Introduction to Home Canning: Why We Do It

Home canning is enjoying a resurgence thanks to increased interest in gardening and nutrition. What was once a necessity is now a way for modern families to enjoy the freshness of their gardens well past harvest season, save money, and keep control over what they put on the table. Others may take an interest in canning because of its history; the process of canning is a link to the past as much as it is a provision for the future.

Even after sharing their bounty with friends or co-workers, gardeners may find themselves with an over-abundance of fresh produce; canning is a great way to make the most of a harvest. The same vegetables that cost sixty to seventy cents per pint in the grocery store cost a gardener who cans them only twenty cents a pint. Rather than see home-grown produce go to waste, canners enjoy the fruits of their labor throughout the whole year.

Although canning is especially economical for gardeners, it’s a money-saver for shoppers as well. A good sale at the supermarket doesn’t have to mean eating green beans for a week, then throwing out the remainder because they spoil; canning that extra produce gives home canners the freedom to enjoy their bargains over time.

Canners choose what ingredients fill those jars. For people who have dietary restrictions or want to cut down on the preservatives, salt, and sugar that prepared foods may contain, canning represents the ultimate in quality control. Canners also get to prepare foods to their own tastes, adding or omitting spices as they see fit to create their own unique flavors.

The “slow food” movement is big news in culinary circles, but it isn’t just for haute cuisine. “Slow food” emphasizes local and traditional flavors over the convenience and uniformity of prepared food. Home canning is a perfect fit with this gastronomic phenomenon. It allows canners to preserve not only the foods they can, but also the traditions behind the food. There’s a sense of pride and accomplishment to enlivening the dinner plate not with any old tomatoes, but a jar of Louisiana Creole tomatoes picked on last month’s hottest day. Appreciating both the flavor and the history of food is a reward that many canners know well.

The history of canning is itself another draw. From its earliest days as a means for the French Army to feed its soldiers to its utility throughout the twentieth century, the process of canning food at home puts canners in touch with a long tradition. During each world war, home canners took great pride in preserving the best of their victory gardens. Some home canners have more personal memories of helping a parent or grandparent with putting up marmalade, olive salad, or piccalilli. Canning is a way to taste those memories again.

Even for first-generation canners, the fusion of culinary art and science of canning is fascinating. Canning can be time-consuming, but so is any form of entertainment–yet not every kind of entertainment results in delicious food. Many canners actively enjoy the process of preparing jars and lids, monitoring temperature, and calculating weights and measurements as much as they appreciate the taste of the finished product. With canning, the journey is as exciting as the destination.

Home canners have numerous reasons to love what they do. The canner who originally started for economic reasons may find that having complete control over the finished product is as important as the money saved. A history buff who tries canning as a means to get in touch with a favorite era might be so impressed with the results that she now cans regularly for the sake of flavor. Home canning brings rewards well beyond the ones that might inspire a person to try it originally.