When we talk about canning today, we picture a neat aluminium can with a pretty label, waiting for us to enjoy it. Or maybe a jar of succulent goodies waiting to be opened. It’s tough to imagine how world-changing the advent of bottling and canning really was to a world used to salted preserves or slightly iffy, bland foods. Today the Miami Canners team takes a peek behind the history of canning, and why it means so much to how we enjoy our food.
Preservation of food in the pre-canning world
One of the biggest problems people have faced globally since the invention of agriculture is how to prevent feast and famine cycles. You can easily grow enough food to keep you fed well year-round, but it doesn’t all conveniently harvest year-round. So there’s times when you have everything you need, but by mid-winter, with ice on the ground and the world dormant, you can still starve, even as the rotten food lies in piles around you.
At first, we tackled this through salting and drying meat, storing root veggies in cool root cellars, and otherwise hoping for the best. In the late 18th century, however, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte needed something better to keep hungry troops fed. So he offered a cash prize to someone who could come up with a smart solution. Nicholas Appert was the man with the plan- but it took him 15 years! He was initially inspired by wine bottles, and the way glass preserved the wine.
The power of heat and glass
His eventual revelation was that food that has been correctly heated, and then sealed in an airtight way, will not spoil. There you have the evolution of the broader term ‘canning’ for preserving fruits and veggies in glass jars, too! Over time there would be better and better innovations, like the current ‘canning lids’ you might recognize if you’re into home preservation.
In 1813, another tool got added to the arsenal. Englishman Peter Durand found a way to replicate this sterilization and sealing in unbreakable tin containers, making it even more robust. His initial work would be extended by Bryan Dorkin and John Hall, who set up the first commercial canners. Demand was huge, as the world was being explored and people needed safe food to take with them. While these early tin cans weren’t the best, and had some health issues of their own, they would eventually evolve into the completely safe, lined, aluminium cans we’re familiar with today.
Ironically, it was over half a century after these innovations that we finally learned why canning works, when Louis Pasteur showed us that microorganisms and bacteria were what spoiled food, and how high-temperature heating of non-porous containers could kill them!
As you can see, Miami Canners are carrying forward a long legacy of human smartness and innovation with our fantastic range of canned goodies. Every time you bite into a succulent pickle or dump your favourite braai sous in the pot, you’re celebrating some of the best of the human spirit, too. Are you a little curious about why Miami Canners decided to make all-things-canned our specialty? Shhh… we’re revealing that secret in our next blog!