Years ago, canning was common in homes around this country and the world. Families grew produce and then, through a process of heating and cooling jars and their contents, preserved what they grew for winter or out of season enjoyment. Today, in an era of fast food and microwave entrees, canning is not so common. So, what can you can?
Vegetables are a good place to start your canning education. Tomatoes, peppers, beans and peas are all candidates for canning. The same goes for corn, carrots, beets and asparagus. In general, the easiest veggies to can are those highest in acid, such as tomatoes, pickles, relishes, and condiments. And each veggie offers a variety of canning possibilities. Tomatoes alone can be preserved whole, chopped, minced, as rotel or sauce. Peppers can be whole or chopped, hot or sweet. Corn can be whole kernel, cream or baby corn. The only limit is your canning imagination and willingness to experiment.
Fruit canning is another option. You can do just as wide a variety of things with fruit preservation. Jellies and jams are great for sandwich spreads and satisfying a sweet tooth. Canning fruit in water allows you to have strawberries or peaches out of season. Canning these in syrup intensifies their natural sweetness. Like veggies, fruit can be canned in medleys or alone. You can make jams, jellies, sauces and pie fillings.
The key for successfully canning both vegetables and fruit is to select quality ingredients and preserve them at the peak of ripeness. Under-ripe and your results will be bitter. Overripe, and they won't preserve as well.
Why can? Because it is a great way to preserve foods for the off season. If I want figs in February, unless I have canned or frozen ones on hand, I have to wait until June. Another great reason to can, especially for those who are concerned about preservatives in food, is that you control what goes into the jar. No funny chemicals or hives inducing dyes. Another plus is that, you can also have control over flavor, seasoning and consistency of the foods you preserve.
Finally, for those of us who cringe at the ever increasing grocery prices, canning is a great way to stretch our nickels and pennies. It costs a great deal less to grow and preserve a bushel of peas or spinach than it does to drive to the store (think gas prices and wear and tear), purchase the chosen food, stand in line to pay for it (time is money), then drive home. Instead, you spend a Sunday afternoon canning enough veggies to feed your family for a season or longer, depending on how ambitious you are.
Growing up, I can remember my mom and grandmother spending two or three Sundays a year putting away mason jar after mason jar of goodies, from fig preserves to cream corn. It was hot, tiring work, but once done, they could rest for a year. What other household task can you do just once or twice a year and reap the rewards all year long? Cut the grass? I don't think so. Dust? Only if you live in a bubble.
In fact, if I were to grow and can vegetables for my family, I could conceivably reduce our grocery bill by more than $10.00 per week. That's over $500.00 a year for a couple of days effort. Yes, I have to tend the garden, too, but gardening is an activity I enjoy. Could you stand to save $500.00 or more each year? If I were to also can fruit, I would probably save another $100.00 or more each year. It takes some effort, but the payoff is immense.
Let's look at it from a pros and cons standpoint. Cons: canning takes time and effort on your part. It requires a number of supplies to get started and there is a learning curve involved. You also need storage space.
Pros: canning allows you to reduce the preservatives and other chemicals in your diet by allowing you to control what goes into the food. Canning also saves you money in the long run, not to mention time and effort, since two or three days' work can last a year or more.
So, I guess the question now is, why not can what you can?