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Yes, we can

Agriculture.com Staff 11/12/2008 @ 11:00pm

Count your blessings if a short trip to your pantry or cellar yields a bumper crop of home-raised fruits and vegetables for your Thanksgiving table.

During the past three decades, women have put away their pressure cookers and water bath kettles. But higher food prices, along with food safety and health concerns, are fueling a home canning comeback.

In fact, sales of Burpee garden seeds were up 40% in the past year. Retail sales of Ball canning products bounced up 30%, and plastic freezer container sales doubled.

In 1976, a short supply of canning lids sparked rumors and fueled speculation of market manipulation!

Gardening and canning won't rebound to historic levels, but a familiar catalyst is driving today's trend. "We think the pressure of energy costs will force more people to plant gardens," a Ball Corporation spokesperson told me in 1977.

The home canning surge also stems from retired baby boomers seeking a simpler life and people who want to support local farmers. Most aren't aiming for huge savings. They give canned fruit preserves as gifts or add it to flavor plain yogurt.

Today it's easier than ever, even if you don't have a green thumb. Farmers markets are feeding the trend. New Hampshire Extension homemakers teach canning at local markets. The number of University of Maine Extension canning classes leaped from eight to 25 this year.

The community of Lecanto, Florida, has a great idea. People bring in produce and jars, and they use community stoves and sinks at the Citrus County Canning Center. Open since 1935, the Center has been logging a steady increase in customers.

I'm intimidated by my mom's Ball Blue Book. But ample advice for today's novice canners can be found in books (like Canning & Preserving for Dummies by Karen Ward) and on the Web.

In another sign of the times, The Nielsen Company, a market research organization, reports the growing use of food coupons to cut food budgets. Online coupon sites are popular (www.coupons.com). Generic brands also are gaining clout at the grocery store checkout.

Higher food prices cause hardships for some Americans, and we need to do all we can to help restock food banks this holiday season.

But it may be a blessing in disguise for others -- reconnecting them to their farm roots. My brother, Dennis, recently planted fruit trees to replace the orchard at our home farm.

This year I'm looking forward to cherry pie (thanks to my parents-in-law for pitting so many cherries) and elderberry jam, put up by my daughter, Alexa, and Grandma.

As I write this column, the apple tree boughs are heavy laden. Have you ever sampled apple butter made in a slow cooker?

Count your blessings if a short trip to your pantry or cellar yields a bumper crop of home-raised fruits and vegetables for your Thanksgiving table.

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