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Canning Has Its Own Circle of Life

by Bev Berens

Published: Friday, July 23, 2021

Telling Your Story

Like a lot of rural women, I learned about canning and preserving at my mother's and grandmother's sides. It's a tradition. At the time, it wasn't a tradition I wanted to keep alive. I thought it was second in misery only to baling hay and straw in the heat of summer. That steamy kitchen, all the prep work and endless cleanup seemed like more work than it was worth.

When Mr. Berens and I married, the little church we attended hosted a bridal shower for us. Two guests had the same idea—gleaning a box of home canned goods from their pantries. It gave me a jump start on what has reproduced into an endless supply of canning jars and gave us a little start on building our own pantry.

Eventually, a slim budget got me on the right side of the can-or-not-to-can argument. A lot of work on the front end saved time and money on the cooking and shopping end. I caught the can-do spirit or perhaps it caught me.

One of those givers became a lifelong friend and canning mentor. We would stop by their farm orchard to visit often, use their farm pond for a few hours of family catch-and-release-cheap-entertainment, and have some good conversation with them as they retired and slowed down.

I called her many times for canning advice, how to correct a problem, ask an opinion or get a new recipe. She was a great mentor.

My first "real" canning season was the year I did more than a batch or two of applesauce. I was proud of all my "full silos" in the pantry, and I would open the double doors and just admire rows of beans, peaches, cherries, jams and pears. There were dill pickles, bread and butter pickles and sweet pickle relish. There were stewed tomatoes, tomato juice, salsa and spaghetti sauce. And then there was the applesauce—jars and jars of the stuff.

The biggest canning failure over the years involved 14 quarts of corn relish. It was the only food our son requested for a graduation party. I could easily do that in the summer and have a start on his party food. Not a single jar held the seal through the winter; the corn relish never made it to the banquet table and got dumped in the manure pile to avoid a food poisoning disaster.

Dementia eventually overcame my friend, and she was no longer able to preserve the harvest. On a visit shortly after she entered assisted living, her husband gifted me with the pressure canner she used since the 1950s. How fitting that her canner came full circle and now lives in my kitchen. No longer the novice, I am now the mentor trying to help others gain confidence and skill in food preservation. I guess you could call it a canning circle of life.

Bev Berens is a freelance writer and FFA parent from Holland, Mich. She can be contacted at

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