Post #G21: We eat what we can, and what we can’t, we can.

Posted on August 22, 2020

Yesterday’s Washington Post had an article about a shortage of canning jars and other canning-related supplies.

I saw this one coming a month ago, as described in Post #G12.  At that time, I couldn’t find the jars I wanted at my go-to canning supplier, Twins Hardware in Fairfax.  Or anywhere else I normally shop.  I finally got a hot tip on jars in stock at one of our local WalMarts, and bought some wide-mouth pints there.

Oddly, since that time, jars and lids have popped up in a lot of places around here.  For a while, the Pan Am Safeway had flats of wide-mouth pints as a featured display in the produce section.  Don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.  So, for a while at least, any local shortage abated.  And I still see 12-packs of jars on the shelf when I grocery shop.  Locally, at least, whatever shortage we had seems to have ended.

That said, a quick check of Amazon verifies a modest national shortage of lids.  Looks like anything that’s at a normal price is available for delivery starting in the first week of September.  If you can’t find conventional Ball lids, you might consider trying the less-popular Tattler lids.  That’s something novice canners likely won’t know about.  I’ve used them and I’d say they work fine, but they are more finicky and less convenient than conventional Ball lids.

The nice thing about the Post article is that it lays out the rational chain from the shortage of seeds we saw this spring, to a shortage of canning supplies this fall.  People in the home-canning business saw this coming.  There just wasn’t much they could do about it.

Canning suppliers and retailers began predicting a surge when they saw the shortages that seed companies were experiencing early in the pandemic. The crops sown in the spring by newly isolated gardeners are now quite literally bearing fruit.

The Post then goes on to speculate on the psychology of it, “people are feeling insecure”, ‘the apocalypse is nigh”, and so on.  Ah, baloney.  At least not for me.  It’s more like, what am I going to do with all these cucumbers?  Again, fitting in with the causal chain from deciding to garden in the spring, to having to do something with the produce later in the year.

I’m a casual canner.  By which I mean, I can high-acid foods in a water bath canner.  Which boils down to, eh, boiling.  Boiling jars of food, in a pot, for the required length of time.  There’s really nothing to it.  It’s fairly idiot-proof as long as you strictly follow the directions of the USDA canning guide, readily available on-line at this location, or in hard copy ($19) from the Purdue Extension Service.  Other people prefer the Ball Blue Book, but as far as I can tell, the actual canning instructions are more-or-less identical to the USDA guide.

I’ve never really made my mind up about the environmental impact of home canning.  There is a lot of stove time involved.  So it does seem to be quite energy-intensive, particularly because the only place I have to can is inside my air-conditioned home.  I not only burn fossil fuel to boil the water, I burn more to take the resulting heat out of the air.  What I’m saying is that it’s not clear to me that home canning, in small lots, actually produces any net reduction in carbon footprint, compared to buying the same produce.

I look at home-canned goods as more of a delicacy than as commodity.  And something of a necessity of you have a garden of any size.  In the end, for me, it’s just a hobby.  But unlike other hobbies, it produces minimal clutter, because you eventually eat the results.