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Canned Foods

( Originally Published 1917 )



The ever present tin can. Altogether the most wonderful and important development in providing the world with food is typified by the tin can that is found wherever man sets his foot whether in the heart of the great city or on the ice plains of the polar regions. This can of "tinned food" to use the English term is so widely used that it is one of the most commonplace objects that can be mentioned. It is so common, in fact, that the sight of a shelf full of these goods in a grocery, a kitchen, or a pantry hardly stirs a thought in the mind of the average boy or girl. The existence of this form of food is accepted as being quite as much a matter of course as beans, peas, or tomatoes growing in a garden. In fact, there are many thousands of boys and girls in the great cities who have never seen these vegetables growing. Unless they were told to the contrary, it would be natural for such children to think that tin cans were really the source of many fruits and vegetables. For, so far as their own vision is concerned, these children are able to trace these foods no nearer their source than the can. This odd viewpoint of the child of the crowded city districts is important and interesting here, because it brings out vividly the fact that canned foods are now so universal in their distribution that they. are common in places where the same foods in a natural or uncanned state are either rare or unknown.

Appert's methods still followed. Roughly speaking, all there is to canning is simply putting the food in containers we nearly always use tin now sealing these, and heating them to a temperature that kills every little organism that would make the food sour or decay. Foods canned in glass containers are usually cooked before being placed in the jars or bottles. This heating or cooking process is called sterilization killing the germs. In both cases the canners kill the germs by heat and keep out new ones by simply shutting out all air. You see, the organisms that make foods sour are everywhere. The air is full of them. The sugar that is used ,in making jelly, jam, and marmalade tends to preserve these products. If you find sugar in a canned food you know that it has been placed there simply to sweeten it. Foods properly canned do not require sugar or anything else to keep them pure and wholesome.

There is practically no limit to the kinds of foods that may be canned or preserved. The list includes fruits, vegetables, fish, meats, soups, milk, sauces, salads, in fact almost anything you eat.

Canning increases variety of our table foods. There are very few fruits or vegetables that cannot be raised in the United States; and since by canning these foods it is possible to ship them all over the world and to keep them almost indefinitely, it is possible for the family in Maine to put on their table during a winter blizzard the foods that could be raised only in the very warm and moist parts of the South. For the same reason it is possible for the man who lives in the desert country of the West and Southwest to have the finest fruits, fish, vegetables, and delicacies that our country produces.

Canned foods from foreign countries. Now in regard to the part played by foreign countries in supplying us with canned foods: We are proud to be able to say that the canned foods consumed in the United States are almost wholly produced in this country. The canned foods which are sent from other countries are, for the most part, rare delicacies which are mentioned in the chapter "Tempting Table Delicacies," and a great many of these foreign foods are so expensive as to be out of reach of the average American pocketbook.

In a recent year we find that other countries sent us canned vegetables worth a little, more than $1,500,000 and canned fruits worth about $5,000,000. The total value of canned meats imported from other countries was less than $2,000,000.Now think for a moment how great our own canning industry is: each year the American canners put up more than 50,000,000 cases of two dozen cans each. This is over 1,200,000,000 cans or 60 cans of food for each family in this country that otherwise might go to waste. And this is saved for our tables for all seasons of the year. In the United States there are about 3,000 canneries at work for us.

When canned fruit excels fresh. Canned pineapples from Hawaii are much better in flavor than the fresh pineapples we buy, in the markets. This is because those in cans were picked ripe, while those in our markets were picked 'green so they would stand shipping and be ripe when they reached this country.

The relation between canned foods and geography. Here is an excellent opportunity to study geography. First let us see from what parts of our own country we get canned foods.

Find Seattle, Washington, on your map. From here we get a portion of our supply of canned salmon. A great deal of this canned fish is packed on the shores of Alaska and much comes from the Columbia River. Now go all the way across the country to Florida. This state furnishes some of our canned pineapple, although the greater part of our supply of this fruit comes from the Hawaiian Islands, where certain large American canning and preserving companies have their own plantations for the growing of fruit and vegetables with which to make their product. A limited amount of canned pineapple now comes from the West Indies.

