Friday, April 30, 2010

Is It Time To Return To Canning At Home?

The 1942 "Victory Recipe Edition" of Modern Homemaker (published by American Homemaker, Inc., which, based on the ads and content, could have been a Kerr Glass publication), is a WWII home front "Food For Victory" call for planting a Victory Garden.

Included is part of an address from then Secretary of Agriculture, Claude R. Wickard, which likely appeals today to farmers and gardeners alike:

It is our job NOW to prepare to meet the demand, not tomorrow or the next day, but right now. There is only one time to plant, and if you are not ready at the right time you have lost a year's production forever. There is no way to make it up.
And Mrs. Alexander H. Kerr, President of the Kerr Glass Manufacturing Corporation, added her own strenuous message:
No great undertaking was ever won by the half-hearted efforts of a few. TO WIN THIS WAR it will take the united efforts of every red-blooded American man, woman and child TO PLANT VICTORY GARDENS... TO CAN THE SURPLUS... TO FEED OUR FAMILIES AT HOME AND OUR BOYS AND ALLIES ABROAD.
I find the urgency of these messages a sad reminder of how disconnected most of us are from the current wars we fight -- and how many of us would find these old messages from World War II more akin to the plight of our current economy, to the threatened and vulnerable way we feel here on the home front. Whichever way these messages on the thrift and necessity of gardening and canning speak to you, I'm sharing the following information with you in the spirit of helpfulness. (As always, click the images for large scans.)

On page 6, information on the "careful study" which should be given to the kinds of fruits and vegetables to be planted. They direct you, whether planting on your own land or in a community garden, to see your County Agricultural Agent (which I suppose today, would be part of or akin to your local university &/or county extension offices) in terms of soil analysis, varieties best suited to your area, etc.

Other interesting notes from this page:
When a family produces its own vegetables it will eat more than if they came from the store and have to be paid for in cold cash. That of course tends to improve the family's health and enables members to work harder and longer. Producing vegetables at home puts the food right where it is to be used; it doesn't take any freight cars or trucks to move the food to those families. Still another advantage of home vegetable gardens is that they release more of the commercial vegetable production for other uses...
On page 7, "Your 3 Step Victory Program" discusses your canning budget, complete with a chart for calculating how much to can for your family based on the "30 non-productive weeks of the year" (which obviously varies by your local as well). For each vegetable, fruit, meat, jams, etc., the number of weekly servings is translated into an amount for one person, which you then multiply by the number of people in your family to ascertain your canning needs.

Now I've never canned food before; most of us have not. Not only the ease of refrigeration, freezing, commercial canning, and commercial freezing, but the low cost, has rendered canning a thing of the past (hence the plethora of cheap glass canning jars at rummage sales, thrift shops, etc.). Aside from the proper supplies for sealing the jars, an increase in water and energy usage, the seeds etc. involved in gardening-- and the time spent in labor -- I'm not sure what else is involved... So I cannot speak for the costs (or ease) of canning. And I'm not even sure if canned food is better than commercially frozen, etc.

But when you figure in the environmental costs (as mentioned above) of buying groceries from the store and the positive benefits of you and your family working together side-by-side, both in the garden and the kitchen, the equation becomes a matter not simply of the amount of money spent today, but of the potential costs of tomorrow.


Amanda said...

I think canning is like many things: this initial investment can be expensive, but after that, the savings can add up.

As you mentioned, canning equipment can easily--and often, cheaply--be found second-hand. Naturally, there are safety concerns to considered (for instance, you don't want to use a jar with a chipped rim), but with the help of a knowledgeable friend or neighbor, or even just a bit of research, there's no reason to go out and buy everything new. Even old pressure cookers can be used, if the proper precautions are taken.

I don't know if I would say home canned food is better nutritionally than commerially canned/frozen food, but it certainly tastes better.

Even if you don't choose to can or preserve enough food for your entire family for the entire year, there's an undeniable satisfaction is knowing that you have the ability to do so.

Anonymous said...

I do know how to can. Growing up that is the only way my family ate in the winter. This past week I needed to purchase a new pressure cooker. Two different types weights or gauges. I wanted the gauge type but the gauge needs to be calibrated each season for safety reasons. Most sites say to contact your county extension office for this service. My county extension does not offer this and does not know where it could be done. How sad is that? The very people that are supposed to be there for reference do not know. Since in my previous life I did do calibration for an industrial site I do know how to calibrate the gauge, I just lack the equipment. I could send it out to one of my old vendors but that would be very spendy since it would be NIST traceable calibration. So long story short I bought the cooker with weights. I always thought the home canned stuff tasted better and it is certainly processed with limited amount of additives.

Nicola O. said...

I have done some canning just strictly recreationally. For fruit canning in a hot water bath, it's easy and cheap, and the how-to info is just clicks away on the web.

One thing to note is that veggies are trickier, and anything with meat or fish in it should be done with a pressure cooker so it can get to higher temps.

An option to the grow-your-own is to purchase quantities in season from local markets or U-pick farms.

Nicola O. said...

Anonymous, I wonder if you could show your extension office how to do it? Perhaps they could fund the equipment and you could teach them how to use it?

Sharon said...

What a fun article. I posted a link on my facebook.


Trishymouse said...

I grew up with canning. My grandmother and mother both did it to save money AND it tasted WAY better than store canned fruit, vegetables, etc. I hated store bought anything. Since I've been a city woman for years now, I got away from that thinking. Now, I'm back in the country and boy am I rusty. I never canned because of circumstance, but now I want to learn but it's not easy (for me at least) to learn at age 51 and limited time to do it in (working all week outside of home) Lucky for me I recently met and now have a man in my life who grew up as an outdoorsman, gardener, was a gunsmith/firearms instructor in military and an MP, is a hunter, knows how to cook, and has canning experience. Yep, he's a handy dude. I plan on picking his brain. LOL

MissCherryJones said...

Time to start canning again? Definitely! I began canning because I like the taste of summer tomatoes all year long. And there is nothing better than homemade tomato sauce over spaghetti on a cold winter night. I've also found that in the long run it is cheaper to can all summer long. How much for a few pounds of tomatoes at your farmers market plus some jars vs. having to buy canned tomatoes (with preservatives & salt)? Any one can do this regardless of space. I live in a studio apartment. Go out there and put 'em up!

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