In keeping with the tradition my mom and I started last year (see Learning to Can Part 2), we spent several days together this past week with nothing but canning on the agenda.
Canning, a method of preserving, has an interesting past. In 1795, Napoleon Bonaparte offered a cash reward to whoever could devise a reliable method of preserving food for his army and navy. After fourteen years of experimentation, Nicholas Appert discovered that sealing food in wine bottles and then heating the bottles would prevent the food from spoiling. He won the prize. The next year, 1810, Peter Durand, an Englishman, patented a method to seal food inside tin cans and then, in 1858, American John Mason invented a glass jar that made home canning practical. It was not until the 1860s that it was understood why canning preserved food; Louis Pasteur answered that question.
My mom has shared with me many memories of her time spent with her depression-era grandparents. One of her grandparents’ activities that she remembers fondly is canning. In keeping with what I know about my great-grandparents, I recently read that canning was most common in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries among small town families. These families would preserve the vegetables from their gardens and fruit trees and would often trade cans between neighbors. For people like my great-grandparents, who raised children during the Great Depression, this thriftiness was a way of life — one that lasted a lifetime.
During both World War I and World War II, the government encouraged “patriotic” families to plant “victory gardens” and to learn how to preserve excess yields through canning. Efforts of canning on the home front meant there was more food available for hardworking soldiers and sailors.
These days, canning is more of a hobby than a necessity. However, with the food movement (the increased public awareness of the environmental, ecological and human health issues surrounding industrial farming and the food industry) in full swing there is passion across the country to take greater control of our food supply by obtaining local and organic produce from farmers’ markets and by planting home gardens. Consequently, there seems to be renewed interest in canning so that the local and organic bounty of summer may be enjoyed all year long.