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Glimpse of Yesteryear
October 17, 2013 | No Comments

A look back ...

Before we take a close look into the kitchens of early Geauga to get a glimpse of the canning process there, lets…

By Jacquie Foote

Before we take a close look into the kitchens of early Geauga to get a glimpse of the canning process there, lets remember to thank Napoleon Bonaparte. In late 18th century France, Bonaparte, concerned about keeping his armies fed, offered a cash prize to whoever could develop a reliable method of food preservation.

Nicholas Appert conceived the idea of preserving food in bottles, like wine. After 15 years of experimentation, he realized if food is sufficiently heated and sealed in an airtight container, it would not spoil. Appert won the competition with a system of precooking, airtight sealing and final processing in a kind of bottle newly designed for the purpose, a glass canning jar. His wide-mouthed pint “bottles” (as he referred to them) were filled with hot cooked foods, stoppered with hand-cut corks fitted to the irregularities of the blown glass, sealed with a compound made of lime and skim milk and then finished in a boiling water bath.

It was Englishman Peter Durand who developed a method of sealing food into unbreakable tin containers. His methods were perfected by Bryan Dorkin and John Hall, who set up the first commercial canning factory in England in 1813. Thomas Kensett, who immigrated to the United States, established the first U.S. canning facility for oysters, meats, fruits and vegetables in New York in 1812.

At and before these times, women were involved in their home kitchens in preserving foods for the winter. Preserving, but not canning. Foods were put up in ceramic crocks … everything from meat (French confit or its English counterpart, potted duck) to vinegar and salted vegetables. Those who could afford the sugar did some jelly making, usually using what crocks or small bottles came their way.

At that time, spoilage was prevented through the use of salt, sugar, vinegar, spices, and even, fat. In many cases, these worked at least marginally well. (Potted meats, for example, were shielded from the contaminating air by complete immersion in melted fat and a tied-on cloth or leather covering.)

True canning, of course, depends on sealed, airtight containers, whether they be tin cans or canning jars. While the early home canning processes did not always involve hermetic seals, they usually made some attempt to thoroughly cook the contents, to clean the containers and to keep out air by means of a tightly sealed closure.

Between 1812 and the beginning of the American Civil War, inventive minds experimented with container sizes and shapes, with glass, tin, wax and lead and with various lid-clamping mechanisms. They focused on tin lids sealed with wax or composition materials and eventually mold-blown glass jars threaded to accept a zinc screw top lid. By the time of the American Civil War, two-piece lids made airtight with disposable rubber rings or gaskets and set between a glass lid and jar were becoming popular. The Mason jar was on its way; airtight home canning was about to become a domestic institution.

The Geauga housewife in the late 1800s called canning jars glass cans or fruit jars (the latter probably because fruits were canned most often). At the beginning of cannings heyday, the whole process was really an extension of the earlier style of preservation in heavy sugars.

By the 1880s, American women, taking advantage of the lowering cost of sugar and the back-saving wood stove, had launched the annual summer routine of putting up the wealth of orchard fruit, along with garden vegetables and even meats. And, they were using store bought canning jars to do it.

For information on the events at the Geauga County Historical Society’s Burton Century Village Museum, call 440-834-1492 or visit our website at

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