The Art of Canning
First, a history…
Historically speaking, Canning is a relatively recent invention compared to more ancient methods like salting, curing, and drying to preserve food.
Interestingly enough it was Napoleon Bonaparte who initiated the race for innovative food preservation to feed his traveling army in 1795. “An army travels on its stomach,” Napoleon famously said. Since fresh food spoils quickly, food borne illnesses were a real threat to an army already worn thin on meager resources. Napoleon sought a solution to prolong the shelf life of local produce as and when it became accessible. Nicholas Apert responded to his government’s military dilemma by cooking food in a glass jar to sterilize it and then sealing it. Thus, canning was invented!
However, the genius of his technique was not known at Apert’s time. One hundred years later, Louis Pasteur would discover more about this technique and why it works. Microorganisms that form as food spoils are killed during the sterilization process; when food is sealed correctly during the sterilization process it can further minimize exposure to spoiling agents from the environment.
In present times, we too rely on canned foods for reasons including military use, camping, air and ground travel, stocking the pantry, and emergency provisions. But now, there’s more to canning food than to safeguard future provisions. In many parts of the world, people use canning to preserve recipes that are family favorites to enjoy later, prepared with care at the height of the ingredients’ freshness.
Canning is a time-honored tradition in many cultures with a strong social component, bringing families and communities together.
Italy is known for its famous Ragu sauce made frequently with Roma tomatoes. India is known for its sweet and savory pickles using a variety of seasonal fruit and vegetables including mango, limes, and eggplant. Korean Kimchi is a canning favorite. And in many Nordic countries as well as Russia (places that endure long and cold winters) canning offers a wonderful way to enjoy summer varieties of fruit and vegetables in the colder months.
People are becoming more and more conscious of what is put into their food, especially preservatives. Canning at home offers an alternative to store bought canned goods as our focus shifts to eating more local and seasonal produce. Homesteading is gaining popularity here in the U.S. in both urban and suburban areas; Canning is a practical way to utilize the surplus of home or community garden.
Canning is relatively easy to learn and can be done even if just as a hobby. It is regarded as a serious science by some, requiring finely calibrated equipment and exact measurements, but with a bit of knowledge and research you too can start your canning journey.
Keep in mind that acidic fruit and vegetables are more forgiving than those which have a higher pH (less acidic) because they spoil less quickly. Acidic foods like tomatoes can be boiled but more alkaline foods need to be pressurized with special equipment for additional safety. Some people are picky about preserving the color of their produce which is easily done with natural ingredients like lemon juice, powdered citric acid and vinegar. An article posted on the Gainesville times website (referenced here) explains nicely the basics of canning.
Here in New Jersey where Abma’s farm is located, there is a vast Italian American population that have continued their annual tradition of making and canning tomato sauce (gravy) at the end of summer. Popularly known as “Tomato Fest”, this day long canning tradition brings many local families to the farm in search of their favorite tomatoes which include Jersey, Roma and Paisano varietals. Roma are fleshy tomatoes with few seeds, optimal for making sauce whereas Paisano are more acidic and fare better during canning.
If you’re considering canning but need some more motivation, take into account that some vegetables and fruit including tomatoes, peppers and apricots become more nutritious after cooking. This is because Lycopene, a powerful phytonutrient, becomes more bioavailable after heating. In this way, canned produce offers immune boosting options that do not need refrigeration, travel well, and can come in handy for easy weeknight dinners or supplement lunch boxes for additional flavor.
Check out our tried and true recipes for canning tomato puree and peeled whole tomatoes, created by Abma’s very own Head Chef, Tee: