Learn about the culinary, nutritional, sustainability and cultural benefits of canning produce.
I have many memories of my first culinary experiences. I can smell coffee brewing in my Aunt Prussia’s charming home in Yakima, Washington, serving it in matching old Fiestaware cups and saucers (I loved the cobalt blue mug even more!). I can remember the subtraction sugar sweets On the kitchen table for the holidays, elaborately decorate it. Best of all, I remember canning season – as it was yesterday!
Every summer, we’d pack the station wagon with my aunt and brothers on board and drive from Seattle to Eastern Washington, which grows an abundance of beautiful fruits and vegetables. We would pick up boxes of peaches, apricots, pears, apples, and tomatoes. On the way back, we’d open the windows to let in the hot, dusty breeze (no air conditioner!), which would mingle with the intoxicating scent of ripe fruit. I was drunk on those smells by the time we sprinted down our driveway and unloaded our booty.
The next thing we’re going to do is start canning all those beauties in Mason jars, so we’ll have delicious produce all year long. Of course, that’s after we’ve eaten as much fresh, ripe produce that we can fit into our stomachs. Those sweet, juicy peaches—the peel and everything, the plate-level tomatoes we eat like apples with a sprinkle of salt and pepper… By the time we set ourselves on the kitchen table to start the canning process, I was covered in their sticky fragrance! My job when I was little was to help fill the jars with fruit, and arrange them so that they would look pretty in the jars—when they were done canning, the jars would be arranged in the pantry like sparkling gems all winter long.
My mom canned for the winter every summer until she was 85! I like to take out the jars when I visit them in Seattle. One of my favorites was the canned tomatoes! We can put the largest, juicier, more ripe red tomatoes in jars, then put the wonderful tomatoes in soups, vegetable chili, pasta dishes, and casseroles all year long.
Canning, which has been passed down through generations throughout our history, was a way to preserve produce to last through the winter when fresh produce was less available. Humans have learned to preserve foods through drying, salting – and eventually canning – so that they can survive the cold months. Fruits and vegetables contain the essential nutrients we need to survive – vitamins, minerals and even phytochemicals – so it was important to ensure a steady supply of nutritious foods. Canning ripe fruits means you’re preserving those nutrients. Relying on canned produce—vegetables like tomatoes, green beans, corn, and fruits like peaches, apple juice, and pears—is more sustainable than relying on fresh produce out of season that has been shipped long distances to get to your home market. In addition, you can take advantage of a lot of products when they are available. No need to waste food! Canned products also have a very long shelf life, which further reduces food waste. Canned foods are also easy to use in cooking. Simply open a bowl of tomatoes and toss them in your favorite lasagna or soupOpen the lid on the cider and mix it into bread and baked goods, unleashing the power of canned peaches in fruit cobbler Or breakfast porridge.
You can learn more about canning your produce at home with this USDA Home Canning Guide, which contains everything you need to know about getting started! And don’t forget to try pickling, another form of preserving and canning that can add the benefits of probiotics.
Check out some of my favorite recipes that feature canned foods: