Yes, I Can: The Research Behind Home Canning

Jars

“The supply and code of food, its proper care, preparation and serving is the practice and effectual basis of housekeeping and home-making—a splendid key to the social, educational and domestic development of the American girl, and through her comes a realization of a well ordered home, the first of importance in the making of a well ordered community.” That’s how Benson of the US Department of Agriculture described the mother-daughter home canning club in the Journal of Education—in 1917.

To be honest, I started canning in the late 1990s because my husband grew more tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers than we could eat before they would rot. I saw that combination of home-grown vegetables and thought of only one thing—salsa!

During the summer of 1997, I knew it was possible to preserve veggies for years in sparkling Ball® jars. I just wasn’t sure how. I remembered that when my Nana died about 10 years prior, family members divided her last batch of home-canned green beans found in her closet. My mom told me that Nana said she didn’t need a dishwasher—until my mom told her that she could use the appliance to sterilize jars. Nana’s dishwasher was delivered the next day.

So I bought a Blue Ball cook book, read salsa recipes, and learned more about safe home-canning processes. Of course, I wanted to be certain that I was following the recommended recipe and safely canning procedure. My next purchases included jars, lids, and bands, as well as a 20-gallon water bath canner, jar rack and lifter, funnel, and a clear plastic gadget used to remove air bubbles. All of this basic canning equipment cost about $30, and I used them to can salsa and pickles until our boys came along in 2000 and 2001.

Times have advanced, certainly beyond the perception that a woman’s ability to care for food is directly proportional to her contributions to a civil society.

YouveComeALongWay

West Virginia extension services recognized in 2010 that its value to home canners was diminishing to certain populations. After researchers examined 1,633 responses from county and state fair attendees on paper questionnaires, the WV extension service found that “educational background and canning experience were the most important factors in understanding how clients seek canning information and the degree to which they preserve foods safely. Home canners primarily use family members as first sources of canning information and consider Extension one of the less important sources of information” (para. 1).

I think these extension specialists would find that even more than 41% of new canners find information on the Internet, though family continues to be a primary source of guidance when getting started. It’s also interesting to note that about the same percentage of people sought canning information on the Web across all age groups except for those over 70 years of age.

It’s interesting for me to recall that my mom relied on her mom’s home canning practices and that both of them were high school graduates. However, I broke from that mold and now use electric canning appliances to make salsa, pickles, jellies, and jams, and that I have completed half of the courses toward my master’s degree.

Social constructivists Nickols, Andress, Peek, and Nickols-Richardson (2010) amassed an impressive history of home food preservation practices from 1910 to 2010 in two studies published in the Family & Consider Sciences Research Journal. As an amateur and award-winning canner, I believe this research achieved its goal of being “an example of the application of the human ecosystem theory in understanding the interdependent nature of households in relation to their external environments” (p. 123). There is no doubt that “strategies undertaken by households and federal agencies seeking to achieve food security and wellness over the past century” were affected by the Great Depression, war deprivations, and human innovations (p. 133).

Now that I have electric pressure canning and jam-making appliances, I’m certain that Slate columnist Dickerman might deride my “culinary trophies” as merely trendy. “It’s not about producing serious food for the future, and it’s not about shaking a fist at industrial food…Rather, it’s about making and sharing delicious, idiosyncratic things that are also, not insignificantly, very pretty” (para. 8).

JarsAndMe

Guilty as charged.

The opinions in this article reflect only only those of the author.

References

Benson, O. H. (1917, March 8). The Journal of Education, 85(10). 270-271.

Dickerman, S. (2010, March 10). Can it. Slate. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2010/03/can_it.html

Nickols, S. Y., Andress, E. L., Peek, G. G, & Nickols-Richardson, S. M. (2010, December). Seeking food security: Environmental factors influencing home food preservation and wellness, part I: 1910–1959. Family & Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 39(2). 122–136. doi:10.1111/j.1552-3934.2010.02051.x

Taylor, G., Nichols, A., & Cook, A. (2014, October). How knowledge, experience, and educational level influence the use of information and formal sources of home canning information. Journal of Extension, 52(5). Retrieved from http://www.joe.org

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