Canning Made Easy

The question of what to do with all that garden bounty becomes simple once you learn a few preservation techniques.

| September/October 2007

  • LEAD_iStock_Pickles Ladd
  • JupiterImages-LadlingJam
    When filling jars for canning be sure to leave a half inch of headspace to allow the food to expand.
  • iStock_Tomatoes Fitzgerald
  • iStock_PressureCooker Galbraith
  • iStock_AppleButter
    Canning fruits and vegetables is a great way to preserve that summer feeling.

  • LEAD_iStock_Pickles
  • JupiterImages-LadlingJam
  • iStock_Tomatoes
  • iStock_PressureCooker
  • iStock_AppleButter

During the first World War, the U.S. government asked its citizens to contribute to the war effort by growing gardens. Americans rose to the challenge. The millions of quarts of provender produced by this astonishing effort not only fed American families, but helped feed starving people all across Europe. Humankind caring for humankind in a time of need – an example the world could heed today.


Similar food shortages have occurred throughout the centuries. When Napoleon was faced with the problem of feeding his rapidly growing military, the French government offered 12,000 francs to anyone who could figure a solution. A man named Nicolas Appert, though not completely understanding why, discovered that by putting food into a bottle or jar, sealing the jar up tight and cooking it for a few hours, the food could be preserved for consumption later. Napoleon’s army didn’t go hungry.


During the 17th and 18th centuries, flocks of free-thinkers sailed the ocean blue in search of a place where they could live free and govern their own lives. Once settled in their respective colonies, they too found daunting the challenge of having enough to eat. Through much trial and error, they discovered how to provide their daily needs and to preserve the precious leftovers for leaner times. Waste not, want not. The colonists learned how to take care of one another.


Preservation progress came at a cost, however. For example, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that anyone knew about Clostridium botulinum, the soil-borne bacterium whose lethal toxin, sometimes found in improperly canned food, claimed countless lives. Likewise, pickled provender frequently went bad when cork stoppers or pig’s bladders were used to cover the crocks and jars. Jams and jellies, sealed with brandy-soaked paper, often sprouted mold. But help was on the way – in the form of a rubber-sealed glass jar.


Tinsmith John L. Mason couldn’t possibly have known how his 1858 patent would permanently revolutionize family nutrition. His machine mass-produced threaded metal jar lids that, in combination with threaded-neck jars and rubber sealing rings, made it easy for virtually anyone to achieve a safe seal when canning. Mason’s canning jar and lid concept caught on immediately and opened the door for several improvements and modifications with familiar names like Ball, Atlas E-Z Seal and Kerr. Through time, the rubber seal has improved, as has the science behind the processing, but home canning is every bit as accessible today as it was in 1858.


You, too, can can


Before starting a canning project of your own, you should keep a few things in mind. It is best to gather only the produce you can work up in a few hours. This ensures optimum nutrition and quality. If possible, harvest early in the day.

5/1/2009 8:20:22 AM

Great article on home food preservation. Spent many a day as a kid in the 40s with my parents and two older sisters putting up food for winter. My parents were children of the Depression and survival was a life skill. A couple comments on the article. I imagine the author didn't want to promote any particular business, but Ball jars publishes a great low cost book of directions. Other manufacturers may also do the same. I'm not sure about the rest of the country, but in the NE, the County Extension has books for sale, and often holds classes that allow hands on training by specialists at a nominal cost. Regarding the article, I think the direction on pressure cooking for low acid vegetables should be stronger than a recommendation. I think the head space in jars varies with the item being preserved. I think with water boiling, after you add the jars to the bath, you want to add enough water to cover all the jars with at least an inch of water. Canning is work but a lot of fun, and a good way for couples or families to spend time together. Just the other day I opened a quart of peaches for lunchtime desert. There are few pleasures greater than the sense of self sufficiency that comes with that first spoonful of peaches. If you garden and have grown the fruits or veggies yourself, the pleasure is doubled (and the cost reduced even more)! Try it and have fun.

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