I was amused by red squirrel dangling upside down from a branch, eating sunflower seeds out of our new bird feeder.
A couple of birds flew nearby and began scolding the acrobatic rodent for eating their feed.
Then two rabbits hopped over to investigate the seeds that had fallen on the ground. Next, our dachshunds charged out the back door to chase all the critters out of our yard. I feel like I live in a zoo.
My husband and daughter made a bird feeder with a quart-sized Mason jar and a few items from a hardware store, using directions from a do-it-yourself book. We have a lot of jars, so I also made a hand lotion dispenser, a liquid soap dispenser and some patio lights. We will use the jars for their original purpose, too.
Food sealed in glass jars played a major role in nourishing previous generations. In fact, having food “put up” for the winter meant surviving and not becoming malnourished. I’d like to share a little of the history I gleaned from JoAnn Moser’s book, “Mason Jar Nation,” that also inspired us to make a bird feeder out of a jar.
Canning history started at the time of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1795. Frenchman Nicolas Appert accepted Napoleon’s challenge to bottle food to feed the troops. The jars were sealed with corks and boiled in a process called “Appertizing” or “canning.” However, the jars sometimes broke when corks were forced into the jars. The primitive canning method also resulted in spoiled, unsafe food sometimes.
Several jar innovations occurred during the mid-1800s. John Mason was inspired to market “Mason jars” with vanishing threads (both ends of the threads vanish into the jar’s neck). Next, the early innovators needed to figure out a way to close the jars because modern plastics were not available in those days.
Zinc lids and glass lids with clamps and other closures were developed. Maybe you have seen them in an antique store. However, zinc lids left a metallic taste in the food, so along came innovator Lewis Boyd, who developed a glass plate to line the zinc lids.
When the patent expired on Mason jars in 1870, many manufacturers began developing jars, perhaps most notably the Ball brothers. Frank and Edmund Ball began their glass manufacturing company in 1880 in New York. Later, their brothers joined them, and they moved their manufacturing operation to Indiana. Besides jars, they made rubber gaskets and zinc lids, and produced a canning book in 1909.
In 1915, Alexander Kerr patented lids with a sealing compound, which essentially was the predecessor to the two-piece lid. After Alexander’s and his son’s deaths, Alexander’s wife, Rose, became the first woman executive of a glass-blowing business.
With these innovations, home canning was up and running in a big way, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture printed its first home-canning guide in 1910. Early Extension home economists began teaching home-canning techniques shortly thereafter, often riding on trains for weeks at a time to reach rural residents.
When “Victory Gardens” were launched during World War II, people began growing fresh produce anywhere, from window boxes to roofs. New safe canning guidelines were launched in the 1940s, and pressure canner sales skyrocketed.
Extension agencies throughout the U.S. continue to teach safe home-canning techniques, and the interest in canning has grown with the popularity of locally grown foods.
If you decide to preserve food, don’t use antique covers or antique advice. Recommendations are updated periodically. Be sure jars have no nicks or cracks, and use two-piece, self-sealing lids. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for preparing the lids. In some cases, they are applied directly without warming the lids.
See NDSU Extension’s updated food preservation website at www.ag.ndsu.edu/food/food-preservation for more research-based recommendations for canning, freezing, pickling and drying foods.
Acidic foods such as fruits and jams are a good place to begin your food preservation adventures. Here’s a recipe reprinted from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Complete Guide to Canning” that will provide a taste of summer during the Midwest’s cold winters.
Canned Peaches – Halved or Sliced
Quantity: An average of 17 1/2 pounds is needed per canner load of 7 quarts; an average of 11 pounds is needed per canner load of 9 pints.
Quality: Choose ripe, mature yellow-flesh peaches of ideal quality for eating fresh or cooking.
Procedure: Dip fruit in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds until skins loosen. Dip quickly in cold water and slip off skins. Cut in half, remove pits and slice if desired. To prevent darkening, keep peeled fruit in ascorbic acid solution made according to manufacturer’s directions. Prepare and boil a very light, light or medium syrup or pack peaches in water, apple juice or white grape juice. Raw packs make poor quality peaches. (See NDSU Extension’s “Home Canning Fruit and Fruit Products” for details about making syrup.)
Hot pack – In a large saucepan, place drained fruit in syrup, water or juice and bring to boil. Fill jars with hot fruit and cooking liquid, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Place halves in layers, cut side down.
Raw pack – Fill jars with raw fruit, cut side down, and add hot water, juice or syrup, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Adjust lids and process. At altitudes of 0 to 1,000 feet: process hot-packed pints for 20 minutes or raw-packed pints for 25 minutes. Process hot-packed quarts for 25 minutes or raw-packed quarts for 30 minutes.
At altitudes of 1,001 to 3,000 feet: process hot-packed pints for 25 minutes or raw-packed pints for 30 minutes. Process hot-packed quarts for 30 minutes or raw-packed quarts for 35 minutes.
See nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_02/peach_sliced.html for higher-altitude processing and for directions to pressure can.
Caution: Do not use this process to can white-flesh peaches. There is evidence that some varieties of white-flesh peaches are higher in pH (i.e., lower in acid) than traditional yellow varieties. The natural pH of some white peaches can exceed 4.6, making them a low-acid food for canning purposes. At this time, there is no low-acid pressure process available for white-flesh peaches nor a researched acidification procedure for safe boiling-water canning. Freezing is the recommended method of preserving white-flesh peaches.