Home canning is an excellent way to preserve foods such as vegetables and fruits and has been popular in the United States and other countries for more than a century. One benefit of this food preservation method is reduced exposure to pesticides and chemicals used on the food available at the local supermarket. Canning one’s own food also eliminates most of the unnecessary salt, sugar and other preservatives found in the modern diet of commercially produced food. This can be a lifesaver for those who suffer from health problems such as hypertension or diabetes.
An added benefit is preserving food at its peak of flavor and ripeness so that it is enjoyed all year and brings the taste of summer to a winter table. When the home canner is also a gardener, there is great satisfaction in growing the food in the backyard and preserving enough to last until the next growing season. In this way fruits and vegetables can be allowed to ripen fully and can be harvested at their peak flavor and nutritional content. Knowing the maximum amount of vitamins and minerals are in the food and that it is free of harmful additives brings great peace of mind to those who are able to preserve their own food.
Benefit of Self-Reliance
Self-reliance is still another benefit derived from home canning. If a natural disaster occurs and trucks cannot reach an area, grocery store shelves empty quickly. When food is in short supply, the value of having one’s own food cannot even be calculated. In the event of a power outage, it is especially helpful to know that home canned foods do not need refrigeration. Properly canned foods last for many years and taste as fresh as the day they were first preserved. Almost any food can be preserved in this way, ensuring a variety in daily meals.
Home canning was one way to preserve food before refrigeration was available and food preservatives were widely used. The basic technique for canning foods at home was actually developed in the 1800s and is still in use at present. It prevents bacteria from causing illnesses such as botulism and yeast, mold and enzymes from spoiling food. These organisms that cause the food to spoil are in soil, water and the air. Even raw vegetables contain enzymes that cause their color, flavor and texture to change over time.
Canning heats the food long enough at maximum temperatures to destroy both the organisms that cause the food to spoil and the kind that make people sick. The process also prevents the enzymes from ruining the quality of the food. The method of canning vegetables that is the safest is pressure canning. Food is placed in canning jars and the jars are immersed in a pressure canner that reaches 240°F. Although most bacteria is killed at 210°F, the internal temperature of the pressure canner is necessary to kill spores and deadly toxins. This is how canning preserves foods that are safe and available to eat at a later time when the harvest is only a memory.
Choose only the freshest of fruits and vegetables to preserve. The faster they are taken from the garden and placed in the jar, the better. If the foods will be purchased for canning, buy them from local farms or nearby gardens at their peak of flavor and ripeness. When ready to can, first wash the canning jars and rinse thoroughly. Check the jars carefully for chips or cracks.
Wash all vegetables and inspect for any bad spots. Vegetables may be raw packed—put into the jars raw—or hot packed meaning heated first and then put in jars. Follow instructions that come with the pressure canner and the canning jars for how to fill the jars and the length of time to cook. For more information, contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the local Cooperative Extension Office.