Antiquated Canning Makes a Comeback – Canwest News Service
1943 Poster. Artist: Parker, Alfred, 1906-1985. United States. Office of War Information.
Antiquated canning makes a comeback
By Misty Harris
CanWest News Service
July 15, 2009
For a generation that made instant gratification its raison d’etre, the recent reclamation of canning – a domestic art that could be timed with a sundial – is nothing short of astounding.
Nielsen Canada reports this week that sales of canning accessories were up nearly 70 per cent in May over the same month last year, while June saw the category swell a whopping 88 per cent compared to the same period in 2008.
We may have the quickest of cuisines at our fingertips, but analysts say recession anxiety, concerns over food safety, and interest in reducing our environmental “foodprint” have Canadians turning en masse to the slowest of slow food.
Canning, first used as a way to preserve food in France during the Napoleonic Wars, is a process in which fruits, vegetables, or meat are boiled, then stored in an airtight container, extending their shelf-life by months or even years.
“It’s not just a `grandma thing’ anymore,” says professional home economist Jennifer MacKenzie, the Toronto-based author of The Complete Book of Pickling.
“People are much more conscientious now about what they’re eating: where it came from, what the ingredients are, and what it’s doing for their body.”
According to Michael Levenston of City Farmer, which styles itself as Canada’s “office of urban agriculture,” the canning comeback is tied to a do- it-yourself food movement that has seen vegetable gardens sprout up everywhere from “the White House to Buckingham Palace to the (Vancouver) mayor’s front lawn.”
Among those growing their own greens is Robert Lanham, the bestselling author of three books on popular culture.
“I’m not sure if I’m saving any money – probably not – but the ritual itself seems cleansing and somehow more honest than obsessing over the latest foodie trends in Bon Appetit or Gourmet,” says Lanham. “Now that the economy has gone kaput, stuffing your face with overpriced pork belly delicately prepared by a celebrity chef seems ridiculously ostentatious, even if you can afford it.”
Vancouver’s Linda Robertson, whose mother taught her the art of preserving, says a typical canning day will see her begin at dawn and finish around four or five in the afternoon.
“It’s a lot of work, but I’m passionate about it,” says Robertson, who cans just about everything. “It sounds silly, but I love the way it looks when all my jars are on the counter and the sun is shining that golden-amber light. It’s special. And being able to eat everything all winter long? There’s nothing like it.”
According to Nielsen, the canning revival is the result of a perfect storm of concern over tainted food, heightened environmental awareness, a boom in farmers’ markets, and an unstable economy that’s seeing more people stay home.
“We know that consumers are eating out less: 23 per cent say they’re eating breakfast at home more often, 26 per cent are packing a lunch more often than they used to, and about 40 per cent are trying to eat dinner at home,” says Carman Allison, director of marketing for Nielsen Canada. “We hear about all these trends in the marketplace, and now we’re actually seeing them reflected in retail sales of canning accessories.”
Salon writer Sarah Karnasiewicz recently wrote that she took up preserving as “an act of thrift, a gesture of do-it-myself get-up-and-go, a symbolic high- five to all the generations of women before me who wasted not.” But unless you have an inexpensive source of fruits and vegetables, the real-world economics of canning, pickling and curing can be less than appetizing.
“I’m just not going to go out and spend 70 bucks on a whack of peaches; it’s not logical to me,” says Diane Thompson, who authors the Canadian food blog Global Peasant. “If I have organic plums or beautiful fresh peaches, I want to eat them, not can them.”