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  • Colin Mclain

The Renewed Art of Canning

2020 was, to put it mildly, a struggle for many. However, people found ways to be productive and creative. Some learned how to play an instrument, some discovered a love for a new language, some started new workout routines, and others looked to get their hands dirty by starting their own gardens.

Canning supplies were in high demand last fall.

But, something amazing happened with this surge in home gardening. Last fall, shelves that used to store lids, jars, and other canning spices were suddenly empty. This shortage was not due to any supply chain disruption. It was due to the tremendous increase in demand for the supplies! People wanted to learn how to preserve food at record numbers! Because, in partnership with their increased desire to learn how to garden, they needed a way to preserve the subsequent abundance.

According to informal research, 1 in 5 people took up gardening as a way to pass time during the COVID-19 quarantine. In addition to the productivity that came with these hobbies, they also kept people entertained and, maybe, more importantly, helped to relieve stress during the pandemic. According to the American Heart Association, taking part in a hobby has positive physical benefits, such as a lower heart rate. Indeed, hobbies helped people cope, but why did people turn to baking, gardening, and canning in record numbers?

I think it was twofold. One reason is more mundane. Simply put, people weren’t supposed to go anywhere. Shelter-in-place orders meant going out less and one way to minimize excursions to the grocery stores or restaurants is to make the majority of meals at home. Grabbing the essentials once a week, or even less frequently, was the goal. So, using what you’ve got in the house makes it easier to meet that goal. Canning is practical.

However, the second reason for the increase in a desire to can is more non-quantifiable. I think that when the demands and increased responsibilities of the pandemic became overwhelming, people turned to ways of bringing comfort.

Comfort can come in many ways: a warm place to sleep, a good memory, a full stomach. For many, being able to say that they have food stored away can be a form of comfort, even if it’s only a jar of pickles! Even if you’re not producing quantities that your depression era ancestors churned out, canning can offer a small sense of security of being in control. And control can be the biggest form of comfort.

In praise of the renewed passion for canning, I asked around the office for some of our crew's most favorite memories of canning. I asked for traditions or even recipes, themselves, that could be shared for this post.

Executive Director Quinn S.

As a home canner, I always enjoy the preparation of the ingredients and usually the first batch through the canner. I admit, I begin to lose enthusiasm as the night wears on and there are still batches to process. It all feels worth it, thought, when gifting home-made relishes, juices, and salsas.

Tasty pickle relish from Quinn S. made my holidays!

Campus Chef Chris G.

When you can, you will get it wrong. You will get it right, but there is a learning curve and you will learn something new every time you do it. But, learn it! Get good at it. It is a skill and a treasure that you will always have. Successes will be remembered by all the friends and family you share your work with, and failures will be remembered only by you, but will make a great story!

Manager of Administration Tammy G.

When I make my sauces and soups, I leave the peels on! I put the cleaned whole tomatoes in my blender and blend them all up. You don’t know the skins are there and they add more nutrients.

Bookkeeping Shirlee A.

Shirlee shared her favorite recipe from her grandmother, which shows us just another way in which canning can be a comfort process. It ties us to our roots. Brings us closer to our family and our familial traditions.

So, how do you stay in touch with your traditions? What ways have you used to cope with the pandemic? Have you taken up canning? Are you finding lids impossible to buy? Let us know in the comments what your favorite method for dealing with this extended pandemic is.


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