Long before refrigerators, and long, long after the elemental powerhouses of food preservation had been tapped — the cold of winter; the heat and drying effects of the sun; and smoke from fires large and small — there was canning.
Putting up preserves, as people used to call it, was once a mainstay of Canadian living, something primarily done by women using garden-grown carrots and beans and beets and berries and fruits picked from meadows and forests.
Kids, or mostly daughters, I should say, grew up watching moms and aunties and grannies colonizing the kitchen in the fall, boiling the water, sterilizing the jars, washing and cutting up the apples, the peaches, the beans, then dunking the sealed containers into baths of boiling water in the dark blue enamel canners on the stove, all the while cautioning kids within earshot to watch out — boiling water! those are scalding hot! — lending a note of pending disaster to the process .
Where were the boys and men in all this? Maybe out fishing. Because even some of "the guys" would can up a day's catch, so that opening a jar of home-preserved salmon or trout would become part of the embedded memory of a good day out with a rod.
Given the traditional gender bias of canning, it's ironic that a man invented it.
Until the Industrial Revolution, notes Alberto Cappatti in Food: A Culinary History, a terrific book put out by Columbia University as part of its "European Perspectives" series, the term "preserve" was used to refer to "fruits, flowers and other foods prepared with sugar or a similar material to produce a sort of paste."
Think of a cross between dried fruit roll-ups and, maybe, quince paste, only flat and cut into squares, so you could travel and eat.
Then in 1810, Nicolas Appert, a Frenchman by birth and a confectioner by trade, wrote a book called: Le livre de tous les ménages, ou l'art de conserver pendant plusiers années toutes les substances animals et végétales or, essentially, The book of all households, or the art of conserving, for several years, all animal and vegetable substances.
The book's popularity was even greater than its title. In it, Appert described his experience with 30 years of preserving by immersing sealed jars in a hot water bath. Vegetables like shelled peas and French beans; fruit; meat; jellies; dairy products including cream and whey — and even those fish — all had been preserved in dark, wide-mouthed glass containers more resembling bottles than jars.
Throughout, the flavour and colour were good. But in some cases, Appert, being an expert confectioner, added a paste of sugar, crushed pulp and lemon juice to fruits like strawberries to bring out the flavour.