Waste not, want not. That wise advice has been passed down through the generations, especially in the form of canning or jarring food.
“My mother canned. Her mother canned,” said Teresa Legall, a Ruckersville resident and owner of Hidden Acres Farm. “I am from a very poor family and that is how we survived. That’s how you ate in the winter.”
Legall still plants a garden every year—you can find her at the Corner Store Farmer’s Market Saturday mornings through October—and she still cans.
“It’s either can it or lose it,” she said. “When you put the kind of work into a garden you have to, it’s such a waste to just toss it out.”
Legall said she remembers while growing up bartering produce that had been canned for meat that had been butchered.
It was her mother that gave Legall her first canning book once she was out and living on her own, and she now keeps the well-used book in a safe.
“I first moved onto a farm and I had this big, huge garden that I worked with a hoe,” she said. “And it was beautiful, but I thought, ‘what am I going to do with all this food?’ That’s when she said, ‘here’s your book.’”
Legall said she has always been fascinated by the science of canning.
“When you open up a jar of canned food that you’ve done yourself, it smells different, tastes different,” she said. “And the feeling you get when you eat it, is different. And trying to explain that to somebody is very difficult unless you give them something. I have a tendency to give a lot away and let people decide for themselves.”
Green beans, though, are a lot of work, Legall noted.
“First, you’ve got to plant them and you’ve got to work them. And you’ve got to pick them. Then you’ve got to look them over. You’ve got to pull off the ends and prepare them to pack in the jars. Sounds simple, but it’s a lot of back-breaking work,” she said. “For me I have to evaluate is it worth doing? Yes, it is.”
While she loves her vintage canning book, she noted that when canning people need to use current science to ensure safety.
For green beans, for example, old school says you do them in a hot water bath, which can take three hours. New school says you can do it in a pressure canner, which takes 20 minutes, because of the low acid content in the beans.
Boiling water bath canning involves packing jars with food, completely covering the jars with water, heating the water to boiling (212 degrees Fahrenheit) and processing for 5-85 minutes, depending on the food product, style of pack and jar size.
According to Virginia Cooperative Extension, “Boiling removes the oxygen remaining in the jar, which helps to form a tight seal between the lid and the rim. The heat used for this method of canning is sufficient to kill vegetative bacterial cells found in the food.”
Kathy Alstat, Virginia Cooperative Extension Greene County agent, said using current guidelines keeps everyone safe.
“One scary thing is when people have been canning for years and use the same old recipes, even though they might not be safe,” Alstat said. “All of our information is research based—tested at the Food Innovation Center at Virginia Tech to be sure they’re safe.”
Alstat said it’s important to remember to use the hot water bath for high-acid food.
“This is because high-acid foods prevent the growth of spores of the bacterium (clostridium botulinum), which can’t be killed by boiling,” according to Virginia Tech.
“Botulism is a killer. Canning is a lot safer now that things can be pressure canned that are low acid,” Alstat said.
Alstat said she’s been canning for about 25 years.
“It might take time to get the knack,” she said. “There are also little tricks you learn as you can. While it’s work, canning is easier than you think. I do it with 10-year-olds in 4H.”
Legall said she doesn’t mind the work.
“I love it. I don’t mind standing up. I don’t mind the mess and when I look at that shelf and see all the canned food, it just warms me up,” she said. “I will can until I die, or at least until I cannot stand up. Even if I can’t have a garden, I’ll go to the farmers market and I’ll buy produce to can.”
Extension has videos and recipes online.
“I never feel like I know it all,” Legall said. “I learn a lot from other people.”