Canning food gets a fresh start

In her small Fort Worth apartment, Tina Arons leaned over the pot of simmering tomatoes, crushing them with a potato masher to release the juices.

The organic heirloom tomatoes, grown locally, would be strained, and the juice poured into sterilized canning jars and sealed in a water bath.

Later, Arons will use the juice for bloody marys.

"Yes, you could go to the store and buy tomato juice, but have you ever looked at the nutrition label on a bottle of juice?" said Arons, 24. "It's full of artificial preservatives and sodium. This way, I control what goes into my tomato juice. And it tastes really good."

Home canning is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, spurred by the flourishing local food movement, a growing desire by many to eat healthier, and a strong crop of tomatoes and other summer fruits and vegetables.

Social media networks are loaded with how-to videos, product information and recipes.

Central Market in Southlake plans to offer a canning class this month. Elizabeth Anna's Urban Farm and Garden Market in Fort Worth held one in July and plans another in September.

The Jarden Corp., which sells jars and other canning products, reports that traffic at has grown 83 percent in the past year.

There was even a national Can-It-Forward Day last month.

"Canning is hot right now. It is the big thing," said Carol Ritchie, director of the Central Market Cooking School in Southlake.

"People want to preserve the goodness of summer and enjoy it all year."

'Making a comeback'

Canning has been around since the 19th century, when the French developed a method of sealing food in bottles to prevent spoilage on long military trips. The process grew in the United States as a way for families to get through the rationing during the Great Depression and World Wars.

But today's 20- and 30-somethings, far removed from the practice, now extol its virtues.

Arons' first attempts at canning began shortly after she came across her grandmother's old cookbook. Her parents initially resisted, worried about the time commitment and mess. Her friends were confused.

Now a closet in her apartment is stuffed with cans of pickled okra, bread and butter pickles, pumpkin, peaches, tomatoes, garlic and more.

"People used to think it was weird. They would say, 'Oh, I think my grandma does that,'" Arons said. "Now it's making a comeback, and everyone wants to know more about it."

Lauren Vanderburg, 30, began canning two years ago when her mother-in-law's kumquat tree produced a bumper crop and she offered to make marmalade.

After that, she found the process mildly addictive. She now cans salsa or homemade jams to give as gifts.

"It's old-fashioned, satisfying hard work," said Vanderburg, of Arlington. "You can't beat the feeling of accomplishment."

'Forces us to

slow down'

Canning does require an initial investment in the equipment and jars, said Kim O'Donnel, founder of Canning Across America, which bills itself as a national organization committed to "putting up" food.

But it can eventually save money, she said, especially if canners grow their own food.

Since the organization began in 2009, O'Donnel said, "it has grown like wildfire" with can-ins, classes and other events nationwide.

Canning Across America's Twitter handle, @canvolution, has about 2,500 followers.

"What resonates for me is canning does take your undivided attention," said O'Donnel, who lives in Seattle. "Canning forces us to slow down, put down our mobile devices and stop multitasking."

Safety concerns, such as fears of botulism, can discourage some from trying to do their own canning, but O'Donnel and other experienced canners say following well-tested recipes from trusted sources and throwing out food that smells or looks spoiled relieve the risk.

Ginger-peach preserves

Emily Laney, 33, of Fort Worth began canning this summer as a way to provide healthy food year-round for her 19-month-old son and avoid high fructose corn syrup, frequently found in store-bought jams and jellies, and bisphenol A, a chemical that lines aluminum cans.

With her mother's help, she has canned blueberry jam and ginger-peach preserves.

"I look for what's affordable and what's in season," she said. "It is hard work, but it's fun. And it hasn't been nearly as hard as I thought."

Ritchie, with Central Market, said the struggling economy contributed to the rise of home canning.

But something else has helped the practice build a new following: taste.

"What's better than a Texas peach?" she said. "With canning, you can enjoy one in the dead of winter."

Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056

Twitter: @sarahbfw