For a large part of my lifetime, canning looked to be a lost art. With the easy and inexpensive proliferation of processed foods and the emphasis on the (sometimes incorrect) nutritional benefits of fresh over frozen over canned, the need for learning this once essential skill had faded. As a gardener with a large fruit orchard, I have always felt a need to can as a means of preserving the bounty when my freezer gets filled beyond its limits. On occasion, it has become more than that, almost an obsession, and the line between enthusiastic canner and prepper becomes blurred.
Is this the pantry of an enthusiastic home preserver, a prepper, a hoarder?
I plead guilty to all charges.
Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in lost homestead arts, and canning is among them. Manufacturers of canning jars (Ball and Kerr are the two most commonly seen brands) have seen an upturn in sales of their products over the last few years. While once uncommon, supermarket magazine shelves now carry a variety of magazines or quarterlies devoted to canning. And of course, the internet is loaded with thousands of food bloggers displaying “food porn” pictures of their beautiful array of home preserved foods.
In the age of the internet, any person with a PC, even those with minimal knowledge of safe food preservation practices, can post recipes for canned foods. At a recent conference I attended, for example, one canning specialist noted that over 1/3 of Americans who can are using recipes for canned tomatoes that are deemed unsafe by the USDA. Tomatoes can be a low acid product, and if one does not add a source of acid prior to water bath canning them, there can be a risk (though slight) of botulism contamination. Botulism is a deadly toxin, and even if the probability is low, the risk when it might occur is unacceptably high.
For readers interested in taking the leap into home canning, I encourage you to connect with the Master Food Preservers in your area. The Master Food Preservers are taught a curriculum of safe food preservation developed in association with the University of California. I was excited to see that the Sacramento Master Food Preservers are offering classes in our area. They even have a class tomorrow night, and the cost is only 5 dollars, so I rushed to write this post to promote that class. If you are able to find the time, and are interested in becoming an expert in home food preservation, you can even sign up to take the full course to become a Master Food Preserver yourself.
Online resources for safe home food preservation are those associated with the National Center for Home Food Preservation, the University of California (I am using a UC publication for making olives today!) and the canning jar company Ball. If you buy a pressure or water bath canner, they also typically come with a booklet containing directions and recipes.
As we become more aware of the benefits of eating locally grown, in season foods, the benefits of home food preservation for extending the seasons become clear. I urge you to give home canning a try. It is a simple process, it saves money, it is great for the environment (less trash from packaging, less refrigeration costs) and the rewards of looking a shelf of beautiful foods you have preserved yourself are priceless.
© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.