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There have been periods of “boom and bust” in this country since its earliest days, but previously during the hard times citizens knew that better times were coming eventually. A growing percentage of the population no longer feels the U.S. will ever fully recover from this latest downturn, and more and more people think the economy will continue to spiral out of control. Unless manufacturing is brought home from overseas we must content ourselves with being a service-based economy while working for less money, less benefits, less retirement income, less social security, less, always less.

In short, congress has lost the trust and respect of previous decades. Having hundreds of government employees sent home without pay because the government has shut down, but yet the President and congress continue to receive regular paychecks is terribly wrong. Teddy Roosevelt, Sir, how do you feel about having national parks closed after you went to such heroic efforts to create them?

“All the great natural resources which are vital to the welfare of the whole people should be kept either in the hands or under the control of the whole people.” – Theodore Roosevelt, published in “The Outlook”, April 20, 1912.

Forget trying to get into one of those national parks now, and an attempt to access the website for a national park today (Oct. 2, 2013) meets with a blank screen other than this message:
“Because of the federal government shutdown, all national parks are closed and National Park Service webpages are not operating. For more information, go to http://www.doi.gov.”

Programs and basic infrastructure we take for granted are being restricted, suspended, or abolished everyday while we go about our daily lives, many of us seemingly oblivious to the changes around us. On a micro-level, nursing home inspections, restaurant inspections, and sewer/septic inspections for new construction have been severely cut back in my state. Are you, gentle reader, old enough to remember the contagious diseases of the past, such as cholera outbreaks that killed indiscriminately caused by drinking water contaminated by human feces? There is a reason those programs were created.

This post is not going to tell you all the things you should consider doing in preparation for trying times – there are enough websites and books out there for that. What it is going to do is look at the history of food preservation through canning to see what we might want to learn in order not to be dependent on fast food or going to the grocery store today for tomorrow’s supper.

There are multiple reasons for putting up one’s own food: there are no preservatives; long term storage without being dependent on electricity; it can be less expensive to grow your own or buy in quantity during sales and can it for future use; or having enough food on hand to not only survive but thrive in any situation in which supplies are scarce. Not of less importance is the fact that canned meat and vegetables are a huge convenience when making dinner after a day’s work.

Before food was put up in jars, some of it was fermented in crocks and stored for the winter (pickles, sauerkraut, etc.). Nicholas Appert successfully sealed food under heat in glass bottles as early as 1790’s. His method took the prize offered by Napoleon for the most innovative method of preserving food for his troops. Because glass containers were difficult to transport without breaking, metal canisters followed.

Glass canning jars for home preserving hit market shelves during the mid-19th century, but few people had the money or desire to rush out and buy them, thus canning in jars really became a standard method of food preservation around 1900.

The jars were sealed by placing a separate rubber ring on the jar and screwing on a zinc lid. The home canner was advised to use a new rubber ring on each jar although some people did reuse them. Two factors make it possible to keep food preserved in jars – first the contents must get hot enough to kill microorganisms (above the boiling point) and the jar has to remain completely sealed and airtight.

Oven canning is a hotly contested practice, manufacturers say it is not safe to put up food without processing it in a steam canner, while individuals claim to have done it for decades without the food spoiling. I haven’t tried this method, however, I may do a few jars just to see how well the jars seal and the food keeps. I think if the lids are heated in hot water before being screwed onto the jars and the contents in the jars is hot enough, it should work just fine. Oven canning is nothing new, Marion Harris Neal gave instructions for canning fruit in the oven at the turn of the century (1900).

I suspect the controversy over oven canning is akin to the theory some espouse that canned food can be, “safely kept for up to two years”. Hog wash. Once my mother canned her garden bounty, it wasn’t going anywhere except the dinner table regardless of how long the jars sat in the pantry and I’ve kept jars 10 years and the contents tasted just fine. It might be “best” if used quickly, especially if you profit from selling canning supplies, but as long as the seal isn’t broken on the jar it is not spoiled. Unless stored in a dark place, away from direct light, long term storage in glass jars could result in some slight loss of color but that doesn’t render the food inedible either.

Jars are an important tool even when their contents don’t have to be sealed. Salt, sugar, matches, water, and a host of other items can be safely stored for indeterminate lengths of time in an unsealed jar. Save those spaghetti sauce or jelly jars and see how many uses you can find for them. As always, Blissful Meals, may your pantry always be full and your heart be joyous. ©

Because in our lawsuit-happy world people look for ways to make a buck, notice this disclaimer: No guarantee is made as to the safety of any food, canned or otherwise. Eat at your own discretion.