I didn’t grow up around home canning. My mother didn’t can. Both of my parents grew up on farms (my mother in Oklahoma, my father here in West Virginia), and they both escaped the hard labor of life on a farm as soon as they could. Like many of their generation who left rural areas for the cities and suburbs of a new America after World War II, they were only too eager to embrace the miracle of Green Giant vegetables, among other things.
Life on a farm still includes hard work today, but it’s tempered by modern conveniences that allow you to pick and choose at least some of those labors. (They still haven’t invented an automatic chicken house cleaner. What’s up with that?) You don’t have to milk the cow, scrub your clothes on a washboard, churn some butter, clean every last dish by hand, sew all your dresses, and then can all in the same day. (No wonder people ran away from farms.)
Caramel Apple Jam slathered all over a slice of Grandmother Bread. See Caramel Apple Jam and Spiced Applesauce and Grandmother Bread.
Whether you live in the country and have a big garden or you just grow some tomatoes and peppers mixed in with your flowers beds in the backyard, you can choose to can, taking it up as a serious endeavor or simply an occasional hobby. You can spend all kinds of time canning, or just can one or two weekends in the summer. It’s not an all or nothing proposition.
Since I didn’t grow up around home canning, I viewed the entire process as somewhat mysterious up until a few years ago when I moved to the country. I never even thought about canning when I lived in the suburbs–even though I kept a vegetable garden. I didn’t know how and I was slightly afraid of it, to be honest. But I like to try new things and I was eager to learn when Yoda presented herself. Georgia taught me to can during the two and a half years I lived in the old farmhouse. She had a cellarful of tomatoes, relishes, jams, jellies, butters, green beans, and more. She kept all her canning in the old cellar in the farmhouse and I enjoyed “shopping” there the first (excruciatingly cold, have I mentioned that?) winter I lived there. By spring, I was helping her plant her garden and by summer she was teaching me how to make jams and butters and put up green beans and tomatoes. She also made me hoe, but let’s not go there. The hours I spent learning to can with Georgia will always be some of my best memories of living in the old farmhouse.
Coffee cake made with apple butter. See Rum Raisin Apple Butter and Apple Butter Coffee Cake and Apple Butter Time for more apple butter and pear butter recipes.
In the beginning, I canned with Georgia always by my side. I wanted to be sure I did things right. The first time I canned something by myself, I walked over to her house to bring her a jar and nearly jumped up and down with pride for having done it all by myself.
The last time I canned with Georgia. See Making Pear Butter at the Old Farmhouse.
Since I’ve had my own farm, I’ve canned from my own garden, Georgia’s garden, and from the farmers market. I can things I’ve canned before–jams and butters, tomatoes and green beans, all my regulars, and always every year I try new things. There’s always something new to try in canning.
One of my standby favorites: Hot Pepper Butter. See Picking Hot Peppers at the Old Farmhouse.
Home canning is practical and self-sufficient. It’s also interesting and artistic. You can put up basic necessities like tomatoes and peppers or gourmet treats like Madeira Pear Mincemeat and Blackberries in Framboise. It’s not mysterious and you don’t have to have your own Yoda. There are books and videos not to mention endless internet resources available. Don’t let the lack of a personal guide hold you back if you want to learn! It also costs very little money to get started. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve gotten many of my canning supplies for free or nearly free. Sometimes you can find someone with jars to give away–either they’ve stopped canning or they’ve inherited the jars and don’t want to can. You can also find jars in the classifieds and “penny” papers. Buy a couple dozen jars to get started then keep your eye out for a deal. You can actually use any large pot for a hot water bath as long as you can find something to fit into it to work as a rack.
Fruity Jam Cake Glaze on Old-Fashioned Pound Cake. See Strawberry Jam and Fruity Jam Cake Glaze and Old-Fashioned Pound Cake.
If you’re just starting out in home canning, a wonderfully basic yet extensive “bible” I recommend is the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.
You can get an incredible sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and creative fulfillment from putting up your own food. Try it! Start out with something simple, a jam or a butter (it’s apple butter time now!), and next thing you know, you’ll be making Curried Fruit Compote and having more fun than you ever imagined. Beware, because canning is like anything else once you fall in love–it’s a passion and soon your pantry will be filled with jars of your homemade goodness instead of labels from the store.
And trust me, there’s nothing like the fresh taste of popping open a jar of summer in the middle of winter.
Especially when I was living at Stringtown Rising, canning was a necessity for self-sustainable living when I was stranded sometimes for weeks at a time or more in the winter. Canning, pickling, dehydrating, not to mention eggs from my chickens and milk and butter and cheese from my cow got me through those winters. But you don’t have to live on a remote farm to can! Everyone can do it, whether you live in an apartment or live on a farm. So, if you don’t can, are you thinking about it? Are you scared of it? If you do can, what have you been canning lately? And who taught you to can? Tell me your stories!
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