Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Then and Now by Donna

It is canning season in the midwest and I am busily canning salsa, pasta sauce, and stewed tomatoes.  This is a picture of my work from last year since my camera isn't working and I keep forgetting to get it fixed.  Canning can be exhausting work even if you have everything close at hand and all the right utensils.  I use a hot water bath canner like the one in the picture.

I was born in the 1940's and started helping my mother can in the early 1950's.  We did not have running water in our house so we carried pails of water from a well using a pump like the one below.  Using that pump was definitely good exercise for the arms. 

That is a lot of pails of water when you are canning.  We did not have a gas range.  We had a stove that burned coal and wood like the one in the picture.  I learned how to cook and bake on a stove like that.

We did all the cooking of the things we were going to can on this stove, put everything in jars and then took the jars outside.  My mother did not have a canner like I have.  We had three concrete blocks with a washtub like the one in the picture on the blocks.  We filled the tub with water and built a fire under the tub and put the jars in it.  You got the fire hot enough to boil the water and then left the jars in it for whatever time was necessary. 

While I was searching for these pictures I found a couple of survivalist sites where they describe canning this same way now.

I can just a few things although it ends up being quite a few jars.  My mother canned everything she could get her hands on.  We had a garden, we went to orchards and picked apples, peaches and pears, we picked blackberries.  My sisters and I shared a bedroom that was just off the kitchen and half of one wall was shelves where all the canned food was stored.  All this work was necessary if we were going to eat all winter.  Its no wonder my mom was always tired.  I definitely prefer canning now to back then.


  1. I've always wondering if it's worth it? Does it save alot from buying store bought? What is the easiest thing to can if you were a beginner.

  2. I have helped you can a few times, and thought that was exhausting. I can't imagine how much harder it would be over an actual fire. Where did you get all the wood? Or did you burn something else, like coal or corncobs?

  3. For Stephanie,
    Those are all good questions. If it was your first year canning and you had to buy the canner and jars and produce unless you grew the produce, it would not be very cost effective. If you already had the canner, jars and grew your own produce it could be cheaper than the store. If you count your labor, it definitely is not. But there are other things to consider. I love pickled beets but you can't buy them the way I like them so I can my own using my late mother-in-laws recipe. I make apple jelly and add cinnamon to it. You can't buy it that way. I make salsa that my whole family raves about. If you are a beginner I would say start with things that require the hot water bath canner like the picture above. If you do green beans you have to have a pressure canner. I vacuum seal and freeze green beans. Don't try to do a lot of things your first year. Just pick a couple of things and go from there. Buy a Ball Canning book. It is a lot of help.

  4. For Kelly,

    We always used wood. I don't remember where we got the wood. But it was always there. Sometimes it was scrap wood. I just made more pasta sauce yesterday and my back was hurting from standing. Just think how I would have felt if I had to pump pails of water to wash the tomatoes and wash jars.

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