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CANNING AND PRESERVING1
By FREDERIC WILLIAMS
the "good old'days" — pleasant myth! — we all know how the canning and preserving of the family jam and fruits was accomplished; how for days the pungent odors of spice and the boiling peaches, grapes, and quinces, not to mention the more modest tomato and the humble apple, pervaded the atmosphere of every room from cellar to attic. In those days the family recipe-book, handed down from generation to generation, added to and modified, as it passed along, was a distinctive compilation, each differing from all others of its class. Who of us does not remember, from personal experience or traditionary legend, the surpassing excellence of Mrs. Brown's red-currant jam, of Aunt Polly's pickled pears, of Grandma Jones's plum jelly? There was no more doubt that Aunt Polly's pears were juicier and sweeter and more generally delectable than Mrs. Brown's than there was that the latter's jam was in every way superior to Aunt Polly's. That was one of the secrets of the trade. A dash of a particular spice here, a drop or two of a flavoring mixture there, just the right time of boiling, a mysterious fillip of the ingredients, and, lo! preserved perfection.
But now all that is changed. No longer is preservingtime an epoch in domestic history, taking its place with pig-sticking and soap-making on the farm, and housecleaning and moving in the city. Instead of making her own jams, pickles, and catchups, the twentieth-century housewife buys them at the grocery. She may, it is true, put up a few jars and bottles of her own composition, but that is only as a sort of salve to her conscience, because she thinks it is cheaper thus and the product purer.
1 By permission of "The Cosmopolitan Magazine." Copyright, 1903, by the International Magazine Company.
As a matter of fact, it is seldom either. Science nowadays has a way of doing things much better than by the old-style methods, and machinery is so much cheaper than the hand that it scarcely pays to toil for hours with an economy of only a cent or two at the end of it. In the canned-goods factories of the present, practically every operation, even the labeling, the trimming of labels and the boxing of goods, is done by mechanical devices run by electric or steam power.
How important a factor of American commerce the canning of fruits, fish and vegetables has become may be appreciated by a study of the statistics of its growth. In 1890, there were about a thousand establishments engaged in this industry, and the value of their output was a little less than forty-five million dollars. In 1903, there were two thousand five hundred establishments, and they produced about a hundred million dollars' worth of goods.
For a long time glass jars were used for preserved fruits and vegetables of every description, but gradually these were abandoned in favor of tin cans, as they could not withstand the necessary extremes of temperature, and were expensive, and costly in transportation. An objection urged against the use of tin, that the natural acids of fruits, vegetables and fish act upon it in such a way as to form metallic salts or metallic compounds injurious to health, was found, after investigation, to be groundless if good tin is used.
Even if the tin is not of the best, an ingenious contrivance, now coming into use in canning-factories, provides against all danger of ptomain-poisoning from canned goods. By this invention a lining is fashioned of parchment, or some similar material, impervious to any of the liquid exuding from the preserved comestible. In this the article of food is placed, and is thus prevented from coming into contact with the tin of any part. The use of linings of this kind has long been recognized as a solution of the problem of possible ptomain-poisoning, but the high cost of preparing them by hand has precluded their general adoption. By the machine recently invented a single operator can fashion ten linings a minute, or about five thousand in an eight-hour day. In a practical test it was recently established that one operator with this machine — which, in brief, consists of a plunger, plates between which the paper is placed, and a cylindrical folder — can manufacture as many linings as sixty operators working by hand.
Unlike most other great industries, which, however, changed in detail, have existed in some form for a long period, the art of canning and preserving is comparatively new. Undoubtedly the thoughts of men were turned at a very early time to devising means of preventing articles of food from deterioration, but until the beginning of the nineteenth century the only methods employed to this end were drying and the use of salt and sugar.
The wars of Napoleon were directly responsible for the discovery of the efficacy of the hermetic sealing of foods in order to preserve them. Previous experiments by scientists had established beyond a doubt that the decomposition of food is due to the presence of a living organism known as "ferment," and in 1795 one Nicholas Appert stimulated by the offer of a reward by the French Navy Department for a method of preserving foods for sea-service, submitted to his government a treatise bearing upon the means of killing this organism or precluding its presence. His method was to enclose fruit in a glass jar, which was then corked and subjected to the action of boiling water.
As the principle of Appert's method has proved by time and experience to be correct, and is that on which all canning and preserving has since been done, it is interesting to read his own words on the subject. He wrote:
"It is obvious that this new method of preserving animal and vegetable substances proceeds from the simple principle of applying heat in a due degree to the several substances after having deprived them as far as possible of all contact with the external air. It might, on the first view of the subject, be thought that a substance, either raw or previously acted upon by fire, and afterward put into hot bottles, might, if a vacuum were made in those bottles and they were completely corked, be preserved equally well with the application of heat in the water-bath. This would be an error, for all trials I have made convince me that absolute privation of the contact of external air (the internal air being rendered of no effect by the action of heat), and the application of heat by means of the water-bath, are both indispensable to the complete preservation of alimentary substances."
The early manufacture of tin cans for preserving purposes was very crude. The bodies simply were cut with shears and the side seam made with a plumb-joint, and then soldered together. Heads were made to set into the body, and were soldered in place in a very primitive fashion. One hundred of these cans were considered a good day's output for an average workman. Now tin cans are made by labor-saving devices, which have reduced their cost enormously, all parts being made and put together by mechanical apparatus.
Although glass and crockery jars have been largely abandoned as receptacles for preserved vegetables and for many kinds of fruits, they are still employed for pickles, catchups, jams, and the choicer grades of other kinds of preserved goods. Some of the larger concerns engaged in the manufacture of this class of food have their own glass-factories, as well as their own cooperages and repair shops. As many as two thousand persons are employed in one or two of the principal plants_of this sort.
Each establishment has its own distinctive quality of output, and the maintaining of a uniform character of goods requires a strict adherence to recipes for ingredients, and to rules for packing. All bottles of mixed pickles, for example, the product of any particular factory, are uniform in number, arrangement and color of contents. A model is learned by each packer, and the bottles are filled with a precision which precludes any haphazardness of method.
Pickles and whole fruits are put in the bottles or jars by hand, but catchup, baked beans, peas, and the like, are handled by machinery. A catchup-bottling machine is a quite perfect piece of mechanism. A silver-lined pipe leads the prepared mixture from a large reservoir above and allows it to run into the bottles in a continuous stream as they pass beneath its mouth. From fifteen to twenty-one are filled at a time. As the bottles are filled, they are corked by machinery, and then placed by an operator in a conveyer which passes them along to a "capper," who dips them in melted wax and places a tin-foil cap on each. The conveyer then carries them through a sheet-iron tunnel, where they are washed by