The Joy of Canning

Canning_JarsYour summer harvest is probably all in by now, and you may even have an overabundance of tomatoes, zucchini, or other crops. Have you thought about putting them up? Canning is a terrific end-of-summer activity, and after you've heard from our featured canner Suzanne McMinn and her friends at the online forum Chickens in the Road, you may want to give it a try, if you're not already doing it.

Suzanne is an example of a modern canner: she didn't learn until she was in her forties and moved from the suburbs to a farm. As with many people new to canning, Suzanne was soon hooked. Last week on her blog she wrote, I've canned a lot this summer already and I'm not done. I've canned things I've canned before–jams and butters, tomatoes and green beans, and I've canned things I haven't tried before–relishes and pickles and salsas. There are more new things I want to try before the summer canning season is over. There's always something new to try in canning.

Though Suzanne learned to can from a neighbor, she expanded her knowledge by reading, and some of her friends at Chickens in the Road learned entirely from books. The canning bible Suzanne recommends is the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, which we currently have on hand in a beautifully designed centenary edition.

The reasons people love to can are as varied as their personalities. When Suzanne cans staples like tomatoes, the process makes her feel practical and self-sufficient. When she concocts treats like Madeira Pear Mincemeat and Blackberries in Framboise and puts them up, canning allows her to express a gourmet flair.

You can get an incredible sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and creative fulfillment from putting up your own food, she says. There's nothing like the fresh taste of popping open a jar of summer in the middle of winter.

Nearly all the posters on Chickens In the Road would agree: their pleasure in hearing the pop of the lids as they open seems to be equaled only by their feeling of satisfaction when they hear the lids pop closed at the end of the canning process.

A forum member named Susan writes, I love hearing the pop, pop, pop of the lids sealing. This week it has been apples and tomatoes. Last week it was green beans, before that it was more tomatoes, salsa blackberries and cherry jam way back in June.

Likewise, Estella writes, I love the sound of the ‘ping' when the jar seals!  It is a magic sound of a job well done, a sigh of satisfaction from a full cupboard. The next few weeks are going to be very busy picking vegetables and canning.

The posters at Chickens In the Road also share Suzanne's overall good feelings about canning. A poster named Cindy writes, It gives me a feeling of accomplishment when I open a cupboard and see all of the pretty jars filled with our garden bounty, waiting to be opened in the middle of winter, or given as gifts. I love not having to go to the store to buy these things. They have gotten so expensive!

Another poster identified as Fencepost confided that since her husband has been out of work, he has become the Jelly King and Salsa Sultan, and that canning has been good therapy. He has laid up more than five cases of jelly and two cases of salsa and she plans to give them as Christmas gifts.

Some of the posters report that their children definitely prefer home canned to commercially canned food. Cyndi L, writes, My eight-year-old asked when we were going to have ‘real green beans again.' She would not eat store bought beansshe called them ‘fake beans.' I made the garden a priority this year, and have put up forty quarts of green beans and planted another two rows of fall beans, which are doing great and will hopefully give me another forty quarts.

Talking about children, it's interesting to note that while some of the forum members have been canning since they were very young, others have started as recently as this summer. We'll be hearing from some of these newcomers, but first we'd like to share some of the wonderful memories of the veteran canners.

Amy Buchanan writes, When I was four years old, my job was to stand on a chair and turn the crank of the meat grinder as Mom fed endless apricot halves into it. We spent a couple years living with my Grandparents while Dad was overseas. Gardening and canning were expected of everyone. When Dad got out of the army years later, we lived next door to my Grandma and Grandpa and continued that. My collection of beautiful filled jars makes me happy. Sharing them with my friends makes me happy. Having canned them with my kids (ages 2, 5, 7) makes me giddy beyond belief. It reaffirms the ties to my Mom and Grandma (and all the canners before them I never had the chance to meet), and brings back all those memories of the times we worked together.

Another long-time canner, Lola Dawn, writes, Nothing tasted as good as my Granny's homemade sauerkraut! White as snow, it was crunchy, tangy goodness. Store bought cannot even compare, the taste is not even close. My mom made a sour piccalilli that is a family favorite. It was a labor-intensive endeavor and spanned weeks of watching and prepping. But so worth it! I remember one summer we made thirty gallons of dill pickles. Going to the cellar to retrieve Mason jars and washing them by hand in unbelievably hot water, snapping green beans for hours, washing veggies, grinding, peeling, pitting.But I am thankful for what I was taught. Most of it can be applied as life lessons: finish what you start; hard work pays off; tried and true is usually best; prepare for the future.

Among the canners who have just started this summer is Maryann, who writes, I shunned all attempts at homemaking and homestead skills when I was young. How foolish that was. Now, I am learning as I go the things I could have learned as a child. I learn from books, team up with like-minded friends and spend a lot of time on the phone with my Mom. (Eating humble pie.) The best thing I've done in a long time was to pick strawberries and cherries with my Mom and Dad while they visited this summer and turn our work into strawberry jam and canned cherries. My Mom said it was so good to work side by side with me in this.

Senta Sandberg has a similar story, but one that is particularly touching: My Grandmother had planned on teaching me this year and she did, but from her death bed, literally! She planted six rows of green pintos just for me, and she talked me through the process while in her hospital bed. Now I know how much she loved me, all those years she shared her canning treatsit takes a lot of love and work to make it all work out just right. But I'm glad I gave it a try and I'm even gladder that she was still alive to share in the accomplishment with me. Even though we lost her in June, I will always cherish our last summer of canning together.

Finally, don't be discouraged if there is no one around to personally show you how to can. Our master gardener Karen is happy to answer your questions, and the folks at Suzanne's online forum are ready and willing to lend a virtual helping hand. As you can tell from their comments, canning is about much more than preserving food: it's about self-sufficiency, creativity, family traditions, and love!

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