Tuesday, October 22, 2013

You Can Can. But Why Bother?

Canning was all the rage, and in fact necessary for most people, in the not too-distant past. I found this 1940s-era photo in a local photo history book; I really love body language shown by the girl 2nd from right ;)
*This takes a long time.
*There are a lot better things I could be doing right now.
*Ugh, I am hot and my legs hurt.
*It's so beautiful outside, and I'm stuck slaving over this big canning pot...and...oh geez, am I supposed to get those air bubbles out of the applesauce? Why is there applesauce coming out of the tops of those cooling jars? Great, now what am I supposed to do? ...guess I will google later to see if the sauce is still safe despite overflowing.
*Ya know, wow...this actually, kinda sorta, sucks.


Right there are some brutally honest thoughts, during a long afternoon of saucing and canning a mountain of apples. I snapped blog-hopeful photos that could belie the drudgery and that I could write up as 'fantastic fun, and just the perfect thing I wanted to spend hours doing!" But I whined and complained in my head, and began to wonder why I was even doing it.

I can totally see why an entire generation was more than willing to let home canning go by the wayside and just start buying easy, conveniently packaged food.

Is the work long and hard? Sort of. But, what would I have been doing otherwise during those hours? Playing on Facebook? Reading a book? Or otherwise just piddling the afternoon away, seeing that I do have all the modern conveniences I'd ever want? I may have a mountain of laundry, but I also have a washing machine and don't have to dole out hours for hand-washing. I don't have to gather wood for cooking, I don't have to make everything we eat from scratch. I do always seem to find plenty of time (perhaps too much time) to do the 'useless' things I love, so what is the big deal about devoting a  few hours to putting up some food?

Once the work is finished, and I can stack up a few jars of food that will stay good all year, food that I spent pennies on, the sense of accomplishment is pretty amazing.

So why bother?
*You'll save money
*You'll avoid GMO and pesticides/herbicides
*You'll become more dependent on yourself instead of industrial food
*You'll get a happy feeling when you see your efforts stack up in pretty rows
*Did I mention you'll save money?



A portion of our wares. The empty jars in front are from foods we ate in just one week from the stash. Not pictured are the dozen jars of awesome cherry jam we mostly gave away, and several more jars of applesauce. Not bad for just our second year of attempting this canning thing! (most of our tomatoes are in the freezer, as you can see in this post)



Canning is really catching on all around me, and that is exciting. Two of my facebook friends recently posted pictures their gems. Their impressive stashes showed me how much more I could be doing.. and that I'm not the only one spending some time learning this 'old-fashioned' skill.

Lorie's Wares

Sarah's Wares

My neighbor, Linda canned for the first time this year; she'd gone blueberry picking and canned a bunch of blueberry jam. We were giddy when we learned that we had both canned some jam, and of course we had to swap, one jar of my cherry for one jar of her blueberry. I love, and I mean adore, the warm and fuzzy feeling of community I had in that moment of trading homemade jam.



One way to make the task less long and boring? Find a canning friend. Combine the work. I've seen that suggestion time and again on websites and in books; and I'm on the lookout for such a canning buddy. My first choice? Craig. Aka the hubby, the other half. I think he might just be all for it, since he's become interested in self-sustainability lately. He lives in this house, he's going to be eating the food, so there's no reason why canning should be 'woman's work.' Heck no! In fact, I'd love seeing this new trend taking off with the men around us. I also have 3 little men who will, I think, do well to learn some canning tricks.

So far I've only braved canning with a hot water bath. Just certain foods that are safe to can this way; high-acid foods like fruits, fruit juices, jams, jellies, and other fruit spreads, tomatoes with added acid, pickles, relishes, and chutneys, tomato sauces, vinegars, and condiments. Other veggies from the garden, like green beans and carrots, require pressure canning. Stay tuned; I'm relatively certain that pressure canning will exist in my future and that I'll feel compelled to blog about it. ;)

Click Here to see a basic rundown of using a hot water bath. Which, by the way, you don't have to go out and buy a canning pot. You can use any large stock pot with a lid; you just have to make a rack to keep the jars from resting on the bottom of the pot. Easily done by attaching some extra canning lid rings together with twist ties.

