Canning Food Basics 101

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"Canning Basics 101 for your Education"

The history of canning food begins back in 1809 when a French confectioner named Nicolas Francois Appert answered the challenge of the French newspaper Le Monde, who had offered a large sum of money to anyone who could invent an inexpensive and effective method of preserving large amounts of food.

Since huge armies of men during the Revolutionary War required large supplies of food on a regular basis, canning food and preservation was essential. Mr. Appert experimented and observed that when food was cooked inside a jar, it didn’t spoil, unless of course, the seal was compromised. He wasn’t able to give the scientific reasons behind why the food didn’t spoil, but the fact that it worked was enough at the time.

Fragile glass containers posed a real challenge during transport, they were replaced with wrought-iron canisters (or as we know them, “cans”). Not only were cans less expensive and quicker to make, they were safer to transport.

The soldiers didn’t have can openers, so they used what they had to open the cans, which was primarily their bayonets or a rock. The war actually ended before the canning process and the transport of the canned food could be perfected. In 1814, the factory Mr. Appert had built with the prize money he received from the contest, was burned down by Allied soldiers invading France.

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In 1810, a gentleman by the name of Peter Durand patented a process of packaging food in sealed airtight wrought-iron cans by using Appert’s methods which were already established. Tinned food was expensive for ordinary people to purchase since it took nearly six hours for the food to cook properly on top of the time it took for each can to be hand-made.

In 1812, the first American canning factory was established in New York City by Thomas Kensett. He utilized an improved version of the wrought-iron cans and preserved vegetables, meats, fruits and oysters.

By 1824, meats and stews which were produced using the method discovered by Mr. Appert, were taken to India by Sir William Edward Parry. Tinned food actually became a status symbol in Europe among middle-class households at that time.

By the 1860's, the canning process took less time, going from six hours to around thirty minutes. Many canning companies began to manufacture in greater quantities after the wars ended in the nineteenth century. They were able to sell their canned food to a wider audience as well.

In response to people in Britain during the Victorian era asking for good-quality food they could store in their pantry, companies such as Nestle and Heinz came on the scene with good-quality tinned food for stores to sell to the working class. During the First World War, military commanders needed large quantities of inexpensive, yet high-calorie food, to feed their soldiers. The answer was tinned foodstuffs such as corned beef and pork and beans.

After the war, the companies who had supplied the tinned food to the soldiers significantly improved the quality of their goods and thus appealed to the civilian market.

The cans we know today are made from tin-coated steel and are used to transport vegetables, meats, fruits, seafood, and some dairy products.

Canning food is a method by which food is preserved by sealing food in air-tight jars, cans or pouches, and then completing the process by heating the containers to a temperature of about 212 degrees Fahrenheit. This high temperature effectively destroys any contaminating microorganisms that could be possible health concerns or that would cause spoilage of the food item.

Those who are just beginning to can foods at home should start by canning foods with high acid such as tomatoes or fruits. These foods are safely canned by using the boiling water bath method which sanitizes the food using high temperatures, not high pressure. This is the most basic way to preserve food and since it requires inexpensive equipment, it is a great place to start to learn the art of canning food.

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For canning with the boiling water bath method, you’ll need a large covered water bath canner, a jar lifter, a wide mouth canning funnel, a non-metallic spatula or wooden spoon, a pair of rubber gloves, a clean dish cloth, a heavy dish towel, and of course, canning jars with lids and bands.

Some low acid foods can also be canned using the boiling water bath method since vinegar is used for pickling. Vegetables such as cucumbers, beets, and various beans are all good candidates for pickling. All other low acid foods such as vegetables, meats, dairy, poultry and seafood must be canned using both high temperature and pressure.

Today’s pressure canners aren’t anything like your grandmother’s pressure cooker you may remember. Pressure canners are now lightweight, have thin-walled kettles, and most of them feature turn-on lids. They’ll also have a removable jar rack, dial or weighted gauge, gasket, an automatic vent/cover lock, a steam vent (otherwise known as a vent port), and a safety fuse.

Once your tightly sealed, canned jars are cooled, label and date them and then store them in a cool, dry, dark place. Anyone who is willing to follow directions and try something new can master the art of canning food.