Award winning author, Brooke Ali, stopped by Duh-Licious to share a story about her life-long passion for canning and food preservation.
I’ve dabbled into canning and quite frankly, I just don’t have the patience and discipline to make beautiful preserves. Brooke, on the other hand has got it down to an art. Enjoy her article on the art of canning.
Modern Urban Practices of Preserving Food by Brooke Ali
I’ve been a canner for many years. I bought my water bath canner at the age of 20, when I had the fortune to live in a rental unit that had a pear tree in the back yard; a pear tree that the other tenants had no interest in. I canned a dozen jars of halved pears, and by the time the last lid had sounded its satisfying “POP!” I was hooked.
I’ve dabbled in different preserves over the years, but always just for fun. Within the last few years, however, I’ve begun to be more systematic, viewing preserving more in the way my pioneer ancestors had, as a necessity. It started when I lost my job due to “restructuring” in the spring of 2009, less than 4 months after my husband and I got married. Now down to a single income, we needed to look into ways to reduce our variable spending, and groceries is one of the best ways to do this. I looked at grocery items that we buy frequently and made a list of everything that comes in a bottle, jar or can. A quick cost comparison showed which ones would save money if I made them myself (which is, by far, most of them). Not wanting to get overwhelmed, I started that first year only making 1 thing: strawberry jam. My husband eats more PB&J sandwiches than you would expect from a man in his thirties, so this seemed a no brainer. A 350 ml jar of jam costs about $4; I can make a 250 ml jar with u-pick strawberries for pennies. We haven’t bought a jar of jam in nearly 3 years.
Over the years, I’ve been gradually adding to the items I “put by”. The list now includes strawberry, raspberry and apple jam, apple sauce and apple chutney, and relish. Thanks to the gift of a pressure canner from my parents, we have this year begun canning whole kernel corn, vegetable broth, chick peas and soup (a pressure canner is needed for canning anything that is low acid or contains meat). We’ve also become very conscious of where we buy our food: we get as many ingredients from u-picks and farmers markets as possible, focusing on local and organic produce.
Canning your own food is much less work than people think, especially when you think of all the money and trips to the grocery store you’ll save. Start out small, and put some time into planning what kinds of canned goods to make, based on what you use most and will save you the most money. Buying in bulk, in season, and locally not only helps reduce the cost, but helps to keep that money in the local economy. Turn it into a social event by having a canning party, or even just going to a u-pick with a friend and canning the bounty together. You’ll be able to look back and smile every time you pull a gleaming, colourful jar out of your pantry.
Brooke Ali is the history writer behind the award-winning cookbook From Pemmican to Poutine: A Journey Through Canada’s Culinary Cuisine (with recipes by Chef Suman Roy). When not trying out new canning recipes, she works as a cataloguer. She lives in Toronto with her husband and their cat.