Early Canning Required Resourcefulness

Early canning utilized fruit jars and National pressure cookers.


| January 2013



Canning

A scarcity of canning jars in a frontier settlement leads to creative canning techniques.

Photo By iStockphoto/Ralph Baleno

The date when glass was invented is unknown. One story theorizes that ancient Phoenician merchants built a campfire on a beach and afterward found glass in the ashes. Further research shows glass found at early Egyptian and Roman sites dating back 2,150 years.

Today, it is hard to imagine a world without glass. However, just such a world existed here on the plains 121 years ago, when glass was nearly impossible to obtain in a remote area. Bill Russell, Clarendon, Texas, found evidence of that in an oral interview conducted in 1936.

Lou Naylor and family, who came to the area in 1891, lived in a dugout 12 miles east of newly founded Clarendon. The wild plum and grape crop was excellent that summer, so the Naylors decided to make jelly. Sugar could be bought that summer in Clarendon, but not fruit jars.

Undaunted, the men were sent to gather empty whiskey and wine bottles. The bottles were filled with cold water up to the base of the neck. Heavy twine was soaked in coal oil and tied around the bottle at the water line. The twine was set afire, and when it dropped off the bottle was tapped against the table where, hopefully, the neck broke off.

Next, the jar’s sharp edges were ground smooth on a flat stone. The new glasses were cleaned and filled with jelly. Brown wrapping paper was cut into circles, dipped into hot vinegar water and hung to dry. Later, the circles were laid atop the glasses, folded over the rim and tied in place with string. The vinegar odor seemed to keep insects away while the jars were in storage in the root cellar.

The Trew family owned a cellar full of fruit jars and a National pressure cooker made in Eau Claire, Wis. Mother had it tested each year at the Home Demonstration agent’s office in Perryton, Texas, and it still sits in storage in our well house. It held quart jars or two layers of pint fruit jars. I can remember carrying bushel baskets of jars from the cellar to the kitchen when Mother started her summer canning.