Next find Michigan. It is from there that we get many different varieties of canned berries and small fruits. Of course there are many other states from which we get the same products, among which are New York, Maryland, Maine, Oregon, Delaware, and Virginia. Also California gives us a wonderful variety of fruits. Indeed, we may say' that this state alone produces a greater variety of fruit than any country in the world except our own. It is the foremost canning state of the Union.

As you know, there are many fruits which come from a great many different states. Among these are the pears, plums, and cherries. Strawberries are most easily raised in Oregon, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, California, Washington, Missouri, Michigan, and other northern states, although they do well in practically every other state in the Union.

As for canned vegetables, they are put up in every state. The greater. part of the canned corn is grown in the Middle West Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Nebraska although choice corn is grown in the West. In the East, New York, Maryland, and Maine play an important part in making up our yearly supply of canned corn and also of tomatoes, peas, and other common vegetables. Our canned asparagus comes mostly from California and her sister states in the West and from Florida, although some df it is from the Southern and Central States.

Now let us see what we import from other countries. If you will refer to the chapter on delicacies you will find a fairly complete review of the fruits and vegetables which we import.

Take your map and trace to their sources some of the foods that you have eaten recently. This will undoubtedly take you to" many foreign lands, especially if your parents are lovers of the dainties we buy from the Old World.

While the United States leads the world in the canning industry, there are, nevertheless, many small canning plants in the European countries. Holland, for instance, has canneries that put up several hun dred different foods, which include practically every vegetable obtainable, not only separately, but mixed with other vegetables, with fruits and meats and fish; for example, "mixed peas," "green peas and spring carrots," "beef and onions," "green peas and. veal," ."anchovies with pimiento peppers and truffles," "chestnuts and sausages," and many other combinations. They also put up a great variety of sauces, soups, potted game, poultry, and sausages.

Holland is by no means the only European country that turns out a quantity of canned foods. France and Italy are important canning countries. France cans mushrooms, truffles, sardines, asparagus, and potted meats; while England is famous the world over for the delicious sauces, ketchups, pickles, jams, and jellies which she exports. It may surprise .you to know that over 90 per cent of the canned food England exports she must first buy and ship in from other lands.

Not only in our country, but in Europe too, the use of canned foods is becoming more common with each passing year. That is because the public is gradually learning the truth about the purity and convenience of canned foods.

Putting up foods at home. Those of you who live in small towns and in the country have seen your mothers or sisters "can" or put up the vegetables and fruits from your garden and orchard. Have you ever wondered how the big canning factories do it? At home perhaps you help gather the fruit, berries, and vegetables that are to be canned or preserved. You know how you go out early in the. morning, while the dew is still on the grass, and pick whatever is to be put up. You know how these things are prepared for cooking. They must be washed, or hulled, or peeled, or, in the case of some fruit, the stones must be removed.

The next process, you will remember, is to boil the fruit sometimes with sugar and sometimes without and now you must look sharp to see that it does not boil over or burn. When the fruits, berries, or vegetables are ready for canning, how carefully mother washes the jars, glasses, cans, or other containers. This is done with boiling water so that they will be thoroughly sterilized which means to wash away every impurity, to kill any germs in the 'container, and to sweeten it. Next the cooked food is poured in steaming hot and the top fastened down tight. Now the containers are turned upside down and left for a time, to be sure that there are no leaks and that air cannot get in and spoil the food. Then the canned food is put away in a cool, dark place until needed.

A trip through a modern canning factory. Now we will make a trip through one of the big modern canning factories, where a wide variety of foods are received and put up, and see how the work is done there. The superintendent has agreed to take us through, show us everything, and explain all the processes as we go along.

"Years ago," he says, "we did not encourage visitors to our plant, but we have since learned that the average American is prejudiced against all canned foods not put up by his wife or mother, believing they are handled in an unclean or careless manner. Therefore we are now doing everything possible to show our customers how we do our work where we get the food we put up and how we handle it.

Selecting the foods. "Now let me tell you something of the care we use in the selection of the food we can. At home your mother went into her own garden and took the vegetables from the vine or stalk and the fruit from the tree or bush, sorted them, threw away what she did not wish to. use, and put up the remainder in the way she thought best. No one else handled them and she knew they were just what they should be, and that nothing harmful was put into the can.

