Canning is in my blood. My mother, grandmother, and great grandmother before me all preserved food by canning to provide for their families. When puzzled people ask at how my husband and I managed to raise four kids and half of the neighborhood on a single, small income, I don’t have to look any further than my larder to find the answer. I planted the garden, the Good Lord provided the water and sunshine, and I harvested and preserved the produce. My daughter has recently married and is now walking in the footsteps of her ancestors, preserving food so that her family may eat in the future. But things have apparently changed since I learned to can.
The new box of canning jars she brought to the house last week came with a note, boasting that her jars and lids would stay sealed for a whole eighteen months!! This is a joke, right? The jar of blueberries to the left was canned in 1946. Although the fruit has darkened through the years, seventy-two years later, this jar is still firmly sealed, and the jar companies are bragging that their seals will last eighteen months? Pitiful!
Recently, an elderly friend of mine passed away, and her family brought me hundreds of jars from her basement. At least half of them were filled. Among these were cases of peaches from 1970, all canned in mayonnaise jars. Just as beautiful and yellow as the day they were canned, these peaches had stood the test of time. Having an over abundance of jars myself, I decided to offer these jars to a friend, who, very politely, informed me that you couldn’t can in the old mayonnaise jars because they would break in the canner and destroy your food. I suppose someone should have told me that when I started canning in the late seventies, because I’ve been using them all of this time, and never had a single one break. In fact the only canning jars that have broken for me in the canner, were ones made specifically for canning.
I have also been told that one can only safely can using the regular canning lids or the new equivalents. Whoops… I’ve messed up on this one too. When I was a kid my family would spend summers camping along the river. In a cabin not far away lived an elderly hermit named Marlin Miller who would often stop by for a chat. As self-sufficient as they come, Miller canned his own food… in spaghetti sauce jars. We were living on a very limited income when I first started out, and canning jars and lids were expensive. Almost forty years later, I still reuse smaller jars with pop lids (with rims that curl under, not out) for things like tomato sauce, jellies, juices, and apple butter. The lid on the jar of apple butter above has been reused (and perfectly sealed) twelve times so far.
They also tell me that antique canning jars should only be used for dry storage. Fill them with rice, popcorn, or candy. Never, never can in them. Oh boy, I’m guilty again. I have jars that date back one hundred and fifty years. Do I can in them? Sure. Why not? They are three times the thickness of the new ones, and I’ve never had one break, not even in the pressure canner.
This week, as I helped my daughter can a ham, (Yes, youngsters, meat can be canned.) I had to wonder, should I teach her the old ways that have been passed down through the generations, or should I step back and allow that knowledge to fade into oblivion? I’m in favor of the old.