With growing public concern around the questions involved in the importation of fresh produce and the added cost, storage and transport times of produce grown out of season in other states, the desire to eat seasonally and locally is becoming more important to many people. However, the issue of local climate plays a large role here – it is clearly much more interesting to eat seasonally and locally for those who live in the warmer, temperate zones than for those who live in the cool temperate areas. As the global community brings us all closer together and makes everything available all the time, it is unlikely that we are going to be able to get too many people to come to terms with living through the seasonal deprivations of cold-climate crops. However, there is a way to make economical, efficient, seasonal eating a far more attractive option and it seems to be growing in popularity in these “interesting” economic times – canning or home bottling as a method of preserving food.
Given the necessity of food to our survival, it will come as no surprise to learn that food preservation is one of the oldest technologies used by humans. Bottling, or canning as it is known by our US cousins, was first conceived of by a French pastry-chef called Nicolas Appert in the late 18th century. He went on to put his discoveries to industrial use and by 1804 was employing 50 workers in a food-preserving factory where he produced canned rations for Napoleon’s army and navy. Of course, because the foods to be preserved must be heated in this process, there is a loss of a percentage of the nutrients, but certainly not enough to negate the usefulness of the process or the dietary benefits to be gained food preserved in this way.
Canning becomes more popular in times of financial stress and the economic downturn of 2009 saw the sales of canning-related items in the US rise by 11.5%. There’s no doubt in my mind that canning/bottling is a brilliant way to make good use of the glut of summer fruits and to brighten up a winter diet. My younger memories of bottled fruit and vegetables involve great steaming tubs of simmering water on the stove and the careful handling of awkwardly clipped, tall, very hot jars. Depending on how you choose to tackle it, this can still be the case and I have a shelf of those tall jars and a big metal bottling vat in the corner of my pantry. These days, though, canning doesn’t have to be the sole domain of those with fruit trees and prolific summer veggie patches. There are a variety of different types and sizes of canning jars available and the internet provides us with some absolutely amazing information resources. This means that, when peaches or plums are in season and on special you can buy an extra kilogram or two, or a case, and bottle as many or as few as you like. Using smaller jars makes the job more manageable and you don’t need a special bath to put them in as any larger saucepan will do the trick – you just need to know where to look for the inspiration and information.
While Australian preserving information sites are fairly thin on the ground, there is a wealth of them in the US. One of the very best sites I’ve found for any bottling info is Food in Jars, a blog by US woman Marisa McClellan who is also about to publish a book on the subject. Her successful blog is a very handy resource for bottling recipes of just about anything you can think of, including jams, chutneys, syrups and sauces. Canning Across America is another useful site which encourages people to take control over their food supply and enjoy local and seasonal foods. The USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning offers Pdf files on every aspect of preserving fruit, meats and vegetables and the US National Centre for Home Preservation offers research-based recommendations for home food preservation. For an Australian resource on various types of food preservation, including bottling, the best online information can be found at Green Living Australia. Bottling jars are available from some department stores, hardware stores and many specialist food shops. If you have difficulty finding them, just email me and I will give you some store names.
I’m hoping I’ve piqued a little interest in bottling in some of my clever readers. Home bottling isn’t difficult and needn’t be daunting. What it is, though, is an excellent way to take advantage of the glorious summer abundance of produce and supply your family with great local food, knowing exactly where it came from.