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Canning is a time suck, but it’s totally worth it

I have a confession to make: I don’t give my jars of home-canned food away to just anyone. It is a lot of effort — sweaty, sometimes messy work — to preserve fruit and vegetables, and I won’t give a jar away to people if I think they won’t appreciate it. I gave my beloved little brother only one jar of pasta sauce in his stocking this year because I’m not convinced he’ll actually cook it up and eat it.

If I give a jar of jam to people, I really like them a lot, and they have convinced me that they will eat it and love it. Not to get all late ’90s, but it should come as no surprise to you that my love language is Acts of Service. To me, canning is an act of service. With this act of service, canning allows you to share delicious, nutritious foods with those you love months after it was grown. It makes it possible for you to share this food with a lot of people because you can in batches, and it makes it easy to share the bounty of the season long after its harvest. Canning is a way of cooking that allows your effort to be shared beyond the mealtime.

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One of the best parts of teaching people how to can is to hear about to whom they plan on gifting their jars of jam and salsa. Consider a holiday dinner: Once it is enjoyed and the effort has been expended, that’s it, save the next-day turkey sandwiches. With canning, the effort is spread over a much longer period of time. Canning is literally spreading the love.

You need to feed at least yourself — if not many others — three times a day, every day, and doing a good job of that can improve your life immeasurably. Canning is one awesome avenue to that improvement. I love lots of other hobbies like sewing, but I have to feed myself and my family, and canning has made that better, easier and more satisfying. I don’t need to sew daily, but I definitely need daily nourishment. Canning allows that need to be met in a wholesome and connected way that opening a store-bought jar of pasta sauce just can’t touch.

Canning gives you choice and authorship over what you eat. I’m not here to point fingers or get judgy about those of us who are crazy busy and sometimes feed ourselves and our families less-than-stellar meals. I’m the first to admit to feeding my kids popcorn and basically anything they want from the fridge on some nights — and that is OK. What is not OK is feeling like you don’t have any other choices beyond that.

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I think that canning is one way that you can choose to eat better. By having a jar of canned peaches on the shelf that you washed, prepared and canned, you know what you are serving up. In that harried moment when you have all the balls in the air, you don’t have a lot to choose from. If you have available and at-the-ready food that you feel good about eating, then you will find it easier to make those choices.

Canning doesn’t have to be all about what is organic/green/farm fresh/insert-your-favorite-buzzword-here, either. Sure, it is awesome to pick wild berries and preserve them or to go to a farmers market and buy fresh peppers from a person who actually grew them, but is that real life? Not by a long shot for most of us. What is real life, however, is scoring an impossibly large flat of ripe strawberries in a warehouse store on sale for cheap. Knowing how to can allows you to preserve inexpensive produce into whatever your heart desires, and even if it isn’t organic or if you make something that probably doesn’t qualify as a “health food” (like syrup), it is assuredly better than whatever you can buy pre-made.

Canning doesn’t have to be the way you remember it. Canning used to be done only in giant batches, in homes without cooling systems, all dang day, all season long, likely by a woman who was pretty cranky and sweaty by the end. That was all done out of necessity and tradition. Now, you can preserve in tiny batches, in pots that you already own, in jars that can be stored under your couch. The abundance and availability of sophisticated, safe recipes for batches in small and medium sizes is mouthwatering to say the least, so canning doesn’t have to be boring ol’ applesauce.

What will canning be for you this year? If you want to learn more, head to and feed your family some love.

More: Let’s make canning your jam with this easy wild plum preserve recipe

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