Written by Danyka LeClair for the Cautious Optimist: Danielle Moore Legacy Project.

I clearly remember the smell and sound when entering my grandparent’s house as a kid. There was a trail of tobacco smoke coming from my grandfather’s pipe and ascending to the ceiling. That unpleasant smell was quickly (and thankfully) replaced by fresh pancakes being cooked by my grandmother. The radio was always playing the same type of Acadian bluegrass music or a Johnny Cash song with my grandpa often singing along, gently stroking his precious Gibson guitar to the beat. Even now, 15 years later, nothing has changed. I am fortunate enough to still be able to spend quality time with my grandparents who are not even close to slowing down. I wish I had my grandma’s energy! She is either cooking, washing the car, hosting yet another family member at the house or even dancing at 1am in bars with her cowboy boots. 

Grandma cutting a rug!

My grandpa came from a large Acadian family (13 children in total) in northern New Brunswick and always had fresh food on the table. He recounts his early days at the farm, killing and prepping the chickens, churning milk into butter and storing the root vegetables into the ground cellar. My grandma’s family (10 children in total) wasn’t so lucky. Like many other Acadian families at the time, they were poor. She remembers serving dinner to the men first, then the boys, the women, and at last, the girls. Even now, she eats every part of the turkey at thanksgiving, reminding me every year that the heart is the best part and not to waste anything. When my mother was growing up, money wasn’t always flowing in, but she said that my grandparents always made sure that the fridge was full of food. As a young child, I was always told at my grandparents’ house to never ask for food and always eat when I was hungry. My grandma never wanted us to feel hungry like she did.

Even though my grandpa and grandma came from different socio-economic classes, they shared similar food traditions: harvesting wild fruits and vegetables (berries, hazelnuts, fiddleheads) and preserving that food. At a time when families didn’t have freezers or fridges, those were crucial skills to have. They passed on the harvesting part to my sister and I by bringing us every summer to pick wild blueberries, driving deep into the forest to find the perfect spot. Since starting university, I wanted to learn the correct canning method, but was never satisfied with the Youtube videos on the subject. I feared botulism, an illness caused by the botulinum toxin that leads to paralysis and can be fatal if left untreated. The toxin produces spores that are often found in poorly preserved canned food. However, if done well, canning has many advantages and can help survive a climate apocalypse. It can (no pun intended) encourage people to grow their own food, which reduces the cost of groceries and can lead towards self-sufficiency. If gardening is not your thing, canning can also be cost-efficient and environmentally-friendly when buying food in season to prepare into sauces/soups/jams. 

Volunteering and working for Waterlution’s Great Canoe Journey project, I interacted with many indigenous knowledge holders. In most indigenous cultures, knowledge is passed-on from generation to generation and strong bonds are formed between grandparents and children when teachings are shared. This, I find, is the most beautiful way of strengthening families and communities. I think Danielle Moore was conscious of the power of human connections when she created her Cautious Optimist blog. All of that inspired me to call my grandmother and ask her if she could teach me everything she knew about canning, and I’m really excited to share it with you.

Canning with GRANDMOTHER

The Basics:

If you want to save even more money and be kind to the environment, you can reuse and wash the store-bought spaghetti sauce jars. Although according to my grandma, you should always use new lids (which you also need to sterilize in hot water). Preheat the oven at 300° F. While the soup is cooking (or any other preparation), boil water and pour into each jar. 

When the soup is ready (make sure it is still boiling), use a funnel to fill the jars. Leave approximately half an inch of headspace. 

Using a dry towel to protect your hands from the heat, secure the lids over the jars (make sure it is tight).

 Place the jars on top of a cookie sheet and into the oven for at least 20 minutes. 

Carefully remove the sheet from the oven with protective gloves and place on the counter. Wait for the jars to cool-down.  

According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, ‘’properly canned food stored in a cool, dry place will retain optimum eating quality for at least 1 year’’.

This is my grandmother’s way of doing it, and she never fell ill. However, having heard other instructions before, I did a quick research to find the safest way of preserving food. Turns out my grandma is not exactly the safest in her canning methods! This is not completely bad news since I will have an excuse to head back to New-Brunswick and share this with her. The teaching cycle continues.

Canning kits are also available in many stores like Walmart and Costco, and you can also order online. Here are the most important pieces of information to know before attempting canning (National Center for Home Food Preservation).

Is it necessary to sterilize jars before canning?

Jars do not need to be sterilized before canning if they will be filled with food and processed in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes or more or if they will be processed in a pressure canner. Jars that will be processed in a boiling water bath canner for less than 10 minutes, once filled, need to be sterilized first by boiling them in hot water for 10 minutes before they’re filled.

Is it safe to process food in the oven? (hmmm maybe I should tell my grandma?)

No. This can be dangerous because the temperature will vary according to the accuracy of oven regulators and circulation of heat. Dry heat is very slow in penetrating into jars of food. Also, jars explode easily in the oven.

Is it all right to reuse jar fittings (lids and bands)?

Lids should not be used a second time since the sealing compound becomes indented by the first use, preventing another airtight seal. Screw bands may be reused unless they are badly rusted or the top edge is pried up which would prevent a proper seal.

To learn more about The Cautious Optimist Legacy Project, visit: https://waterlution.org/the-cautious-optimist-danielle-moore-legacy-project/