My progression as a Home Canner
I am a relatively new canner. I have canned goods for 7 or so years now and have grown in proficiency over time. There is always room to grow in this important preservation skill. When I first began canning, I “dipped my toe” into water processing or water bath canning high acidic foods like raw packed tomatoes with lemon juice, or strawberry jam. Those are perfectly suited to water bath canning. I was extremely intimidated by the pressure canner and I was certain that I would be the one to blow up my kitchen based on the stories shared to me from people who I now realize have never canned a day in their life. They had heard stories and it continued to perpetuate and echo in my mind.
Eventually curiosity got the better of me as I was dedicated to advancing beyond water bath canning into what I deemed “Serious canning” which involved the pressure canner. I opened the box of my shining new polished aluminum pressure canner and thoroughly read the instructions and recommended user guide cover to cover (all 18 pages). I thought, “This can’t be as difficult as I’m assuming it is”. Obviously, the rest is history and I’m sitting here typing this out to you and am happy to report that nothing has blown up since first using the elusive beast, the pressure canner.
As time went on, I wondered, “What was in use before pressure canners?”, “Why can’t I can dairy at home if it’s perfectly canned in cans and available on the store shelves?”, “What do the more primitive cultures such as the more conservative Amish and Mennonite communities do with their meat?” The questions swirled around in my head and off to the books I went. At first, not much beyond the already known USDA standard guidelines for home canning were recommended (mostly found in my 60s/70s canning books and recipes and newer) This largely consisted of an outline of times tables for precessing certain foods that are suited for water bath processing and others for pressure canning – both raw and cold packed as well as blanched or precooked items. After that, I took to my older books and was THRILLED at what I discovered in a book from 1918 titled “Everywoman’s Canning Book” The ABC’s of Safe Home Canning and Preservation by Mary B. Hughes (Get it from The Rooted Market HERE – The books should become available April 14th – The rooted market is dedicated to sourcing American made or vintage items. I highly recommend them).
Within this book, which is reprinted copy of the original publication, it lays out water bath processing times for vegetables, fruits, and you guessed it, meat.
BREIF HISTORY OF CANNING (source)
Canning was discovered by Nicholas Appert, a French man who was motivated to solve an ongoing problem that sought a solution by the French Army. During the French revolutionary wars, the French army struggled to provide food for their troops that would travel well and not spoil or cause illness for the men if the food consumed was past it’s prime. As you can imagine, “Feeding an Army” presents a great issue when stamina and health are hinged on fueling bodies on a large scale.
The story goes that Nicolas Apparent who was a candy maker by trade, had many years of experimenting with various forms and techniques of preservation. Eventually, Nicolas began canning by placing food into jars or cans and heating it to kill bacteria and microorganisms. He discovered as the jars and cans cooled, a vacuum seal was formed which prevented microorganisms or bacteria from infiltrating the food within and made a convenient portable meal. Appert could not explain the phenomenon of his discovery and the mechanics of what we now know as pasteurization . Appert’s reasoning was simple, he hypothesized that this method works for wine makers (For clarification and stabilization), why wouldn’t this method work for food as well? In 1806 Appert’s principles were trialed by the French Navy on a wide range of foods including meats, vegetables, fruits as well as dairy. Based on Appert’s methods Englishman, Peter Durand, began employing the use of tin cans in 1810.
It was not until 1864 when Louis Pasteur discovered the WHY and HOW of Appert’s findings through pasteurization.
In 1851, Raymond Chevalier-Appert patented the pressure retort (canner) in order to can at temperatures higher than 212F (which is the hottest boiling water can get, unless applying pressure which allows higher temperatures to be reached, allowing quicker cooking times, and allowing for water to come to a boil at high altitudes where it may be difficult to reach ideal temperatures). It wasn’t until 1920 that pressure canning became more favorable as it greatly reduced the risk of Botulism (Clostridium botulinum) in canned foods. Pressure cookers became the preferred method around the 1940s and has continued to be promoted as the safest way to can low acidic foods. (History of Canning Timeline in America)
As mentioned in the podcast episode “A Controversial Redundancy I hold About Home Canning” – Episode 13, I share anecdotal evidence which I know to be true, about how the Amish will water bath process meat and everything else. This is a big “No No” in American canning because of updated guidelines and safety measures, but I find it of particular interest as it is yet another way to can and preserve if my first option which is the pressure canner, is not available to me for whatever reason. Say, one of the fail safes has popped out and I don’t have a replacement? I can buy a replacement. What If I can’t buy or find a replacement? Then I will employ another option. Freezing is also an option as is dehydrating, as is curing, as is smoking, and so on and so forth. Now, I add in water bath processing into the mix should push come to shove.
As I explained in this week’s podcast episode, I think it is ideal to have redundancies built into managing my home. If I don’t have X available, what is the next step? If I don’t have that next step, then what is my next natural move? If there is a problem, I want to be able to find a solution that is within my wheelhouse, if you will. This is not based in fear or in a modern day prepper way but in a common sense, I worked hard to have these things and I want to be a good steward and find a solution. Canning falls into this category as I manage the contents of the kitchen. I take time and effort that I then put into acquiring these goods to nourish our bodies – from picking them up at the grocery store or growing them and picking them out of the yard, I want to manage them well all the way through.
Shelf stable meat is something I have been working on in our home. It is a wonderful gift I can give myself when I’m tired and do not have defrosted meat or have a clear direction that supper is headed in. I can easily grab a can of ground beef and make delicious soups, chili, lasagna or meat sauce, or our favorite, taco salad with beans (also from a can). Another situation that I was faced with to further explore was from an instance this winter. Like many, we had several instances with the power went out due to wind and frozen trees falling on lines. That meant that the meat freezer was at risk to a degree. This winter, there were a few spots where outdoor temperatures were reminiscent of the freezer but it was fairly mild and abnormally warm in other pockets. Sure, we could employ the help of a generator but that is only as good as the amount of fuel available to us at that time and assuming the generator works. If I off set loss by canning meat that is kept in jars, that helps lighten the blow as I am no longer putting all my meat at risk, only part. It’s a redundancy, it’s a back up.
I also mentioned a few facebook groups referred to as “Rebel Canners”. I will not link them here, but if you’d like, type in those keywords on facebook. They are private groups and will require you to request to join. Out of respect for the privacy of the group, I won’t screenshot and share anything of what I mentioned that I witnessed within. I will say, you can glean much information from being a “fly on the wall” in this type of group. Many of the canners within are experienced and are not only based in the United States, so you have a more rounded view of canning from all over the world.
Whatever you decide about canning in your own home, weigh all your options, and learn your process well. If in doubt, follow the rules as you know them as provided from your canner’s manufacturer. If you find yourself in a pinch, look around for a reliable source and glean from them. Remember, there are guidelines and safety measures in place for a reason but also remember, progression and modernity can sometimes perpetuate fear in places where context is missing like knowing about others lived experience outside of our sphere of influence, as well as lack of knowledge or understanding. Trust your sources and yourself to make the best choices for you within your home.
I’d you are brand spanking new to canning, I highly recommend The Appalachian Homestead’s canning course! Shallon’s eBook is thorough and easy to follow no matter your skill level. It also included a processing times for water bath canned goods as well as pressure canned goods.