First, a short history
In the 1860’s, a tinsmith named John L. Mason invented what we now call the Mason jar—a glass jar with a threaded lip and a reusable metal lid. Since then, this homemaker’s wonder has allowed people all over the world to preserve fruit, pickles, relishes and jams.
Even though people of that time didn’t know why canning kept food from spoiling (Louis Pasteur had not yet discovered what we now call “germ theory”), the process was really quite simple: heat food hot enough to kill germs, put a lid on it and immerse it in hot water. As the water heats the contents, the liquid expands and expels all the air out of the jar and when it cools, everything contracts and pulls the lid into an air-tight seal.
So when you learn or practice the honorable skill of canning, you are joining the ranks of millions of home canners spanning three centuries. And having joined those ranks, it is important that you pass this skill along to future generations.
Is it really worth it?
Many will argue that after all the time, energy and money spent on preserving food, you’re better off just buying canned or frozen food from the store. So what do you think? Is canning really a waste of time and money? Well, obviously I disagree. Let’s leave the costs of canning out right now and just look at the other reasons I think canning is important:
The foods that come from your grocery store are bred to withstand mechanical harvesting and long-term transport. They are not bred for flavor or nutrition. When was the last time you bought a decent tasting tomato at the store? It’s not the tomato’s fault—the farmers prefer the tomatoes that are easier to harvest and transport even if they taste inferior.
Store bought foods are filled with chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Not only are these bad for our health, but they’re not good for the environment, either.
You have no guarantee how safely the food at the store has been handled. We’ve all heard about the numerous food recalls due to e. Coli and other contaminants. Each of these outbreaks is due to improper handling of food. When you preserve your own food, you know that everyone handling your food has washed their hands and the food thoroughly.
Food at the store has been sitting on the shelves for ages. Producers hold food in reserve until price or demand makes it more profitable to bring out of the warehouse. Much of the food on grocery store shelves have been in storage a year or more. The longer food sits, the more flavor and nutrition it loses.
OK, OK, but is it really economical?
So now we know that home grown and home preserved food has the most flavor and nutrition you can get. But what about the cost? If you grow your own, glean from neighbors, friends or farmers, then yes, home-canned food is very economical. Even if you get your produce from CSAs, farmer’s markets or local farmers, it will be still be a bargain.
Let’s take apples, for example. Locally grown apples are so abundant, you can get lots of free apples with very little effort. So a jar of applesauce will cost you less than 25¢ in supplies. The lid will cost about 15¢ (unless you use Tattler reusable lids.) Now I usually don’t factor the cost of energy cost into my canning cost. I figure it’s about an even trade with the cost of running into town to go to the
store. But let’s says you do want to factor energy costs in. Canning a batch of seven quart jars will cost you another $1 or so. Divided by seven (because we usually can a batch of seven jars at a time), that less than 15¢ are jar. So even factoring in energy and materials cost, a 1-quart jar of applesauce costs about 55-70¢.
Even if you buy your fruit, you will still usually find that canning is, at worst, a break-even deal. We can buy a lug of peaches her for about $25-30. Having lived out west, I think that’s terribly expensive. But that lug will give you about 12 quarts of peaches, plus a few extra for eating or for a nice pie. That works out to about $3/quart. A small can of peaches (equivalent to about 1 pint or 1/2 quart) at the store costs about $1.50. So even buying peaches at $30/lug, it’s a break even deal. And you have a product that tastes infinitely better and has better nutrition.
So…there you have it.
You save money, you get safer food AND it has better nutrition and flavor. What’s not to like? If you haven’t tried your hand at it yet, now is the time to join the ranks of home canners.