Here are a few tips I've come up with for myself (and anyone out there who wants to give hot water bath canning a shot):

1). Look at things you actually use, and then see if you could can them yourself. For me, this is tomatoes. I have a ton of recipes that use tomatoes in all forms; sauced, diced, whole, crushed. One day I will brave ketchup, perhaps. Buying canned tomatoes from the store won't break the bank. But once you start concentrating on organic (and tomatoes is one thing I almost always get organic), the price goes up considerably. Not to mention, I am still convinced that as the world's supply of oil dwindles, the price of food is going to keep creeping up, until the cheap things we are accustomed to buying may become prohibitively priced. Start canning your own food (or locally sourced food) now so that you'll have that skill set when you decide there isn't enough money in your budget to rely on the convenience of industrial food.


We are a tomato family

2). Break up the task. I find it less overwhelming to prepare what you want to can one day, maybe on a Saturday, and then actually do the canning itself on a different day, like Sunday. This works well with applesauce. Just make sure to warm the food up before placing it in your jars, to prevent your jars from bursting.

The boys helped puree a bunch of tomatoes, and that was
work enough for one day...
...so the whole bowl went into the fridge to be dealt with
later.


3). Join freecycle to look for canning supplies. Ask friends, neighbors, or relatives to borrow canning jars that are not being used (maybe they will donate supplies if you promise to share some of the finished product). Be careful not to use canning jars that are too old, because they've improved them over the years and you want to stay as safe as possible in this venture. Before I started canning, I never really saw the wonder that is the canning jar. When they are not being used for preserving food, they are great for other projects like fermenting (I've fermented sourdough and kefir, and am planning on saurkraut soon, using mason jars). I saw this use for a mason jar to use as a soap dispenser that I think is just genius, and just may try. Canning jars are freezer safe, so if you have just enough food for a couple quarts and don't want to start the canner going, you can put them in the freezer instead, using handy plastic screw on lids.



4). Keep your canner filled with water during canning season. During late August and September, when the apples and tomatoes are pouring in, I found that I had to set up shop three times. I couldn't see dumping out all that water, what a waste! So, the hot water bath hung around, filled with water, in the kitchen for about a month.


Hot water bath hanging around on the washer, ready for the next canning session


5). Check this book out from the library. Or buy it. I've browsed several books and this one is so incredibly simple and will walk you through each step. It has full color pictures and simple instructions that are so helpful. I actually have a different book that is my favorite (this one) that will further inspire you to try other things, but you will want to get the basics down first.

6). Label your food, and find a place to store it. I know this sounds so basic, but honestly, I just started labeling this year. It's just nice to know exactly what is in that jar and when you canned it. You will be more likely to use it and not fear it. As far as where to store all these jars? My space is at a premium, so I struggle with this. We have a fridge in the garage and I have been storing everything on top of it. I hope to get my hubby to build some nice strong shelving in there, just for my canning jars.

For now, this is where the canning supplies live. As I fill jars, I stack them up
using the boxes the jars came in (see below)


7). Save the boxes the jars came in. I find them really wonderful for storing empty jars for the next canning season. I wash the jar out, dry it, and put it in the box upside down (to keep out dust). You can then slide the box in and out of your shelving (or, if you are limited in space like me, it makes stacking things easier). Just a simple way to keep those jars organized.


I still have some canning to do this fall (more applesauce). I'm looking forward to the work a little more now that the days are colder and it's not as bad being stuck in the kitchen. Plus I have a little helper who happens to love applesauce and who is more than willing to help me out for now. I'll take the help from my little guy while I 'can'...and who knows, maybe he will keep the skill handy for himself!

Simon enjoys hot fresh applesauce during our last canning session!

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