Canning Food Is a Pleasure That Used to Be a Necessity

I taught myself to can the year that I got divorced. My life felt a bit beyond my control, so I wanted something to do that would provide immediate results and distract me in the evenings after my kids went to bed. Though this skill had always intimidated me, some googling around and a great little book called Food in Jars persuaded me that I could probably manage to learn this skill. So I bought some fruit and some jars, and got to work.

These days, I have a set of shelves in the basement that's loaded with jams, salsa, and pickles. For me, that stash of deliciousness is plenty of justification for my hobby. But as with my other hobby -- knitting -- I occasionally run into people who cannot imagine why I'd take the time to can when grocery stores are able to provide me with delicious pickles and preserves for a fraction of the cost. Sometimes I explain myself by handing them a spoon and a jar of homemade jam. Sometimes, though, they need more of an explanation. For those folks, and for other canners who face the same questions, here are some of my answers.

Canning is a consumption good. That doesn't just mean that I consume the jams and pickles that I can. (Although I do, and they're yummy!) It means that I take a lot of pleasure in the process of making jam, or in discovering that it's possible to make pickled summer squash out of the overabundance that appears in my garden every summer. The time spent in the kitchen, canning food, is leisure time for me. I enjoy using it this way. I "consume" my canning time in much the same way that I'd consume time spent at a summer movie or tanning by the pool.

It's a sign of how wealthy we are as a society that we can think of canning as consumption rather than production.

For thousands of years, preserving food during harvest seasons in order to have it during fallow times was a matter of life and death, not of leisure. Adam Smith knew this would happen. He points out in his Wealth of Nations

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