Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Sometimes it seems that all my extracurricular interests show up in the New York Times Style section about 4 months after I get into them, making me feel like a trendy little sheep (that’s what I get for being snide about conformity in my previous post!). For example, urban chicken- and bee-keeping (which are still only my fantasies unlikely to actually be realized), urban gardening, Alfie Kohn, even unschooling itself. Canning is no different; you can read all about the canning craze here. But I swear I was into it way last summer! That’s when I asked my mom for a pressure canner for my birthday.

I wanted to start canning for several reasons. Last year I proscribed grocery-store tomatoes after reading about the virtual enslavement of the laborers who pick almost all the winter tomatoes consumed in this country (see below for sources. And I realize that a one-family boycott isn’t doing those laborers much good, but it’s all I can manage right now). We eat a primarily vegetarian diet (deviating for ethically raised meat twice a month or so) which means a lot of legumes; as busy people we used to rely very heavily on canned beans but last year’s Bisphenol-A scare made us determined to eliminate tin cans from our grocery list. So, no fresh tomatoes that aren’t locally grown in season and no tin cans meant learning how to can for myself.

Last year I canned lots of whole tomatoes, fresh beans such as crowder peas and limas, and dried beans such as chick peas, black beans, etc., plus some beets. This year I decided to branch out, and I had a willing helper in N., who loves to help with cooking in general and who got much more interested in the canning this year than he was last year.

Watching the 9-day pickles ferment... Little hands shelling crowder peas...

My brother, knowing us well, surprised us with a tomato press for Christmas, so we canned tomato puree as well as whole tomatoes, and N. loved operating the press (part of what he likes about canning is the machinery involved!). We also canned rhubarb and strawberries, and we experimented with 3 different kinds of pickles, as well as zucchini-orange marmalade, two kinds of salsa, pumpkin, and a zucchini relish. We had an excellent science lesson when N. took too long to fill a hot pickle jar; when we put it back in the boiling water to process, the cooled jar broke. The hardest part of pickling, though, was explaining to N. that we can’t try any of the pickles yet because they need to sit and get flavorful! We are both really excited to see how they come out.

Ginger zucchini marmalade

Bonus reading on tomatoes:
"The Politics of the Plate: The Price of Tomatoes" [Gourmet Magazine]
Follow-up in Gourmet on Tomatoes and Slavery
Recent news [The Atlantic]
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers
New Yorker essay about Immokalee from 2003

Bonus reading on canning:
Small Measure
Blueberries for Sal (I love the picture of Sal's mother's old-fashioned kitchen on the endpapers of the book!)


Sherry said...

Wow! I'm very inspired. I am so intimidated by food--which is absolutely ridiculous, I know. I'm sure it's because the healthiest meal my mother probably ever made was sloppy joes and potato chips--lol. I'm determined to do better, and I'm taking baby steps. :)

Mom and Kiddo said...

I enjoyed this post for a number of reasons! 1.We also gave up canned/non-local tomatoes and I appreciated the bonus reading. 2. I always was interested in canning, but way too frightened to try it because I think I will mess up the sterilization process. Now that I live in such a tiny space, canning is impossible, plus where would I store them? 3. I also feel like a "trendy little sheep" sometimes with my interests. I wonder if that is how the mothers of all the Sophias on the playground feel? (We meet a new Sophia every time we go -- no joke) 4. I also LOVE the end pages in Blueberries for Sal. When I was a kid I used to pretend to be in that kitchen!

At the risk of writing the longest comment ever I will add that I discovered Eden brand does not use BPA, so we have some emergency cans of beans on hand, although I prefer to make them myself in the slow cooker. Also, if you haven't already read it, you might enjoy the book Farm City by Novella Carpenter.

The End.

Fanny Harville said...

Mom & Kiddo,
Thanks for the book rec., and the reminder about Eden cans -- I had heard that but forgotten about it. We know 3 Sophias in a three-block radius of our house!

Bona Fide Mama said...

gosh, i HAVE to learn to can!!