“Local food is primary care.” –New England Farmer’s Union
Growing up, canning is what we did in the summer. Living on farms and in small Midwestern towns, boredom never dogged us like it does the urban kids. Pulling weeds, watering gardens, and stocking up for the winter captured the days of freedom from school. As an adult, some of my favorite memories are those of canning late into the night with my sister and mother. With no air conditioner, it made sense to heat up the kitchen in the cool of the evening as crickets and bull frogs burst forth in concert. The sticky residue from a bushel of peaches was scrubbed away as the church bells struck midnight and before the ants woke up for a morning march.
When Vern and I married, the lure of fall canning caused me to join my neighbor in gleaning tomatoes from a Campbell Soup patch and stock up on that winter staple for cooking. Better Homes and Gardens describe my results: “Canned tomatoes are like summer saved: all that deep sun kissed flavor ready to be enjoyed.”
Pleased with Vern’s enthusiastic response to these seasonal efforts every year, the list of vegetables and fruits on the newly built pantry shelves grew longer. Chutney, bread and butter pickles, peaches, pickled beets, salsa, potatoes, beans, carrots and jams. My spouse now responds to the seasonal rhythms and coordinates the canning process in the basement facility he built for this purpose.
There are four reasons why my husband and I can our own food.
1. Quality Control
Vern defines urban gardener. Our first summer of marriage involved a small patch of tomato plants that he grew. Every summer after that, the play area for the children shrunk and the raised bed section increased until our entire back yard and side yard morphed into a suburban garden supplying most of our vegetable needs.
There is great comfort in knowing the composition of the soil that one’s food has grown in. The assurance that all organic means of gardening were employed. The sight of bees, dragon flies, monarch butterflies, parasitic wasps and birds hovering among the foliage. The carefully constructed compost bin in the corner, producing Black Gold.
Being in control of the growing process is important. Sharon Peterson, blogger of Simply Canning, claims that “home preservation has turned out to be a feasible alternative to the chemical and preservative laden commercial products found on the shelf of our local mega market.” Buying from local farm stands and farmer’s markets can duplicate this concern for knowing the conditions under which the food has been grown.
Wendell Barry states it best: “We have neglected the truth that a good farmer is a craftsman of the highest order, a kind of artist.” Get to know the gardener-if he isn’t your husband.
2. Eco-friendly Canning
There are eco-friendly reasons why canning is important to our environment. Food mileage is the number of miles that a fruit or vegetable travels from farm to table. Shipping strawberries half way across the continent on a truck, or on a boat from another country does not make sense when there are local producers of strawberries who supply these fruits in season. With nutritional content intact, in-season food supplies intense flavor. Buying the local strawberries and canning them as jam or freezing them whole will benefit the community’s economy as well as reduce shipping and packaging costs. Anything home grown means that food mileage is measured in feet and inches.
3. Convenient Goodness
Canning increases convenience. Barbara Kingsolver says, “I think of my canning as fast food, paid for in time up front.”
When the snow storms rage outside, taking a few jars off the shelf brings sunshine back into the home. All the tasty sauces from fresh ingredients. Dark green cucumber pickles that draped on sturdy vines not thirty yards away from the kitchen table. Sun ripened peaches selected at the farm stand from a U Pick that we visited the summer before. Green beans snapped on a hot evening on the back porch. Salsa infused with hot peppers that spark the taste buds. A meal prepared after a few pops of jar lids. Delicious flavors packed with summer freshness.
4. Connecting With Legacy
When the garden bulges with veggies, a satisfying peace settles in my soul because there is a sense of connectiveness to the act of canning. Putting the fruit of our labors into sterilized jars harkens back to a simpler time in history when families hunkered together to survive. My mother served the pickled beets and jams from the canning pantry on holidays and special events. I recall visiting my Aunt Viola’s family on an Iowa farm and helping with the canning of corn. That day feeds into the legacy of my folks who took pride in self-sufficiency. Or a trip to Vern’s grandmother in Oklahoma who fed us a jar of her famous watermelon pickles. Canning is a thread that binds together the generations.
Stocking up the harvest connects with the origins of the soul: the Garden of Eden. Hard wired for gardening and tending to the earth, it is no wonder that Vern thrives when his hands sink into black soil, or when he is training a vine to grow. Breathing in the aroma of oregano or fresh basil soothes the senses. Gardening slows him down and develops patience. Leaning into the slow circles of nature is healing, makes gardening an instrument of grace.
Canning is Life Giving
Why am I so surprised at the inner satisfaction of a bountiful harvest filling shelves with sunshine in jars? Fulfilling our basic instincts to grow and tend, our souls find contentment.
Canning. It’s more than just preserving food. It is life giving.
“Take the time to savor these pleasures of summer- for they are both fleeting and the salve for our worries, aches and ordeals, the swift passage of time.” -Lisa Duchene
Cleo Lampos and her husband earned the Urban Farmer certificate from the University of Illinois Extension department two years ago. They are suburban gardeners who volunteer at the local community garden and work in the pantry garden.
Cleo is a retired teacher and author of Cultivating Wildflowers, a novel set in Chicago. A summer program for foster children suffering from nature deficit disorder introduces the city kids to all the “green” areas in Chicago is facilitated by a reluctant teacher and an overgrown Boy Scout. What could go wrong with such great lesson plans? Available on Amazon.com and at Liberty Creek General Store.
A book of inspiration is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
By Barbara Kingsolver