I didn't grow up around home canning. My mother didn't can. Both of my parents grew up on farms — my mother in Oklahoma, my father here in West Virginia — and they both escaped the hard labor of life on a farm as soon as they could. Like many of their generation who left rural areas for the cities and suburbs of a new America after World War II, they were only too eager to embrace the miracle of Green Giant vegetables, among other things.
Life on a farm still includes hard work today, but it's tempered by modern conveniences that allow you to pick and choose at least some of those labors. (They still haven't invented an automatic chicken house cleaner. What's up with that?) You don't have to milk the cow, scrub your clothes on a washboard, churn some butter, clean every last dish by hand, sew all your dresses and then can all in the same day. (No wonder people ran away from farms.)
Whether you live in the country and have a big garden or you just grow some tomatoes and peppers mixed in with your flower beds in the backyard, you can choose to preserve the produce by canning, taking it up as a serious endeavor or simply an occasional hobby. You can spend all kinds of time canning, or just one or two weekends in the summer. It's not an all or nothing proposition.
Since I didn't grow up around home canning, I viewed the entire process as somewhat mysterious until a few years ago when I moved to the country. I never even thought about canning when I lived in the suburbs — even though I kept a vegetable garden. I didn't know how and I was slightly afraid of it, to be honest. But I like to try new things and I was eager to learn.
Since I've had my own farm, I've canned produce from my own garden and from the farmers market. I can jams and butters, tomatoes and green beans, and I try new things every year. There's always something new to try in canning.
Home canning is practical and self-sufficient. It's also interesting and artistic. You can put up basic necessities like tomatoes and peppers or gourmet treats like Madeira Pear Mincemeat and Blackberries in Framboise.
It's not mysterious. There are books and videos not to mention endless Internet resources available. Don't let the lack of a personal guide hold you back if you want to learn. It also costs very little money to get started. I've gotten many of my canning supplies for free or nearly free. Sometimes you can find someone with jars to give away. You can also find jars in the classified ads and "penny" papers. Buy a couple dozen jars to get started then keep your eye out for a deal. You can actually use any large pot for a hot water bath as long as you can find something to fit into it to work as a rack.
If you're just starting out in home canning, a wonderfully basic yet extensive "bible" I recommend is the "Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving."
You can get an incredible sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and creative fulfillment from putting up your own food. Try it! Start out with something simple, a jam or a butter (it's apple butter time now), and next thing you know, you'll be making Curried Fruit Compote and having more fun than you ever imagined. Beware, because canning is like anything else once you fall in love — it's a passion and soon your pantry will be filled with jars of your homemade goodness instead of labels from the store.
And trust me, there's nothing like the fresh taste of popping open a jar of summer in the middle of winter.
Writer Suzanne McMinn lives in Roane County, where she writes every day in her blog, Chickens in the Road, at www.chickens