Kuiper does the cancan.
On this day in 1858, John L. Mason filed US Patent 22,186. He described his invention as “new and useful Improvements in the Necks of Bottles, Jars, &c.” Around this day in July, we preserved these lovely peaches using what we still refer to as “Mason jars.” Thanks, Mr. Mason!
Mason jars haven’t changed much since 1858, but home canning has, drastically. Consider that germ theory wasn’t even fully fleshed out in 1858! At first, processing times and methods were largely trial and error. In 1909, the USDA published their 1st official guide.
The 1909 recommendation was “fractional sterilization”: fill the jars and boil them for 1 hour/day for 3 days. The idea was that by the 3rd day, all the bacterial spores would have hatched and died and the food would then be safe. For most foods this was actually a TERRIBLE IDEA. This process put people at risk of botulism poisoning (particularly since the toxin cannot be seen or tasted!)
Thankfully, due to SCIENCE, we no longer have to play botulism roulette. We can safely can food at home. In 1917, the USDA started doing studies on bacteria and heat penetration. In 1926, the modern safety recommendation appeared: always use a pressure canner for “low acid” food. Fruit (including tomatoes), jam and pickles can be safely processed by boiling; they’re acidic enough to keep botulism from growing. Vegetables, beans, soups, chicken stock, etc. are not. The problem is the spores.
Boiling kills the toxin, but in a low acid environment it does not kill the spores that create more toxin. In order to nuke spores from orbit, we need to get jars even hotter. To accomplish this, we use a pressure canner. Under pressure, jars heat up to 240 F (116 C.) Pressure canning may sound scary, but I promise that it is much easier and safer than it sounds! Plus, home-canned, homemade chicken or beef stock is AMAZING.
If you’d like to try canning for the first time, I recommend starting with jam or fruit (like these peaches), which you can process in a regular large pot of boiling water. Look up “National Center for Home Food Preservation” for the most up-to-date, research-backed instructions.
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