Canning and preserving are age-old techniques for saving the mountain of food you thought was cute when you planted it or bought too much of at the farmer’s market. Or maybe your friend dumped off “just a few” zucchini. It’s that time of year.

I do canning every year. I love it, but for most of America, it’s a giant disappointment.

“I did that once,” said my friend Kathleen, who called as I was taking the last of the bread and butter pickles out of the water bath canner. “It was a pain. I didn’t do it again.” Kathleen’s far too important to can now.**

You think canning will save you money, but it probably won’t. Even if you have your grandmother’s water bath canner, your first set of Mason jars, and a basket of cucumbers, you’ll have to shell out cash, because your friends will discover your art and raid you.

Canning used to be one of those freak things old people did. Now it’s an artisan craft. Everyone’s a foodie. Salsas, chutneys, and spreads are in. Your friends will come over and remember their grandmothers. Then, you’ll have to give them your creations and start from scratch.

Tips for canning cheaper: 

  • Name your recipes purposefully. Don’t call them “Heavenly Chutney,” or anything in French or Hindi. That makes foods sound gourmet and exotic. They’ll get stolen faster. Call them something like “Leftover Blueberries Squashed in Jar” or better yet, “Science Experiment.”
  • Find out who doesn’t want their food. My parents had a neighbor with a pear tree who hated lawn work. I took the pears. That was less lawn work for him, free food for me. Win-win.
  • Search for B-grades. Toward the middle or end of the season, go to farm stands and ask for “B-grades.” These are misshapen or slightly flawed fruits and veggies. Here’s the secret–that’s what they’re supposed to look like. Only GMO frankenfoods are perfect and shiny. Most American consumers fear imperfect food. Not me! It’s half the price and I cash in on the savings.
  • Grow a garden. There are some foods you can’t kill even if you stand above them with a blowtorch. Cucumbers are one of those. I am told “plant less” every year. I plant more, because I feel good about myself when my garden barfs up food.

Top Three Things to Know about Canning: 

  1. It takes a really long time. Budget the time under “meditation” and “being one with nature” rather than “cooking.” It’ll take double the time you think it’ll take.
  2. You don’t get very much. A pot of jam makes six to eight jars. Yesterday’s bushel of cukes shrunk into about ten jars. That’s because whenever you preserve food, some goes to the gods. It’s the modern-day equivalent of leaving it on the altar. It evaporates, swirls around the kitchen and into the universe where it pays homage to our efforts, leaving a tenth for human consumption.
  3. It can kill you. Canning kills. There are diseases I can’t spell that sit in the jars, multiply, laugh at you, then make you barf your guts out until you’re dead. These days, they can cure you with modern medicine, but I bet that’s a co-pay you don’t want to spend. Canning is not art, it’s science. There are master canners and food scientists that test recipes to see if they’re safe. There has to be enough acid in the recipe to kill the bacteria. If it’s a low-acid food, like a green bean or chicken stock, you need to process it in a pressure canner. If you mess this up, you are playing in Vegas. I’m an ADHD creative cook. Sometimes I sneak in more garlic or omit a pepper. I try to resist. I fail. That’s one reason you shouldn’t steal my food.

How to die canning: 

    1. Change the recipe: This changes the acidity. Nasty things grow. You will die.
    2. Change the processing time: You’re running late. You don’t process the jars long enough to kill the bacteria. Nasty things grow. You will die.
    3. Use the wrong method of canning or food preservation: Food scientists don’t hate your grandmother. They just know more about things that kill you. Every canning book has a warning about using recipes and food preservation methods from family archives. While some are tried and true, others are disasters in the making. “My grandmother did this her whole life, and nothing bad happened.” Your grandmother probably would have won at the casino, too. Try this: You eat it first. If you live, we’ll all have dinner.

Canning takes patience and the ability to read and follow directions. It’s worthwhile. I love the feeling of “I grew that.” or “I made that better myself.” I remember the bounty of earth and my connection to the land. Food doesn’t grow in the grocery store. Food preservation is a skill to relearn and pass on to the next generation.

Sure, your friends will steal your food, but they’ll visit more. And when they do, just remind them…. BRING BACK THE JARS!


**My friend Kathleen Jasper is far too important to can now. She’s solving the problems of education. I’ll give her a couple jars for that. Today she’s going to Glenn Beck’s national event talking about education reform, then possibly meeting with a president or the pope or someone who might fix education. You can read the first chapter of her book here. That’s why she won’t do her own canning. She’ll probably just raid mine, too.