You may have noticed that home canning & preserving is really hot right now. Everywhere we turn there are articles and blog posts about preserving the harvest. In order to understand what all the fuss is about, it might help to look at the reasons behind canning.
In the Past
Home canning gained popularity through the early part of the 1900’s. It started as just another great way to stretch the dollar (alongside drying, smoking and root cellaring). By preserving the harvest, families were able to feed themselves through winter.
But it was during WWII that canning peaked in popularity and the reason for canning changed. Instead of just “putting food up” to save money, people did it as a form of patriotism and an extension of the Victory Garden. During the war, nearly 20 million Americans were growing and preserving their own food, thereby saving the nations food production for the armed forces. After the war, home canning declined and commercial canning soared. That is, until the 1970s “back to the land” movement when canning was touted as a means to a more simple, self- sufficient lifestyle. But after about 10 years, canning declined again.
That was Then, This is Now
Today, any grocery store in America is filled with a large selection of commercially preserved products. Why would anyone want to can or preserve? Well, there are several different reasons.
First, all food preservation (canning, drying, freezing, etc) is a natural extension of the new “food growing” trend happening right now. As many Americans are now growing their own food, they are looking for ways to preserve those bumper crops so that nothing goes to waste. Why go to all the trouble of growing something from seed only to see it wind up in the compost bin? Preserve it and you reap maximum benefits from that edible garden.
The economy is another reason that some have turned to food preservation. Although there may be an initial investment (of jars and some equipment), food preservation can be a great way to stretch the dollar – if done correctly. We can buy in bulk or get free surplus produce from friends and end up preserving many meals inexpensively.
Canning and preserving is also an important part of the self-reliant and urban homesteading movement that is growing right now. People want to be more responsible for their own survival as well as for the survival of the earth. All food preservation is a part of that. In addition, by preserving our own food, we know exactly what is IN that food. We can be assured that it is free from preservatives or chemical sprays that may be in commercially produced products.
And then there is the locavore movement. (Eating locally to lower your carbon footprint and support our local farmers/community) Sure we can buy a tomato year round at the grocery store – but at what cost? And even if it is grown locally, a greenhouse tomato in the dead of winter is not the same as a summer, fresh-picked-off-the-vine tomato. BUT, if we can or otherwise preserve that fresh-picked tomato, later we can enjoy it in the dead of winter and STILL be eating locally! We get the benefit of a lower carbon footprint AND delicious flavor. Now, what could be better than that?
Finally, canning and preserving is a great way to extend the “story” of your own garden. By passing on a jar of deliciousness to a friend, you are giving a bit of your garden and yourself. And that, my friends, is one of the best benefits of all!