Canning fruits and vegetables and even meat, once considered an essential task to provide food for the winter, waned in popularity when women went to work outside the home and fresh, frozen or commercially canned products became readily available year-round.
Now, homemakers of both genders are interested in learning new ways to “put up” food for their families.
The maker of Ball® jars and other canning products reported a 31 percent increase in sales over the previous year in 2012. Its Facebook community numbers more than 50,000, according to a company press release.
More than 60 percent in the community are under the age of 44 — whether that reflects the fact that more younger people are canning, or that they’re more likely to use social media was not explained.
Jodi Drake, Pratt County agent for K-State Research and Extension, said she’s noticing an increase in the number of canning questions.
Callers want recipes, or they want to know how long the food can be kept, how to know if it’s still good, and whether that old canner that was handed down through the family or bought at auction is safe to use.
She has the answers or can find them in nearly a dozen Extension canning publications, or she can call on a specialist at the university. And about that old canner — she urges people to bring in the lid and the pressure gauge for an evaluation. Gauges can be checked in about five minutes, at no charge. Drake recommends that be done every year. It’s also important to take a good look at the gasket to make sure it will make a tight seal on the pan.
What’s driving the renewed interest in home canning?
For one thing, more people are gardening. Extension agent Mark Ploger and Master Gardener Kathy Stewart are “bombarded” with gardening questions, Drake said.
Once they’ve grown the food, they need a way to preserve it.
“People are looking for ways to save money,” Drake explained. “They like being in control of their own ingredients, they don’t like the preservatives and additives. You know what you’re feeding your family is the healthiest it can be.”
She has taught a canning workshop every summer for the last several years, covering jams and jellies, salsa and pickles. On Thursday, the focus was on canning low acid vegetables in a pressure canner, which is a little more complicated than processing in a water bath canner.
Leading the session — one of 23 across the state — was Karen Blakeslee, food scientist and coordinator of the Rapid Response Center at K-State.
Canning is coming back into popularity, she said, as more people are growing their own food or buying it at farmers’ markets, and there is an increase in the availability of community gardens.
“We’re trying to help them do the process right,” she said. “There are a lot of old processes still being used that should not be used. I appreciate people wanting to use grandma’s recipe, but they need to use up-to-date processes.”
She also cautioned that, “just because it’s on Internet doesn’t mean it’s right.”
About a dozen people registered for the workshop and spent the afternoon learning to “do it right” and then practice what they learned by canning carrots. Admittedly, the carrots purchased at the grocery store would last quite a while in the refrigerator, but the processes are the same as for foods they might grow in their gardens. Elijah Calhoun, attending with his mother, said he has already helped her at home. Cutting carrots across the table, Amy Slade, was a newcomer to the process. Her children are in 4-H, and if they become interested in canning, she wants to be able to help them.
Traci Swigart helped her grandmother as a young girl, but said the family workforce was a “union gig” — everyone did their part and no one, except maybe Grandma, could do it all.
Ruth Gamboa has canned food before, but admitted she is a little afraid of the pressure canner, which she will need to use for some of the foods she wants to preserve.
Good cooks know they can tinker with recipes for their favorite entrees and sides. Canning requires strict attention to the details to keep the food from spoiling.
Anyone with questions about canning safely can call Drake at 672-6121 or check Blakeslee’s website, www.rrc.ksu.edu.