Appalachian Food

Getting Ready for Canning Season

can house

“As food writer James Villas has so aptly stated, none of the Southern culinary traditions are more sacred and respected than that of canning. And nowhere is this tradition carried out with such consistent continuity as in the Southern Appalachians.

Mountain housewives had been putting up fruits and vegetables in crock-type jars since early colonial days, usually with sugar or sweetenings such as honey or syrup. But around the turn of the century, easy-to-seal Mason-type glass jars became available for “home canning”; it was a boon to mountain homes.

If you want to see some of the greatest examples of the canning tradition, take a peek today into mountain country pantries; check out the rainbow kaleidoscope of colors in their jars of canned fruit, vegetables, pickles, and jellies.”

—Josephy E. Dabney – “Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread & Scuppernong Wine”

I made a run of violet jelly over the weekend, that’s my first canning of the year. Canning jars, lids, and rings were hard to come by last summer and it looks like folks may have trouble finding them again this year.

On one hand the lack of canning supplies is troubling, especially for the people who need them. On the other hand it means a whole lot more people are trying to put up food to feed their families and I think that’s a good thing.


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  • Reply
    carol harrison
    April 6, 2021 at 8:20 am

    In the ’60s my friend canned tomatoes while “on her period” and every can spoiled. I guess it’s true advise to not can on those days. She never canned anything at that time of the month again.

  • Reply
    O. P. Holder
    April 5, 2021 at 4:21 pm

    Would like to see the video of violet jelly also.

    • Reply
      April 5, 2021 at 4:26 pm

      O.P.-I’ll share it later this week!

  • Reply
    April 5, 2021 at 1:26 pm

    I remember one of my grandmothers making kraut and pickling green beans in crocks. She also had a cellar under the smokehouse for her canned goods.

    Once my wife and I were visiting my grandparents and grandad was in the garden. He asked me if my wife was “on her period” and said she would cause problems in his garden if she was.

    We’ve done a lot of canning in the past but mostly freeze now because of the salt/blood pressure connection.

    I just gave a friend a car load of jars recently. If things are that expensive, maybe I should have had a yard sale.

  • Reply
    Frances Jackson
    April 5, 2021 at 12:07 pm

    My first hands-on experience with canning was as a young wife, when a neighbor, whose husband was a minister, was given several bushels of produce by the members of their church. Unfortunately, she was having her period at the time.
    Back then it was considered unlucky for a woman to can anything while she was having her period. If she did, everything would be likely to spoil. So her neighbors went over and spent the day canning, while she looked after their children and cooked a meal for the women and their husbands. I barely knew her, but I went, taking my 2-month-old baby. I don’t remember what all we canned that day, but we had jolly good fun. Several women bought their canners. i do remember green beans and peaches. I was green as a gourd, and so I listened and watched and learned a lot that day. And oh what a beautiful sight it was– all those quarts of vegetables and fruits.
    I just wonder if anybody else has heard of that old superstition about not trying to can anything when having one’s period.

    • Reply
      April 5, 2021 at 12:42 pm

      Frances-all my life I’ve been told a girl on her period should’t help with canning/pickling. Do I know if its absolutely true? No but I don’t see any use in testing it either 🙂

      • Reply
        Melissa Carson
        April 22, 2021 at 11:28 pm

        Tipper – the one and only time I canned at that time of the month, every jar I did failed. that was back in the early 1980s. never did that again. Also, yes jars and lids are still scarce. I found a box of jars and two boxes of lids and snapped ’em right up a couple weeks ago. I dug through boxes last fall and did find some unused lids – I used pretty much every one. thanks again

  • Reply
    April 5, 2021 at 11:58 am

    I haven’t canned in years. Mama’s sister and her husband had a big garden every year, and she canned everything. Mama never canned anything, but would put some things in the freezer. I hope all these people who are buying up supplies are using them.

  • Reply
    Cathy Sparks
    April 5, 2021 at 11:23 am

    I had an elderly gentleman teach me how to make crab apple jelly a few years ago and it was so delicious! Also, had a cousin in KY share a jar of jelly that she had made from roses. It also was really good.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    April 5, 2021 at 10:59 am

    I was unaware of the shortage but knew 10$ for a dozen lids is a high price (or so I thought.) I’m not a bit surprised you’ve already put up violet jelly and I bet it’s the “ bomb diggety!” I always like looking at your gleaming, sparkling jars of colorful well stocked bounty! I’m making applesauce but a bag of ( 3#) apples only yields about 2 or 3 cups of the best applesauce I ever ate. I eat a lot of it with Crohns so why not make gourmet for myself? It’s thick and hearty and I’m not all about sugar. I sat watching honey bees all day in the sun yesterday gather pollen from grape hyacinths. I do think there’s a bee keeper over the hill here but not for sure yet.

  • Reply
    Nancy Patterson
    April 5, 2021 at 10:39 am

    What a beautiful way to close out the weekend. Your family is a living pattern to guide others on the journey. Thank you.

