Don’t miss Sustainable Contra Costa’s final class in their Sustainable Summer Series, “Home Canning and Preserving,” on Thursday, September 21, 10am – 12pm. Taught by canning expert Jennifer Brennan at Rodgers Ranch Heritage Center, this workshop is an in-class demonstration of canning procedures, with a focus on jam making. Take home tips, resources, and recipes along with a jar of delicious, homemade jam. For more information or to register, go HERE.

DIY canning ensures you are eating food you have grown yourself, free of pesticides, additives, preservatives, and anything your family is allergic or averse to. It’s a sustainable choice because you are reusing glass jars and reducing your carbon footprint by using produce that goes directly from garden to kitchen to table. Using that pile of garden tomatoes to make several jars of your own spaghetti sauce is also more economical (and tasty) than buying it. The nostalgia factor shouldn’t be discounted either; making family recipes rekindles fond memories of pickles like your grandma used to make. It’s practical. After gorging on your garden’s largesse and gifting grateful neighbors, stock up on ready-made items for meals down the road. 

Humans have found many ways to save the surplus bounty of their crops for the dormant months that lie ahead. Canning is having a popular resurgence these days, but preserving food is nothing new. Your grandparents may have preserved their extra harvest by keeping fruit and vegetable (and dairy) items in cool underground root cellars or ice boxes. Historically and today, countless methods extend the shelf life of food, including the use of lye, radiation, pasteurization, pickling, vacuum packing, fermenting, boiling, and more. Of course, humans have cured meat for thousands of years by drying, smoking, and salting it. Unfortunately, some such methods are too aggressive and can cause the loss of nutrition and flavor in foods. In contrast, canned foods are packed at the peak of freshness and vitality. In the 1920s and ‘30s, refrigerators took their place in the home and the frozen food industry became particularly popular, especially after World War II.

Let’s back up to 1809, when French chef Nicolas Appert invented a method of feeding Napoleon Bonaparte’s massive traveling army by boiling glass jars of foods and sealing them with wire and wax. Soon after, British inventor Peter Durard patented a different method of storage, the tin can. Even today, canned foods are sturdy, cheap, easy to make, and transportable, which makes them ideal for commercial purposes. But you can’t see what’s inside, and metal corrodes eventually, so they can’t be used repeatedly.

In 1858, Scottish farmer John L. Mason invented an appealing molded glass jar with a flat, airtight, screw-on lid that sealed out air and bacteria, thereby keeping foods fresh, uncontaminated, and visible. A mere six years later, French scientist Louis Pasteur discovered that heating beer and wine killed bacteria without compromising flavor. Pasteurization supplied the long-awaited scientific explanation for why canning was successful in preserving food. Alexander Kerr would perfect Mason’s design with a two-part rubber sealed lid in 1915, and the Ball brothers would mass-produce them later. The iconic Mason jar is now preferred by home canners throughout the States and has also become a hip symbol of our current-day appreciation for fresh, healthy, wholesome foods you grow yourself.

Whatever container you use for canning, you will appreciate the myriad of benefits to you and the environment. And, after making excellent use of that bumper crop from summer, you’ll love reliving the taste sensation when the winter chill kicks in!


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