"That is the good old fashioned way. Now let me tell you how we select and handle our food.

"We really choose the food before it is planted. Our first step is to find farmers who understand their business, who will raise what we want, and raise it in the right way. The next step is to buy for them the very best seed that can be found. After that the farmer is instructed as to the proper way to plant this seed and raise the food by men whose business it is to see that our instructions are followed. The right time is chosen for harvesting, which is done in the most up-to-date and sanitary manner.

Shipping, cleaning, and preparing foods. "Then the food is delivered by the farmer to our near-by station, where it is carefully sorted and shipped to this plant in our own cars. As a rule, however, the canning factory is located in the district where the produce is grown. Immediately upon its arrival, it is again sorted and sent to the cleaning machines.

"These cleaning or washing machines are large tanks in which the food is allowed to remain until the dirt is loosened. The food is then stirred gently by.agitating the water and next sprayed. The force of the spray depends entirely upon the hardness of the food, for the force of water necessary to remove dirt from beets would destroy strawberries or rasp-berries. Some hard-coated products, like peas, are washed in wire cylinders which revolve rapidly under water.

" While some fruits do not need any further preparation before cooking, there are many that do, and almost every vegetable must go through one or more machines between the washer and the cookers. Peaches, apples, pears, and similar fruits must be peeled and cut in pieces. The pits must be removed from some of the stone fruits.

"String beans must be cut in lengths; peas must be shelled, graded both for size and for quality, washed, and blanched, With us this, means parboiling. You see that big vat over there with the wire ladles over it? The peas or other vegetables to be blanched are put in those big ladles, dropped into the boiling water for the proper length of time, and then automatically lifted out. When we are blanching mushrooms or other delicate foods we prepare them in that small vessel you see, and we add lemon juice and butter to the water in which they are blanched. Fresh, clean water is used for each batch of vegetables.

Methods of cooking and canning. "Some foods are cooked in the can and some are already cooked when placed in the can. Fish, for instance, is usually cooked after it has been canned. If you will step over here to. these large copper vats, which are heated by steam coils, I will show you how pork and beans and other things already cooked are put in cans.

"Notice this big vat, in which four hundred bushes of the choicest beans are being cooked, and the next one which contains many gallons of tomato sauce. These beans are cooked boiled just as your mother cooks them. See! They are dumping the beans into another and larger vat. Notice how plump and white they are. Now they are adding the tomato sauce. Over at that table you will notice a dozen or more girls cutting pork into small pieces. Now see that machine filling the cans with the beans and sauce with some of the pork added. Now the tops are automatically put on the cans by a compressed air `capper which clamps on the top without the aid of solder. This capping machine can seal about eighteen hundred cans an hour. You see that belt carrying the sealed cans into a large trough of boiling water? Should there be a leak in a can, the inspector would instantly detect air bubbles forming upon it and would reject it. This boiling water also serves to sterilize thoroughly the canned product.

"Now the cans are transferred to another traveling belt which conveys them through cold water that cools them again, as the food would not be good to eat if it stayed hot too long.

Preserving peaches. "Those ten steam heated vats across the room are used for cooking fruits and sirups. In the fourth one they are putting up peaches. A shipment of three cars of peaches all perfectly ripe was received and so we are running them through as fast as possible. If some of them had not been quite ripe, we should have kept them in cool rooms until they were ripened.

"That big machine with a number of slanting screens is the size grader. We first grade our peaches for size. Then they are cut in half, pitted, and 'passed on to the peelers. One way of peeling them is: to steam the peaches and slip the skins off. Another, way of peeling them is to dip them into lye, which eats away the skin, after which they are washed in water to remove any trace of the lye. Still another way is to peel them by hand with a knife; but that is a slow method. Steaming is the hardest way, and requires the most care, but we think the result is worth it.

"Our next step is to place the peaches carefully in those big steam heated vats and cook them as your mother cooks her preserves. When cooked, they are placed in cans and bottles which have been sterilized with steam, and then the sirup is added. After the gontainers are sealed the peaches go through the same process as beans and other canned foods.