  • Reply
    Catherine J. Spence
    April 5, 2021 at 10:04 am

    I made redbud jelly one year and last year I tried corncob jelly. My family were not fans, but I thought it was interesting.

  • Reply
    Ray Presley
    April 5, 2021 at 9:42 am

    My earliest memories of canning was of my Mother and Aunts using paraffin wax to cover and seal the jars. They would then tie a “bonnet” of cloth around the neck of the jar. My favorite was preserves and jams. And I remember that dewberries were hard to find, but they were much larger and tastier than blackberries although they grew in the same patch.

  • Reply
    April 5, 2021 at 9:14 am

    I need to make the grandkids a few jars of violet jelly using the recipe you posted years ago. Their favorite jelly is dandelion jelly, also made using a recipe I got right here on the Blind Pig & the Acorn blog. I hate to hear about the canning supply shortage again this year. After a frustrating search, I was lucky enough to find what I needed last canning season. The “old stock” I found was twice as expensive as they were the previous year and several bands were rusted.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 5, 2021 at 9:12 am

    I ran out of regular mason jar lids last year. I had a few wide mouth lids but ran out of the jars. Over the winter I managed to get enough of both for this year, I think, but they are not Ball or Kerr. They don’t even have a brand name but they look fine. I also saved lids from cans I opened if they weren’t bent. I’ve seen people reuse them. I’m going to give that a try.
    Now the only thing to do now is to muster the strength to raise a garden.

  • Reply
    April 5, 2021 at 9:03 am

    My mother and grandmother would can and make jelly out of everything they could grow. We always had a 1-2 acre garden each year. This did not include the corn field. I don’t think they ever made jelly out of anything wild except blackberries, muscadines or plums. My favorite was citron preserves that was made from voluntary citrons that came back up each year. Most all of the food we ate was grown and preserved at home with some simple things like sugar, vinegar or salt. The animals were fed table scraps or corn. The poor country folks of my youth were doing organic, free range and these other things way before it ever became the fashionable thing to do. We thought it was just because we were poor.

    A citron is similar to a watermelon except it stays hard and the the inside is almost a clear yellow or greenish color. They are not good to eat, the only thing I ever knew them used for was to make preserves. I heard that even deer will not eat them.

  • Reply
    April 5, 2021 at 8:55 am

    I love canning, but since my garden has shrunk I have to figure other food food items to can. I have all this Winter canned a variety of beans, especially back beans. I also can roasts in chunks that I catch on sale. These are perfect for all the Winter soups I cook. Winter canning is great for heating up the house also. I have always kept a good stock of lids ever since the 1970’s when there was also a brief shortage. Once again my stock of lids is becoming depleted. My children/grandchildren are not interested so when I go to that “better place” somebody will get a killer deal at a fast yard sale.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 5, 2021 at 8:47 am

    Most of the work we do these days does not give us the satisfaction that canning our own vegetables. That picture of your canned foods is stunning, it makes me feel warm and satisfied. I don’t do much canning now because there is only me to feed but I used to do a lot more. A table top full of hot just canned green beans covered with a towel to let it cool and to keep the breeze off it is a truly beautiful thing to see!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 5, 2021 at 8:03 am

    You certainly do start canning season early. Wish you had included a picture of violet jelly. Sounds like it would be beautiful.

    We have violets everywhere here this year, more I think than we have ever had. They suprise me again each year that there are so many and so much difference in color. I have the prettiest dark purple violet growing out of one of the cement block cells of my bed edging out in the garden. It just thrives there.

    I wish I knew more about the history of home canning. What were the changes that came together to make it possible? Of course affordable jars that sealed were necessary. But they needed water bath canners and a cooking stove. There were a bunch of pieces that had to come together. From your excerpt, I’m thinking the “turn of the century” reference was to 1900. Somehow that seems so very recent to me. But my understanding is that the whole mass production of “airtights” in the US was a result of efforts to feed the armies of the Civil War. I guess before that it was only brining, pickling, salting, smoking, drying and packing in root cellars.

    • Reply
      April 5, 2021 at 8:43 am

      Ron-stay tuned 🙂 I made a video of making violet jelly!

    • Reply
      Margie G
      April 5, 2021 at 11:03 am

      My gig rest grandmother ( full blood Cherokee from Cherokee, NC) covered her bounty with a wax ring to cover her cans and it worked just fine. She also strung leather britches or green beans on a string with a needle and thread which were soaked to soften and then cooked. Fruits were dried on screens in the attic.

  • Reply
    Patricia Price
    April 5, 2021 at 8:02 am

    My mother canned the Kentucky Wonder pole beans that she grew, plus tomatoes. When we went “back down home” to TN on vacation in July, my parents would drive down to north Georgia for cling-free peaches to can. My grandmother canned dewberries. Best jelly ever. Do dewberries still grow down your way?

    • Reply
      April 5, 2021 at 8:44 am

      Patricia-we do have dew berries around our house, but we have a lot more blackberries 🙂

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