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Lessons from the 1940s – Yes, I Can!

US poster promoting canning, 1943

US poster promoting canning, 1943

My plum tree overfloweth. Right now, two bags full of ripe plums are sitting on my kitchen counter, saying, “We want to jam!” 

Soon I’ll boil jars, pit and puree plums, measure sugar, and emotionally bond with my ancestors.

Something about canning appeals to me. I love my food processor, heavy-duty mixer, and modern stove. I love buying my meat already butchered and wrapped in clear plastic. I love my pantry and refrigerator bulging with food. But all of this distances me from reality.

Food comes at a price. Food takes work. Food is precious.

US poster promoting canning, 1944

US poster promoting canning, 1944

In the 1940s, everyone knew that. While most people didn’t have to do their own butchering, meat was rationed and scarce. Housewives had to come up with dishes that didn’t require meat or used whatever was available.

Everyone was encouraged to plant Victory Gardens to grow ration point-free produce for their families. Canning was a necessity to preserve these fruits and vegetables for year-round use. Each household was even allowed an extra ration of precious sugar just for canning use.

I make my own jam for many reasons. It uses up the fruit so it doesn’t go to waste. It saves me a bit of money. It makes the house smell divine. And homemade jam is yummy. But I also love the sense of continuity with the past, and the reminder that food is a gift from God to be cherished and never taken for granted.

How about you? Do you have any canning memories? Do you enjoy canning?

7 responses to “Lessons from the 1940s – Yes, I Can!”

  1. Growing up, we lived in a residential area just behind the Royal Palace with no shoppes (albeit these were located nearby down the street)…Bakery, Pastry shoppe (2 different shoppes too), butcher, deli, fishmonger, and of course the market on Saturdays, etc…Granny did not can but I remember her occasional jam preparation. No pressure cooker, no boiling bath, just a good old ‘marmite’ and melted paraffin on the top to seal – these days we have waxed tissue discs – and voila!
    I have just discovered US cookery books from
    1831, 1855, 1857, 1887, 1910, 1942, 1946 etc..
    Call me ‘spellbound’! Two things I love most: cooking and reading!

  2. Liz Tolsma says:

    I’m discovering the joy of canning. I put up strawberry, blackberry and blueberry jam. On Saturday, I canned bread and butter pickles. I’m freezing beans and peas from my garden. You’re right – canning connects us to the past, thinking about the hard work they had to see themselves through the winter. I would LOVE to win a copy of this book. It sounds PERFECT for my WWII research!! I’m also going to bookmark this page. What a research treasure trove. Thanks for posting it!!

  3. Gabrielle E. says:

    I’d love to win the copy as well. Gabrielle at [email protected]

  4. I already love to cook. Canning is my next project to get into and I have just started sewing. Suzy homemaker is my new name 🙂


  5. dburgess01 says:

    I have never tried canning before, but I love to cook and this looks like fun!! :o)

  6. Rachel says:

    Sarah, you probably know by now I love to can my own foods! I just finished a whole bushel of green beans yesterday. Our corn is just about ready and I’m anxiously awaiting our next ‘canning session.’ I also feel I am carrying on the traditions my grandparents passed down to us. So glad you wrote a post on this, and as always…love the posters from the era.
    p.s. you do not have to enter my name in the drawing, I already own the book! 🙂

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