Yes, canning is precision cooking (see Organic Gardening’s home canning basics). And it is a bit of a time suck. Begin a canning project and everything else in life is takes a back seat.
So why do we can when we could buy?
There’s no one answer to that question, but as sure as summer goes by in the blink of an eye, we do it. Every year. It has become a bit of a compulsion. A way to seize the moment – and what’s in season – and make it last.
The question has become: Why not can?
Here are seven reasons you might find us carrying home a flat of late-harvest tomatoes, daydreaming about doing something – but what?!? -- with local apples, bathing cucumber slices in brine and spices for days on end and sweating over the stove:
1. Preserving the local harvest
The same things that draw us to the Regional Market and other local markets in the first place – connecting with farmers for fresh produce, learning about their crops and knowing where our food comes from – inspire us to get out the canning pot and jars.
Last week, while speaking to a friendly farmer from Sodus who proudly showed off the sun-ripened, blushing nectarines he brought to market – I knew my next batch of jam would be nectarine jam.
2. Connecting with the past
The sight of strawberries in June and tomatoes and Concord grapes in late summer takes me back to the days when Mom canned. Boy, did she can: Jams, jellies, pickles, tomato sauce, chili sauce, you name it. Her mother canned, and so did her mother’s mother, no doubt.
A few recreational jam sessions today is a walk in the park compared to the days when, for many women (and men), canning was a ritual born of absolute economic necessity.
3. Eco awareness
The reuse-recycle aspect is part of the appeal of canning – the box of jars we buy today will get lots of mileage: They can be used again and again.
But it’s more than that. Growing something or purchasing something homegrown at the market, bringing it into your kitchen, putting it in jars and storing it for later use reduces “food miles’’ – the distance food travels to reach our plates. Canning is one more way to eat local.
4. Save money, honey
Nine jars of Sodus nectarine jam cost all of $5 to make. That’s the cost of the fruit, essentially. You can’t beat that!
On hand already are the other necessary ingredients (sugar, lemons for juice) and gear (jars, lids and rings).
5. Personal satisfaction
Hearing the “ping’’ of lids as they seal is almost as good as hearing the pop of a wine or Champagne cork.
Seeing the growing assortment of food you’ve made lined up on shelves in the basement? Now that’s food you feel good about.
6. Good taste
Let’s not forget the appeal of shmearing plum-vanilla or strawberry-rhubarb jam on something hot out of the toaster or oven on a cold winter day. Take that, Smuckers! There is simply no comparison.
7. Gifts from the kitchen – and the heart
Stocked shelves of homemade jams, jellies and pickles ensure we have host/hostess gifts at hand – and something to put a pretty bow on for everyone on our holiday list.
Rare is the person who doesn’t like to receive something you’ve made by hand. Hopefully they’ll give your “product” a positive review – and return to you a clean jar to use again.