Canning can be a rewarding hobby


When I was young, home-canned fruits and vegetables were a mainstay of our diets. I especially loved the jams and jellies, particularly wild strawberry. There was never a problem finding canning supplies in stores. The home-canning supplies seemed to dwindle until the last few years. Now there seems to be a resurgence, and I couldn’t be happier.

Back in 1983, I drove to rural West Virginia to spend the weekend with my future wife and her family. They were into canning even more than I was. The first thing her mother showed me was their cellar, where she kept all the preserved goodies. The place was stacked to the ceiling wall to wall.

The second item was the yearly recording of everything she put up that year. Every year Elloise and the family canned over 300 quarts of green beans and nearly that many quarts of tomato juice. The rest of the place was filled with jelly, vegetable soup, peaches, apple sauce, deer meat chunks, pickles and just about anything else they harvested, wild or domestic.

That’s how most country people made ends meet years ago. They had a garden and they didn’t waste it. My family did much the same, just not on quite the same grandiose scale. My mom preferred to freeze most things and we made a ton of pickles.

It was fun, and we made it a family project. Everyone helped, even my father. We used to experiment with spices, and that was always interesting. I remember making some great garlic dill pickles. The best recipe was less vinegary, but the jars had to be kept cool.

This past summer Roberta and I were busy with conferences and we let a huge gob of cucumbers get overripe right before we were to go on vacation. We took the cucumbers to our off-the-grid camp in northeastern Maine and processed them out in the bush.

Years ago, my mother gave me a recipe for ripe cucumber pickles that is simple and fantastic. We made 24 pints of the prettiest sweet relish imaginable. I couldn’t bring myself to waste those cukes even though we were on vacation. We sterilized our jars over a converted turkey fryer, and every jar sealed.

When I peruse the grocery aisles, I now notice a greater array of jars, lids and other supplies. That tells me more folks are taking advantage of their hidden talents. Home-canned stuff just tastes better.

In fact, there are some commodities I’d rather eat canned than fresh. I love fresh peaches or pears, but I’d much rather eat a jar of canned ones. We can our own apple pie filling and the store-bought stuff just can’t hold a candle to it.

I must admit I still miss my mother-in-law’s green beans. I remember helping them pick and clean a few bushels of beans one day and for dinner, we ate a couple jars of her canned ones, because everyone liked them better. We usually drank her canned tomato juice too, because fresh juice didn’t keep long in the fridge.

The best part about preserving food at home is the satisfaction people can derive from it. Home-made jellies, pickles and such also make great gifts.

Vacation off-the-grid pickles and relish

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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5 Responses to Canning can be a rewarding hobby

  1. cs hopkins says:

    Loved my grandmother’s home canned food, but never learned how to can. I froze most of the vegetables we grew and enjoyed making zucchini bread from the abundance. A good way to make friends with neighbors is to offer something from your garden. You almost persuade me to pick up a recipe book and try canning. 🙂

  2. tonytomeo says:

    It used to be standard practice as fruit ripened in the abandoned remnants of the orchards of the Santa Clara Valley. Not many here know what it is anymore.

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