to do so after a few strong harvests of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.
“I got started gardening because of the grandkids,” he said. “When we’d go to the grocery store, they didn’t know where things came from.”
Yokley’s daughter, Ashley Marks, has a big backyard, so several years ago, her sons Jacob, 12, and Troy, 14, helped their grandfather start a garden on a 20-by-20-foot plot in their Prairieville backyard.
After a few seasons of eating as much as they could and giving produce to friends and neighbors, Yokley decided to start canning their bounty.
Seasonally, they till the soil and plant crops of things they like to eat right away and decide what to can for later.
Summer crops mean lots of tomatoes and peppers, which means more salsa, spicy tomatoes (think RoTel) and pasta sauce for the cupboard. Yokley likes to use his pasta sauce as a base for his shrimp penne pasta recipe.
“They really love that,” he said. “They will eat that up.”
Fall crops of kale, collards and mustard greens are blanched and then frozen for later use.
Yokley says his only previous experience with canning was watching his dad make pear preserves and his mother make damson preserves from her plum tree in the yard.
“I figured if my dad could do it, so could I,” he said.
His “Sweet Heat” pickles are a favorite of his brother, but wife Judi thinks they are a little on the hot side.
Occasionally, Yokley may not plant enough to have leftovers to can, or like this year, spring rains wreaked havoc on the cucumber crop. So he’ll buy fresh produce at the farmers markets, a great option for anyone, especially when it comes to okra.
Growing okra can be laborious, he said, as it has to be picked daily and the stems can be itchy.
“You can buy a bunch of okra, and it takes 10 minutes to prepare,” he said.
Yokley advises those new to canning to grow or buy only pickling cucumbers for making pickles.
“As a kid I grew up seeing green beans and all kinds of produce in cans stored in my neighbor’s basement,” he said. “Kids today don’t have that experience. A lot of parents take it for granted, too.”
Yokley’s grandsons still help him garden and can and each one has a favorite. For Jacob, it’s the bread and butter pickles, while Troy favors the dill pickles.
And, as long as they’re eating, Yokley says he’ll keep canning.
“It’s really fun if you’ve never done it,” he said. “It’s a good thing to try.”