Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Community Canning House: A Relief Enterprise

The history of preserving food through canning dates back to the French Revolution in the late 18th century. The armies suffered from limited food availability, limiting military campaigns to the summer and autumn months. In 1795, the need for a steady supply of quality food for the French army and navy led the French government to offer a reward of 12,000 francs to anyone who could develop a reliable method of food preservation.

Nicholas Appert, a Frenchman from Champagne's region who worked as a chef for French nobility, set his sights on the prize. He committed himself to study food preservation, and his experimentations led to the successful preservation of food in hermetically sealed containers sterilized by heat. His experiments began with "champagne bottles, sealed airtight with an oddly effective mixture of cheese and lime."

He then progressed to wide-necked glass containers that he had made especially for food preservation. "In 1803 his preserved foods (which came to include vegetables, fruit, meat, dairy and fish) were sent out for sea trials with the French navy." By 1809, Appert was declared the official winner; the French government gave him the award but stipulated that he publish his method. His book, The Art of Preserving, for Several Years, all Animal and Vegetable Substances, was published the following year.

That same year the use of tin for canning was introduced by an English businessman, Peter Durand, who patented the use of tin-coated iron cans instead of bottles. Another fifty-years passed before Louis Pasteur was able to explain why Appert's method was effective. That the heat killed microorganisms in the food, and the sealing kept other microorganisms from getting in. The idea to can sodas didn't happen until 1940, which is interesting considering the first soda machine was patented in 1819.

The availability of canned food has played a critical role in man's survival during non-harvest seasons, times of war, and economic recessions. During the great depression of the early 1930s, canning houses sprang up in communities across Bossier Parish, providing residents with access to canning equipment for home-growers to preserve their backyard harvest. During the Second World War, food rationing revived community canneries as people grew victory gardens to meet their nutritional needs.

Lettie VanLandingham performing one of her
many canning demonstration in Bossier Parish
Gay England Collection: 2013.041.038
Community canning houses were both educational as well as a relief enterprise. Home Demonstration Agents, like Lettie VanLandingham, spent countless hours giving canning demonstrations throughout Bossier Parish. Under her supervision, some 23 canning centers were built and operated throughout the parish as the Bossier Parish Demonstration Agent from 1929-1960.

Many of the canning houses were located within the agricultural department of schools or in a canning house built on school grounds. This allowed girls in 4-H to learn the art of canning. These 4-H'ers formed canning clubs and helped address food shortages in the community.

Canning prevents food waste, saves money, is earth-friendly, and provides healthful nutrition. In 1987, the Canned Food Information Council designated February as National Canned Food Month to break down misconceptions that canned food is less nutritious than fresh food.

By: Amy Robertson

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