Seasonal Eating : Can-Canning for the Season

By September 24, 2013Seasonal Eating

My husband and I recently attended a lovely wedding with a 1920s theme. Everyone got dressed to the nines in fancy flapper dresses and fedoras and spent the day pretending they had traveled back in time. At the end of the evening the bride hugged us goodbye and reminded us to take our parting gift, a jar of homemade raspberry and lime jam, made just for this special occasion by the mother-of-the-groom. At our house the jam made its way into homemade crepes my husband, a wonderful amateur chef, prepared for our weekend breakfast feast. As I savored the combination of sweet crepes and jam I got to thinking, how far back in time do we need to go to find the beginning of canning? The answer I found – is pretty far back in time.  

The beginning of canning doesn’t take us back to food preservation but rather human preservation. I will spare you the somewhat gruesome details but one of the earliest examples of canning can be traced to an ancient Egyptian tomb and the year 1800, when archaeologists discovered a young deceased baby preserved in a jar of honey. The child probably passed away thousands of years earlier and the honey had perfectly preserved the body. What this illustrates is that humans have long put stock in the power of food. Ancient tombs of the Egyptians and the Chinese have frequently been found filled with foodstuffs, garlic and onions in Egypt; barley, rice, plums, pears, ginger in China. Sometimes these items were accompanied with descriptions of preservation techniques, perhaps for meals in the afterlife.[1]

We know that for thousands of years human civilization has been fascinated with and focused on food preservation and in particular canning of food to store through the year when  favorite, in-season, foods were not readily available. While many cultures have attempted various techniques to accomplish this, it wasn’t until the mid- 18th century that a French chef and confectioner named Nicolas Appert, discovered the technique of heating food in sealed jars to preserve it, and gave birth to the modern movement of canning.[2] The art of canning took on a whole new life when the Ball Company, who had originally built a business of packaging paint and kerosene, decided in 1884 to begin producing jars for canning food.[3] The rest, as they say, was history.


Fascination with canning has certainly not waned today. This becomes clear if one spends even 5 minutes on Pintrest. With all our access to refrigeration, canning has transitioned from a process of necessity to one of art, experimentation, and enjoyment.

For those of you interested in getting started with canning or pickling here are a few handy links:

Food in Jars offers a great archive of posts for beginners – Canning 101 

A Plethora of Recipes on Pintrest such as these Jams 

A General Guide from the National Center of Food Preservation:Canning 

Home : The Pectin Calendar and Recipe index on this site is quite handy

[1] Sue Shephard, Pickled, Potted, and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World, New York: Simon and Schuster, 11-12.

[2] Ibid., 227-228.




[1] Sue Shephard, Pickled, Potted, and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World, New York: Simon and Schuster, 11-12.

[2] Ibid., 227-228.

Author Jessica Lessard

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