The Art of Canning
Amani Jabbar, MA
Canning is the age old practice of preserving fresh food to be eaten later. It is a technique that helped previous generations survive long hard winters by preserving harvests that were reaped during the summer and autumn. In those times, preserving food through canning was a matter of survival.
In these days of easy access to food year-round, many turn to canning in order to maintain tradition. The unhurried process appeals to many canners as a respite from the chaos of modern life. Others seek to have more control over the way their food is prepared and also preserve fresh fruits and vegetables from home gardens.
When some hear the term “canned food,” they think of aluminum tins. The practice of home canning is actually done in glass jars. When food is prepared in jars at very high temperatures, between 180 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit, the heat is sufficient enough to kill off the bacteria, molds, and yeasts that cause food to become unsafe to eat or spoil. Canning kills these microorganisms and eliminates oxygen from the jars. When the jars cool, an air-tight seal is created. This process prevents air and germs from entering the jars and causing the food to spoil. The easiest method of canning simply requires heating the canning jars in a hot water bath for a specified time and allowing the jars to cool, thus creating a vacuum seal that will lock air and bacteria out. This is the simple process of preserving food through canning. Perhaps it is the simplicity and sense of tradition that is attracting many modern home cooks to return to this technique.
Amy O’Brien is a special education teacher who resides in Mokena, Illinois, with her husband and three children. O’Brien has been canning for three years and began by taking a class at The University of Illinois Extension. O’Brien uses canning to preserve the fruits and vegetables that she grows in her 800-square-foot home garden. “I plant a variety of fruits and vegetables, including green beans, peppers, cucumbers, snap peas, carrots, broccoli, pumpkins, watermelon, and cantaloupes.”
Along with this abundance of produce, O’Brien’s main crop is tomatoes, of which she grows 25 varieties. It is through her love of gardening that O’Brien began to investigate canning. “By canning, I could preserve fruits and vegetables at their peak freshness. I would not have to buy tasteless vegetables that were not in season,” she explains.
In these times of factory farming, large scale food production, and fast food consumption at an all-time high in the developed world, the Slow Food Movement calls us to take more responsibility and play a greater role in the food that we eat, from farm to table. This desire for control and appreciation for real food has led many to go back to “old-fashioned” skills that kept our grandparents and great-grandparents nourished. Skills such as cheese making, bread baking, and canning have become more popular than ever amongst those who seek to have autonomy over what nourishes them.
Ameera Rahim, a wife and homeschooling mother of six in Lawrenceville, Georgia, feels that she was a part of the Slow Food Movement for a long time without even realizing it. “We are big on what we call ‘foundational cooking’,” Rahim, who blogs under the pseudonym Traditional Muslimah Homemaker (www.traditionalmuslimah.blogspot.com), states. “This is getting back to the foundations of making food for ourselves. This includes avoiding fast food and making more [food] at home,” she goes on to explain.
Rahim’s philosophy includes gardening, baking bread, and making yogurt, in addition to canning, which she has been doing for a year. She finds having more authority over what foods her family eats to be extremely rewarding. “That plays a part in it,” she insists, “having a control over healthy ingredients and seasonal availability. I also love creating a sense of tradition and teaching the children how to preserve food.”
Rahim also loves the fact that she can share the process and experience with her loved ones. “It’s an awesome feeling, doing it as a family — teaching the children how to can food, and picking out the fruits and vegetables ourselves. The children get to see the beginning and ending process. There is so much joy in sitting down as a family and opening a jar of homemade jam to go with fresh homemade bread.” She describes these times as, “Literally eating the fruits of our labor.”
Rahim has extended her love of canning outside of her family. She now sells her homemade strawberry jam and mango marmalade to grateful customers. She also recently took part in an
Islamic Food Swap. “Alhamdulillah (all praises to God), we held the Islamic Food Swap to encourage families to make their own foods, try something different, and come together as a community,” Rahim explains. “Families swapped different items such as canned orange jam, homemade cornbread, and homemade muffins. We even did a drawing for natural and healthy pantry items.”
Similarly, O’Brien also enjoys using canning as a means to develop relationships and continue customs. “The process of canning is also fun for me,” she states. “I have a great time getting together for an evening with my girlfriends while we prep fruits and vegetables and can. It is a ton of work,” O’Brien admits, “but it also gives me a new appreciation for previous generations and the labor they endured to store and preserve food.”
Perhaps it is traditional settings such as this that have made Rahim, O’Brien, and many others fall in love with canning. In a fast-paced world, taking the time to grow, prepare, and preserve
our own food gives many of us a sense of calm, accomplishment, and even community, allowing us to share our bounty and blessings with those around us.
Rahim has some advice: “Canning is fun and easy. It’s enjoyable. No need to over think it. Your
family will benefit from it, alhamdulillah.” O’Brien says, “I would tell a beginner to partner up with an experienced canner. I felt much more confident once I was able to can with someone who had done it before.”
The choice of recipes is also important. Rahim suggests perusing the Ball canning website, which can be found at www.freshpreserving.com. O’Brien also recommends using trusted sources. “It is very important when canning to find tried recipes that appropriately balance the acidity in the jars so that food is safe to eat.”
Amani Jabbar is a writer, certified fitness instructor, and 2nd grade teacher. She holds an MA in English and enjoys coupling her love of writing with her passion for health and wellness through freelance writing and blogging.