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 a stone’s throw from where I live now 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.
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. (Georgia thinks I’m so entertaining. Or weird.) Georgia worked as a home extension agent before she married, so I don’t know how many people she may have taught to can in the past, but I am probably the last person she will teach to can. (She’s nearly 80.) Yesterday morning I picked all her tomatoes out of her garden. She hasn’t canned anything this year and isn’t able to with her upcoming hip surgery. I’ll can them and share them back with her.
The last time I canned with Georgia was last fall. See Making Pear Butter at the Old Farmhouse.
I’ve canned a lot this summer already and I’m not done. I’ve canned from my own garden, Georgia’s garden, and from some of the “pig” produce we get from the farmers market. (We pick through it and weed out what’s still good before we give anything to the pigs. You’d be surprised how much they have to throw out at farmers markets because people are picky and they can’t sell anything with even a minor blemish.) 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.
My latest new thing: 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. We even got a pressure canner for free. You’d be amazed at the stuff people want to get rid of! 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’d recommend is the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. (My cousin gave me this book for Christmas a couple of years ago. I love it and use it all the time.) We also have an active discussion on the Chickens in the Road forum about canning here. Whether you have expertise to share or questions to ask, join us. There are also a whole bunch of canning recipes in the Community Cookbook and I have canning recipes and a how-to on using a hot water bath here.
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 almost apple butter time again!), and next thing you know, you’ll be making Curried Fruit Compote and having more fun than you ever imagined.
And, wow, there’s nothing like the fresh taste of popping open a jar of summer in the middle of winter.
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!