Making salad dressings and pickles. "Like most large factories that can fruits and vegetables, we also put up salad dressings and pickles, We shall now go to the room where a certain kind of salad dressing is made. We sell many thousand cases of dressing each year and at times have three mixing machines working steadily for weeks, combining the ingredients.

"That first machine is the mustard grinder. Into the top of it pours an endless stream of round black mustard seed, and from the bottom flows a thick yellow powder. This mustard is next passed into the mixer, an enormous metal cylinder in which revolve great paddle wheels. These paddles thoroughly stir and mix the various seasonings which are added to the mustard to produce the salad dressing. Finally the dressing is placed in an immense tank, from which it is drawn by taps as it is needed. Some days as many as ten thousand bottles will be filled with the dressing from this tank.

"It is impossible for me to give you any idea of the number of acres of cucumbers which are made into pickles in this country in a single day. Over there are ten carloads of cucumbers soaking in brine and that will be but a small part of the cucumbers pickled in our plant this year.

"This one plant uses the output of more than twenty farms or patches of cucumbers. When the farmers bring the cucumbers in to the various substations of the factory, they are placed in brine and shipped in special tank cars. At the factory they are taken out, washed, and sorted. Then they are placed in enormous wooden hogsheads which are perhaps sixteen feet deep and twenty feet wide. Into these hogsheads are poured many gallons of brine to cure the cucumbers. After they are cured the cucumbers are sucked out through large pipes and emptied upon sorting tables, where those of inferior quality are culled. All cucumbers that are misshapen or broken, but the quality of which is in no way lowered, are used for chopped and sliced pickles, relishes, and similar products. Those of poor quality are thrown out.

"The next process is the pickling. If sour pickles are wanted, vinegar is added to the cucumbers; and if dill pickles are wanted, great bunches of dill (an aromatic plant) are placed in the vat with the cucumbers. After a certain length of time the pickles are removed and packed in small kegs, jars, bottles, barrels, hogsheads, or other containers ready for shipping. The choice pickles that are put up in bottles are hand packed.

"Many vegetables besides cucumbers and fruits are also pickled.

The importance of lable. The last process these cans and bottles go through befoe being shipped is that of labeling. All our fancy foods we label by hand in order to make them as attractive as possible to the buyer. In recent years the label has become extremely important. Formerly labels were placed on canned foods so that the storekeeper and the customer might easily find the article wanted. Later the label was used as an advertising medium, and still later, with some concerns, as a means to hoodwink the consumer. But the Food and Drugs Act put an end to this. Today all labels must state plainly just what and how much the can contains. This law is a help to the honest manufacturer and distributor as well as to the consumer.

Now you have had a little glimpse of the inside workings of an up-to-date canning factory. This factory does not can fish, nor milk, nor rare fruits, nor meats except those that are put up with vegetables. It merely takes care of such fruits and vegetables as are most commonly grown in the section around it. But you know of course that it is possible to can practically every food we use on our table. Oysters and hominy are canned, and canned soups are now used all over our country as well as abroad.

Canning milk. We have said nothing about the canning of milk. Of course you know that milk spoils more quickly, perhaps, than any other food, and unless it is kept in a very cold container it is almost sure to sour and thus become unfit for drinking. But the canner has met this condition by working out safe, clean methods for carrying milk in sealed cans. You have no doubt seen your mother use what she calls evaporated milk. She punches two holes in the top of the can; one hole lets in air and the other lets out milk. Now this evaporated milk is merely fresh milk from which the greater portion of water has been taken, then the can sealed and heated to a high temperature, which, of course, sterilizes the milk. Sterilizing keeps milk from spoiling just as it keeps corn or tomatoes or beans fresh.

Condensed milk, which is thicker than evaporated milk, is not sterilized but is merely milk from which a large amount of water has been taken by patented processes and which is then sweetened with sugar sirup. This sweetening keeps the milk from souring. American milk condensers use about 1,300,000,000 pounds of fresh milk each year in making condensed and evaporated milks. The average price paid the farmer for this milk in a normal year was $1.56 a hundred pounds, so that through this industry the American farmer sells each year about $20,000,000 worth of fresh milk that must otherwise spoil or be sold for a price considerably lower.

