Haverhill woman takes home Iowa State Fair awards for canned goods

HAVERHILL — Spicy pickles, pear butter and plum preserves are just some of the delicacies Susan Schultz of rural Haverhill creates. And her creations are award-winning.

For the past seven years, she has entered her canned goods in a variety of competitions at the Iowa State Fair. This year, she took home 27 ribbons, including a Reserve Sweepstakes Award.

“I learned a lot about canning from my mother Elizabeth — watching her, as well as my grandmother,” Schultz said.

A native of Clutier, she grew up on an acreage where the family raised their own dairy cows, pigs and chickens. By day, she’s employed as a medical assistant at Radiant Complexions Dermatology Clinic in Marshalltown. In her spare time, she can be found in her kitchen. She and her husband Kevin Greinan have lost count of how many state fair food and agriculture contests they’ve entered and won through the years.

“We have about 300 ribbons,” she said. “The first year, we put in just five things, and that’s what got the whole thing going. We came back with two ribbons and it sort of manifested from there.”

She grows much of the produce used in her canning, including tomatoes, apples, plums, peaches and pears. Canning jams, vegetables, sauces and other goodies is a complex business. One misstep and you risk food borne illness.

“There are some recipes that will tell you there’s no need to sterilize your jars because you’re going to process things for 10-15 minutes anyway, but that’s not true; you have to sterilize them for food safety,” she said.

After pouring the produce into the glass jars, she takes a utensil and pops the little bubbles.

“If you don’t get the air bubbles out, then the space is off, and it won’t quite process right,” she added.

After the jars are sealed tightly with lids and bands and submerged in a big kettle of boiling water, then processed (sometimes for over an hour), they are removed with a jar lifter and placed on a countertop while they set, which can take up to 24 hours. Heat escapes from the hot jars, taking with it any oxygen remaining, which in turn pulls the lid down, creating an airtight seal.

“When you hear the little ‘ping’ sound, you know it sealed,” she said.

Schultz has become an avid, year-round canner as a form of stress relief. However, when state fair season rolls around, the stakes grow higher.

“It’s stressful. Every year you say ‘I’m not doing it again’ and by the time you get home from that last day, and you have the (cookbook), you think I better try this next year,” she said.

Contestants must adhere to USDA guidelines. Schultz says she relies on the book “The Complete Guide to Home Canning” put out by that agency.

“What you do when you show these is take the canned goods in. There’s no cooking or anything while you’re down there (at the Iowa State Fair),” she said. “There’s only certain things they actually taste, because of the high possibility of food borne illnesses. You’re judged on (other aspects) like the age and the space in the jars.”

The Iowa State Fair Food Department is the largest of any state fair in the country, according to the Iowa State Fair’s website.

“There are 171 divisions, 727 classes and over 9,856 entries at this year’s Fair,” according to the fair’s website. “Due to the large number of classes, Food Department judging begins prior to the Fair in the Elwell Family Food Center sponsored by Blue Bunny Ice Cream.”

Her recipe for Apple Smoked Peach Chipotle Wings, which won an award at last year’s fair, was published in the latest “Iowa State Fair Cookbook” 19th Edition (2016-2017).

Competition time is twofold; it’s an opportunity to learn more about her craft and meet other folks who have the same passion for canning.

“It’s like a personal competition with people. You see these people year after year. You meet people of different walks of life every year, and you grow to know them and become friends with them,” she said.

Schultz likes to experiment with flavor combinations, often utilizing fruit she has on hand to craft a new flavor. Her blushing peach preserves get their color from the strawberries that are added into the mix. She believes in adding minimal amounts of sugar, preferring to use spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg.

“People are doing more canning because of the self-reliance aspect, and it gives them the chance to do their own thing, and taste their own products,” she said. “Some of the stuff when you start making your own, you don’t want to buy it.”

What does Schultz do with the dozens of jars of canned goods? Whatever she doesn’t eat she gives away to friends. Someday, she plans to take all her ribbons and craft them into a display quilt.

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at

641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com