Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Glimpse of Yesteryear
October 10, 2013 | No Comments

The history of canning

The home canner, does not use cans at all. We use glass jars. (Are we, therefore, more properly called home jarrers?) Home…

By Jacquie Foote

The home canner, does not use cans at all. We use glass jars. (Are we, therefore, more properly called home jarrers?)

Home canning did not become popular until John Masons Mason Jar was patented in 1858. (Some of these earliest jars are still to be found today. Although probably untrustworthy for canning, both the clear and the blue old Mason jars are highly collectable.)

Then, in 1882, Henry Putnam of Vermont invented a jar that used a glass lid, a rubber gasket and a metal clamp to seal the contents. It was called the Lightning Jar because the metal clamps made the lids easier to remove. Although these jars are rarely seen these days (except at garage sales and for specialty foods), they were readily available for home canning well into the 1960s from both the Putnam and the Atlas Glass companies. The Weck Co. still produced a variant of the lightning jar in the early days of this century. (Its flask shaped fruit jar makes a graceful holder of homemade juices.)

In 1883, William Ball and his brothers, Lucius, Lorenzo, Frank, Edmund and George, began making glass fruit jars. A fire destroyed their plant in Buffalo, N.Y., and they relocated to Muncie, Ind., when that city offered free natural gas and a generous plot of land to induce them to relocate there.

Although few of the notable innovations in canning jars originated in the Ball Co., the Ball brothers were smart businessmen. Their company adopted each canning jar innovation. These included Alexander Kerrs company wide mouth jars (1903) and a metal lid with a permanently attached gasket (1903) and, finally, a flat metal disk with a permanently attached gasket that was held down during the hot water processing by a threaded metal ring (1915). This last invention allowed the reuse of canning jars with much less expense since only the metal disks needed to be replaced.

The Ball Co. took over smaller companies and introduced their factories to automation as quickly as those processes became available. They gained control over a considerable part of the canning jar business.

In 1993, the Ball Corp. spun off the home canning jar business as the Alltrista Corporation, now called the Jarden Corp. This corporation produces Ball jars … and also Kerr jars, Bernardin jars and Golden Harvest jars … as well as the lids and bands to be used with them. (Now you know why all those jars cost the same!)

Besides eagerly accepting changes in the canning jars themselves, Geaugans changed their methods of canning as new understanding of why foods spoil was disseminated.

Until the late 1800s, Geaugans, like the rest of the country, believed that air caused food to spoil and the removal of air from the container followed by the hermetic sealing of the container would prevent the spoilage. Those who boiled the containers that would hold the canned food did so more as a matter of being sure the containers were truly clean rather than spoilage prevention.

Then, in 1861, Louis Pasteur made it known that microorganisms in un-sterilized foods and containers were responsible for the spoilage and Geaugans turned to sterilizing the food as well as the containers. The food was precooked and packed hot in heated jars, which then were filled to the brim with heated syrups or brines and sealed immediately. This method is still used in the production of jams, jellies and syrups.

If the contents of the jars were high enough in acid (such as vinegary ketchups and chutneys) or if the sugar or salt content were high enough (think jellies, jams and pickles), then the product was usually safely preserved. So … the food was safe enough to eat … if sometimes a bit overcooked.

However, although the food might be hot enough to kill microorganisms and the jars might be sterile when packed, the air trapped between the food and the inside jar lid, was not. Spoilage occasionally resulted.

It was not until well into the beginning of the 1900s that the Boiling Water Bath became the rule as the final step in the canning process … and the home canners of Geauga history began to follow the procedure familiar to Geaugians of today.

For information on the events at the Geauga County Historical Society’s Burton Century Village

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