By Lauri deGaris
In order to provision French forces upon the sea, Napoleon offered 12,000 francs for the invention of a new method to preserve food. That was in 1795. A man by the name of Nicolas Appert won the award in 1809. Appert preserved foods through sterilization by heat in closed vessels. Hermetically sealed containers provided sailors on the high seas and millions of hungry civilians with preserved provisions.
Nicolas Appert, born in 1750 was a scientist and inventor. He worked in confectionaries, distilleries, and breweries and was the official provisioner for many prominent French houses of the day. He had a thorough knowledge of the preparation of food and preservation.
Nicolas Appert did not just preserve food, he created works of art. He was known for preparing preserved food in a very appetizing way. And, he shared this knowledge with all who wished to use it. He was a very generous man.
In 1810, the minister of the interior of France published Appert’s “The Art of Preserving Animal and Vegetable Substances for Many Years.” With funds received from the French government, he founded the House of Appert, where he continued his work until his death in 1841. Appert died a poor man, having exhausted his means in continuing his experiments, hoping to achieve a higher state of perfection.
In 1810, a man by the name of Peter Durand created a “tin canister” providing canneries with a cheap alternative to clay jars and bottles. Peas were the first vegetable preserved in a tin can according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Library.
In 1858, Mason Jars were patented by John L. Mason. The Ball Corporation was manufacturing glass jars for home canning by 1885. And, in 1903, the Kerr Glass Manufacturing Corporation created a home canning supply business as well.
The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 established a National Cooperative Extension Service to educate rural Americans about advances in agricultural practices and technology. Administered through land-grant universities, trained “home demonstration agents” helped increase agricultural productivity throughout the 20th century.
In WWI, the United States established the National War Garden Commission. They promoted a free book called “Win the Next War Now” – Home Canning and Home Drying.
The canning center movement accelerated during the Depression. Millions of people were on relief rolls. Across the country, community canning facilities were built to help feed the nation. These centers were available to the public with supervised use.
In Jacksonville, the Duval County Canning Center was originally built to feed inmates at a nearby prison. During WWII, the facility became a community canning center dedicated to serving the public by teaching food preservation and storage techniques.
Home canning during WWII reached its peak in 1943. More than 4 billion jars were canned in homes and community canning centers. Wartime canning and victory gardens were symbols of patriotism and heavily promoted.
By the end of WWII, home refrigeration was available across the country. This reduced interest in canning as a method for food preservation. It would be several decades before preserving food by canning would become popular once again. In the 1970s, as part of the “do-it-yourself” movement, a resurgence in home canning poured over the nation.
I have heard people say they grew up “putting up.” “Putting up” refers to stocking the pantry with homemade canned goods. For many, childhood memories are stirred up when they pop open a jar of homemade jelly or jam. My personal favorite is blackberry jam. Nothing, and I mean nothing, tastes better than homemade blackberry jam on a warm, buttery, homemade biscuit.
I did not grow up “putting up” with family, although I had an aunt who preserved food from her garden and shared it with us. I loved the art of her bread and butter pickles. I looked forward to her homemade apple jelly eight-layer cake that appeared at most family gatherings. My mouth begins to water just thinking about a slice of her jelly cake. My aunt inspired me to learn more about the art of preserving food.
About 10 years ago, I completed the master food preservation and canning class through our local extension service. My food preservation journey began by making jelly and jams. Eventually, I threw more into the mix by making chutneys, soups and syrups. In addition to enjoying very appetizing food, canning provides me with a sense of accomplishment. And, it provides me with plenty of last-minute tasty gifts to share.
Locally, blueberry and blackberry season is in full swing. Figs and summer peaches are not far behind. Grapes are developing on the vine. And, it is the month of May, which means it is time for Mayhaw harvesting. I plan to release a special story introducing Mayhaw fruit to those in our community who may not have ever heard of this tasty Southern treasure.
All these delicious, local fruits will be preserved as jelly and jam in my kitchen this season. They are gifts from Mother Nature that share a story. They offer us a sense of place and taste that cannot be found in any grocery store. This is good medicine for the soul.
Activities, classes and events provided by the University of Florida, Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Nassau County can be found here: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/nassau/
Bentley, A. (1998). Eating for victory: Food rationing and the politics of domesticity. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press.
Nusz, Nancy, Collector. Sign at the 1983 Florida Folk Festival for Marie Norris’ home canning – White Springs, Florida. 1983. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.
University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Duval County Canning Center: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/duval/duval-county-canning-center/
Nassau County Extension: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/nassau/
USDA: Canning History: https://www.nal.usda.gov/exhibits/ipd/canning/timeline-table