FARMINGTON — Sadie Shelton is crazy about canning.

A volunteer at the San Juan County Fair for much of her adult life, Shelton also enters a cornucopia of edible entries each year in the food preservation competition.

This year, she managed a canning coup with all eleven of her pressure-sealed entries taking first place in the senior division, ages 41 to 60. And her canned carrots were bestowed with the pinnacle of county canning glory, the Mabel Clark Dallas award.

"I can just about everything," said Shelton, 49. "Whatever I've shot, caught or pulled out of the ground, it'll end up in a jar before long."

She and her husband, Danny, make canning a year-round effort, harvesting many of the zucchini, yellow squash, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, okra, cucumbers, apples from the quarter-acre garden and farm at their home in Flora Vista.

Soon, she and her husband will go south to Cuba or Devil's Park to hunt elk and later, in October, to hunt deer. The couple can most of the food they consume and still have plenty left over they give as gifts to friends and family, or for charity.

When their youngest son moved out of the house, Sadie Shelton converted his bedroom into a pantry, lining all four walls with enough shelving to hold roughly 500 mason jars, filled or empty.

Armed with five pressure canners, kettles with screw-tight lids of various sizes that she finds mostly at garage sales, she might produce 50 jars in one night.

Her duties at the fair keep her often until late at night, but her canning drive knows no rest or sleep.

"Last night, I was home by 9 p.m., and I canned for a two or three hours, making about 45 jars of all the squash our garden gave up," she said. "Sometimes, I get home and Danny has brought in a bunch of vegetables from the yard and set up for me to get started with. I love to do it. It may be a sickness."

A FAVORITE CANNING RECIPE FROM SADIE SHELTON'S MOTHER-IN-LAW'S KITCHEN

Grandma Delchamp's Turkey and Green Chili Dish

Ingredients, serves two

Big bag of Fritos corn chips

1 pint jar of turkey meat, shredded or in chunks

1 pint jar of turkey broth

Green chilis, chopped, to taste

Cheddar cheese, shredded, to taste

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

With a baking dish or small roaster pan, layer ingredients, starting with a bed of chips, followed by a layer of turkey meat, a layer of chilis and a layer of shredded cheese.

Ladle a cup of broth evenly on top.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

Her friends all testify to the canning couple's addiction, something Sadie Shelton attributes mostly to her mom and maternal grandmother.

Her husband also entered some of his canned food into the fair's competition, taking two first place and two second place ribbons.

"My jars blew his out of the water," Sadie Shelton joked. "It usually starts something like this: He said his canned smoked salmon was prettier than mine, and I said, 'It's on.' 'Course mine was prettier. Poor guy."

Her lifelong friend, Billy Huish, another volunteer at the fair, puts his friend's compulsive canning this way: "If it's a louse, a grouse, a moose or a goose, she'll can it," Huish said. "Is it like AA -- like a food preservation anonymous kind of thing? Jury's still out on that."

Sadie Shelton’s canned carrots won best of show at the San Juan County Fair.
Sadie Shelton's canned carrots won best of show at the San Juan County Fair. (Jon Austria The Daily Times)

Sadie Shelton defends her endless enthusiasm for canning food against people who question her hobby.

CANNING ONLINE

For more canning information and recipes, go to the National Center for Home Food Preservation at nchfp.uga.edu. The website also offers a no-cost, self-paced online course on canning techniques and food preservation.

"Each week, we spend maybe $20 at the grocery store, for a gallon of milk and butter," she said. "It's far cheaper to can your food, plus it saves freezer space. And the taste is no comparison, especially if you're growing or butchering your own."

Her 4-year-old grandson, Clark, is "a pickle freak" who she supplies with half-gallon pickle jars.

"His mom's a pickle freak, too," she said. "This was the first year I moved up to the larger jar."

Next year, Sadie Shelton promises to try to can a whole chicken and maybe double up on her prize-winning kosher dills. Either way, she sees no reason not to make canning for fun and for finalist ribbons just a part of who she is.

"I'm going to Sadie's if we all run out of food," joked friend and fair volunteer Shanda Browne.

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.