Posts Tagged Bonaparte
Canning is not rocket science, but it is a science nonetheless. Most of all, it is a process; one that requires proper tools and preparation.
We live in a world that is much different from when we first began using this process for food preservation. Back then, you were lucky if the ladle was washed between meals at the tavern where travelers stopped for what was often their only meal of the day.
Today, we are cautious about germs. We are also more cautious about our impact on the environment. Pushing old household items over the bank is not a normal occurrence anymore. We recycle and reuse.
As with other things, we also get carried away in our efforts to adopt earth-friendly behaviors. For instance, there are many ways to recycle glass containers we have acquired at the grocery store, such as pickle jars, but giving them a new life as canning jars is not the way to go.
Commercial establishments where jars are filled with pickles and relish and such use a process that allows for less resistant jars, presumably to lower cost for the consumer. Granny will research this for you, but take my word for now. Such containers as pickle jars are not made with heavy glass and they are not heat-treated.
Let me pause a moment to illustrate my point. Granny makes food for her cat, Marley, and stores it in pickle jars. This, incidentally, is an appropriate way to reuse the jars because Granny is merely storing the food, not canning it, but I learned a valuable lesson when I first began doing this. I placed the hot food in jars and promptly stored them in the refrigerator. When I reached in to lift one out, the bottom stayed in the fridge. The explanation was obvious and we had a good laugh, but Granny since allows the mixture to cool before placing the lids on Lady Alice’s homemade food.
So back to canning. The jar is not the only thing to consider, however. Have you ever wondered why there are more boxes of jar lids than boxes of canning jars on store shelves? You’d think an absent-minded store clerk has made a mistake while ordering and now their poor boss is stuck with all those lids. Not so.
A proper canning lid is designed to form a tight seal on the mouth of its jar. In the course of the canning process, the lid gasket softens and covers the sealing surface of the mouth, yet it allows air to escape from the jar. This is much like suction, allowing the gasket to form an airtight seal when the jar cools. Once a gasket has been heated and cooled, it looses some of its sealing properties.
Without a proper seal, the painstakingly prepared and canned delight in the jar turns into an inviting playground for bacteria. For this reason, lids are used only once. However, the screw band that secures the lid into place may be reused as long as it is not damaged.
“But Granny”, you might ask, “How do I break the seal without damaging the ring when I am trying to open the jar the first time? Doesn’t everybody tap around the lid with the handle of a knife?”
Tut, tut, tut! Even Napoleon knew that a knife is for buttering, not for prying jars open. Use a gripping tool or hold the jar upside down (make sure it is not moist so it does not slip out of your hand) and tap the bottom with the palm of your hand. You will hear a “pop” sound when the seal is released.
So, to recap (no pun intended), recycling fruit spread, mayonnaise or pickle jars for canning may sound practical, but it greatly diminishes the effectiveness of the preserving process and increases the risk of spoilage and of ingesting of less than friendly bacteria. Basically, commercial jars may not withstand the lengthy exposure to high temperatures that is required in the canning process.
There is a lot to be aware of when doing your own canning, but it is simply a matter of obtaining the right information and taking the proper steps. It is well worth your efforts to do some research ahead of time so you can feel certain that the beautiful and colorfully filled jars you place on the table for family and friends contain edible delights that are both safe and nutritious.
Necessity truly is the mother of invention, though Napoleon might suggest we rephrase this to say, “the mother of revolution”.
Speaking of revolution, it appears we owe the Emperor some great measure of appreciation for the initiative, and necessity, that led to one of today’s most wide-spread and trusted form of food preservation: canning.
The year is 1795. Napoleon is 26 years old. He is infantry commandant to an army that is engaged in a civil war in a region in west-central France, on the Atlantic Ocean. During this time, he offers a 12,000 franc cash prize (roughly $2,456 or 1,470 one-quart jars today) to anyone who will develop a means to preserve food for his army. It would be too easy to simply claim that the rest is history. It is more complicated than that. Let it suffice to say that Napoleon probably did not give any further thought to this, other than securing a means to keep his men fed. He was a conqueror, after all, not an inventor… or so he thought.
His idea had merit, of course. Creative minds of the time continued to develop it. In 1809, while Napoleon assumed command of his troupes on the shores of the Danube, Frenchman Nicholas Appert realized that food would not spoil if sufficiently heated and sealed in an airtight vessel, much like a wine bottle.
Meanwhile, the demand for canned provisions grew along with increased exploration of the world and migrations to the Americas. In New York City, British immigrant Thomas Kensett, established the first U.S. meat, fruit, vegetable and oyster canning facility. The year is 1812.
A year later, Peter Durand, a British merchant, is credited with obtaining the first patent for preserving food using unbreakable containers: tin cans. The first commercial canning factory was subsequently established in 1813, in England.
Though it was clear by now that heating food was a key element in preservation, it took another 50 years before an explanation for canning’s effectiveness could be established, by none other than Louis Pasteur.
What was understood early on, also, was the importance of establishing canning facilities within a very short distance of the point of harvest. This ensured that foods were packed at the peak of freshness. It also served more practical purposes; namely, to minimize cost by reducing transportation and to ensure freshness.
Furthermore, it appears that canning may actually enhance the nutritional value of some foods. For example, according to a 1997 University of Illinois study, corroborated by many subsequent observations, a 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin contains more than 600% of the Recommended Daily Intake of vitamin A. Conversely, the same amount of fresh pumpkin has only 143%. Canned tomatoes, for their part, contain significantly higher levels of lycopene, a recognized antioxidant, than fresh tomatoes and canned green beans were shown to have a higher fiber content than beans consumed directly upon harvest.
Home canning was introduced in 1858, when Philadelphia tinsmith John Mason invented a practical glass jar for this purpose. These are commonly known as “Ball” jars, named after the early manufacturer, Ball Corporation. Napoleon had passed away 37 years earlier, perhaps unaware of the great conquests he had led by merely seeking to resolve a common problem.
Thus, the one who is generally recognized as the greatest military commander of all time, also happens to be “the father of canning”. Somehow, this accomplishment has not made it to history books, but in truth it offers further evidence of the scope of his abilities as a commander, for isn’t the command of one’s sustenance half the battle?
Here are the ripple effects of Napoleon’s bright idea:
1795 — Napoleon offers 12,000 francs to anyone who can develop a means to preserve food for his army and navy.
1809 — Nicolas Appert, of France, wins prize for devising a way to preserve food by sterilization.
1810 — Englishman Peter Durand obtains a patent for the use of pottery, glass and tin-plated iron in canning.
1812 — A small canning plant opens in New York. It cans meats, oysters, fruits and vegetables in hermetically sealed containers.
1818 — Peter Durand’s tin-plated can is introduced in America.
1819 — Thomas Kensett and Ezra Warner begin to sell products in canned tinplate cans.
1830 — Huntly and Palmer sell cakes and biscuits in decorated cans.
1849 — Henry Evans begins making cans by machine. Production increases from 5-6 cans per hour to 50-60 per hour.
1856 — Gail Borden granted a patent for canned condensed milk.
1858 — Home canning is born. American John Mason invents a practical glass jar for home canning.
1870 — William Lyman patents an opener with a rotating wheel that cuts the top rim of the can.
1909 — Tuna canning starts in California.
1921 — Canned citrus juice begins in Florida.
1926 — Canned ham, SPAM begins.
1931 — Electric can opener is introduced.
1933 — Motor oil is canned.
1940 — Carbonated soft drink canning begins.
1957 — First all-aluminum beer can appears on the market.
1962 — Pull-tabs on beverage cans appear.
1973 — The six-pack is introduced.