The Unfortunately Lost Art of Canning

Time was that most of humankind fended for itself. Throughout history the human species has had the same pattern repeated almost universally with laborers, artisans and aristocratic rulers, and until the 20th century, only the aristocrats were exempted from at least some measure of self-sufficiency. Now, the rise and existence of the middle class and, more overtly, the rise of a consumer culture centered around large distributive corporations and a solid mixed economy have all but washed western civilization’s self-reliance away.

As recession wracks the world, more and more have discovered again the simple joy and the affordability that comes from working for oneself and producing something of their own. Home vegetable gardens and products made from organic vegetables are growing more and more popular, with more individuals and families cutting out the relevance of the larger companies day by day. However, there is a single limiting factor that is also being rediscovered with this return to self-sufficiency: preservation. Previously, vegetables were seasonally exclusive but for what could be pickled or dried, and meats were eaten fresh a few days after slaughter only to be aggressively salted down and dessicated with smoke. These are not bad solutions by any stretch, but they are time-consuming, a bit archaic, and are simply not what most are looking for.

Pressure canners are the modern solution to the problem of preservation. While they have been around themselves for years, pressure canners are anything but archaic, although the processes by which they operate are much better understood in the 21st century than they perhaps were in the 20th. Pressure canning is the process by which food is packed into a jar and then heavily pressurized. The pressure causes the food to very quickly reach a temperature of over 250 degrees which, when sustained, kills all ambient bacteria and toxins that could cause the food to rot and go bad or otherwise pose a threat to human health. Botulism, in particular, is the timeless risk, a toxin that can, upon ingestion, cause paralysis of facial muscles, limbs, and in the worst cases, the muscles of the respiratory tract, resulting in asphyxiation and death. This results in all cases of botulism on a nationally-distributed scale being highly newsworthy crises which will almost certainly involve FDA intervention. Botulism is rare in the extreme, particularly now, but it is still a very real threat when it does manage to rear its ugly head, and home canning is, with the regulation large companies find themselves under, far and away the most likely origin of the toxin in the modern day. Cooking out the botulism prevents any chance of this already rare infection and lets individuals eat their canned goods with confidence; for those with a distrust of large corporations, it allows them to guarantee, themselves, that their canned goods are safe of the awful toxin.

Pressure canners are the staple of modern food preservation. They are affordable, especially counted among the expenses that can be saved by producing something of your own and not simply purchasing the more expensive products produced by other companies. They permit do-it-yourselfers to preserve the food they have worked so hard for nearly indefinitely, as the risk of their canned and jarred goods going bad is reduced to almost nil, making their food effectively imperishable until the can is opened, depressurized and exposed to the open air. Pressure canners are preservation necessities for those that wish to have something other than dried spices from their garden by the time the winter months have rolled around, and their use and affordability are both on the rise. Growing one’s own food and pressure canning it is growing in popularity for numerous reasons, not the least of which the simple feeling of fulfillment that can come from making something for yourself, without reliance upon a company employing capital in excess of your life’s wages. Pressure canning is on the rise, and will remain so.