Why We Can - lead image with personal photos
Table Talk Voices

Why We Can

"Every time you open a jar of home-canned food, you relive your relationships of growing, sharing, and supporting."

Chances are you have at least one Mason jar kicking around your house. Maybe it’s serving as an ad-hoc drinking glass, a flower vase, or a pencil holder. But it was not so long ago that in many American households, canning jars were vessels of necessity and self-reliance. They made it possible to suspend the abundance of victory garden harvest while freeing up rations to feed troops on the fronts in World Wars I and II; they were the unspoken second act of growing food for your family.

Our whimsical associations with canning jars prove that in our time, we can because we want to, not because we have to. Canning is a privilege, a pleasure, and a passion that connects generations. 

My own relationship with canning is, I will admit, love/hate. Why, I think to myself as I labor next to a giant boiling kettle and piles of sticky dish towels, do I do this to myself? The supposed economy of home canning is offset by investments of other limited resources: time and effort. 

It took me years of early morning and late night cursing over my mom’s old spatterware canner to realize that my own home canning practice endures because it preserves community, not just food. My friend gives me pears from his neighbor’s pear tree; I make pear butter. Dad and I pick green beans from his garden and I can them to brighten our dismal winter months. Murphy’s Farm, who grow most of the local produce I buy, sell me their lovely beets for my favorite beet chutney, and I give a jar to them. 

Every time you open a jar of home-canned food, you relive your relationships of growing, sharing, and supporting. Things in jars make meaningful gifts. Canning them empowers you whether you do it a lot or once every few years. It makes you a miro-industry, one where you call the shots. This collection of recipes, profiles, and essays puts you right there in the steamy collective kitchen of the canning tradition, one that evolves and will continue to do so as long as empty jars sit ready for you to fill them.

Sara Bir, Senior Editor

Personal Essays & Interviews About Canning

Annette Thurman

Simply Recipes / Annette Thurmon

What Aunt Marty Taught Me About Canning and Life

Certain things skip generations. But the love of growing and preserving food that graced her aunt Marty is also deeply entrenched in Annette Thurmon. In this deeply personal reflection, Thurmon revisits the memory of her aunt's canning shelf and finds the values that continue to teach her lessons about life as a mother and farm girl.

Daniel Perry

Simply Recipes / Daniel Perry

"Jam According to Daniel" Has a Story for Every Jam

At a weekly farmers market in Charlottesville, Virginia, customers stand across from jam maker Daniel Perry and recount stories—childhoods, mothers, and grandmothers remembered through jam. That's the kind of power jam has, the power of nostalgia. "In this sensory space—this stand of jam—it's so intimate," says Perry in an interview with Myo Quinn.

Sally Vargas

Simply Recipes / Sally Vargas

How a Mother Preserves Memories in Jars of Jam 

The hard, messy days of motherhood makes you want to skip ahead. Yet the sweet moments are fleeting and impossible to slow down. Sally Vargas preserves the memories of raising her now-grown son, for reasons not distant from why she makes jam. "It preserves a moment that cannot be stopped."

Nancy Hopkins

Simply Recipes / Nancy Hopkins

What Making One Jam a Day All Summer Long Taught Me

Nancy Hopkins spent over 20 years reading, writing, and editing jam recipes, but never once made jam on her own—until this summer. She leaned on Virginia's summer fruit bounty, from farmers markets, roadside apple trees, and berries grown along the Appalachian Mountains to make one jam a day. Here's what she learned.

Sister Colette

Simply Recipes / Sister Colette

Tiktok Star Sister Colette Cultivates a Can-Do Attitude About Canning

Annelies Zijderveld interviewed Sister Colette, a joyful, purpose-driven educator and TikTok star, who wants you to know that, "Anybody can can." Her tips for planning ahead, tempering fear, and developing a relationship with your canner will inspire you.