We now make most of the condensed and evaporated milks used in this country, but it is quite possible that at some future day condensers in Europe may furnish a large portion of it. For in Europe labor is so cheap and the materials used in the production of milk are obtained so cheaply that foreign condensers are able to ship milk to America and sell it at a lower price than American condensers must ask for theirs. In Europe women and boys and girls work in the dairy barns, milk the cows, and do a great deal of the farm work. They receive low wages, which, of course, makes the cost of producing fresh milk much lower than in this country where men receive higher wages and where it is not customary for women and children to work in dairy barns.

The canner a conservationist. Now the canner not only. plays an important part in our civilization by furnishing us wholesome and safe foods which can be stored away in a limited amount of space and used at all seasons of the year, but he is also what we call a conservationist. A conservationist is one who cares for and uses to the best possible advantage any natural resource. Of course, there are no resources quite so valuable or important as our natural and cultivated foods. Suppose, for example, there were no canneries in this country. What would become of the thousands and thousands of tons of fruits, vegetables, fish, and meats in many localities that could not be eaten when fresh because the supply greatly exceeded the demand? We should simply have an enormous waste, and later food would be scarce and , very expensive. Our truck farmers and fruit growers too would make very little money except during the season when the market could take care of such supplies as were brought in fresh from the fields or orchards.

The canner takes care of this situation by storing away for future use the immense product of the land and of the sea. Some of these canning plants have many branches or small plants that take care of the fruit and vegetable crops as fast as they are harvested. For example, one main canning factory has fifty small plants in operation during the season, and there is at least one firm in California that has thirty plants.

Some of these plants will put up from 250,000 to 300,000 cans of food a day. Think what an opportunity this is for the men who grow this food. They are always sure of a market for their products, and the people in the cities and in faraway sections of the country, where food crops are not grown extensively, are sure of plenty of good, wholesome food at moderate prices.

Since our chief reason for canning foods is the fact that they will outlast fresh foods, you will naturally wish to know how long canned foods will keep. I f a can of tomatoes could be kept only a few days or weeks longer than fresh ones it would not pay to can them. Therefore it is important to know how long canned foods will remain wholesome and what must be done to protect them.

General Greely's experience with canned foods. General Greely, a famous arctic explorer and once Chief of the United States Signal Service, when asked for his opinion on canned foods wrote the following interesting letter about them.

"You ask me to state the effects of freezing upon canned fruits and vegetables, especially as regards the texture and flavor of tomatoes, corn, and the like. Apples, peaches, pears, rhubarb, green peas, green corn, onions, and tomatoes were all subject to extreme temperatures over 60 degrees below zero, and were frozen solid for months at a time. The second summer they thawed; the following winter they froze solid again.

"All the articles named presented the same appearance as though freshly canned, and their flavor was as good when the last can was eaten as in the first month. It should be understood that. these were first class canned foods from dealers of standing and reliability.

"Cranberry sauce, preserved damsons, preserved peaches, and fruit butters suffered certain changes from candying, and the like, which detracted somewhat from their flavor, though not materially so. Dealers in such preserves predicted that such conditions and changes would occur.

"I had also canned turnips, beets, squash, and carrots, as well as pineapples, cherries, grapes, clams, shrimps, and crabs, which, although not subject to such extreme temperature as the foregoing, yet froze and thawed repeatedly without injury. No can of any kind, except a few—say half a dozen of fruit butter, was ever burst by action of heat or cold. No illness of any kind occurred prior to our retreat and those most inclined to canned fruits and vegetables were the healthiest and strongest of the party.

"I have written thus fully in answer to your letter from my conviction that the excellent quality and variety of canned provisions contributed materially to the unequaled health of my command during the two years we passed in unparalleled high latitude. The importance of good canned fruits and vegetables to parties unable to obtain the fresh article cannot be overrated, and so I speak with no uncertain tone on the subject."

Canned foods and arctic explorers. Seventeen years after the rescue of General Greely from the arctic ice by Commander Schley, Lieutenant Peary on his dash to the North Pole discovered General Greely's old camp and found most of his canned provisions perfectly good.

Professor.Donald McMillan of the Peary expedition gives us still further proofs of the service that canned foods rendered the explorers. On one of his first trips out from Cape Sheridan with a sledge and Eskimos he skirted the east coast of Grant Land and Grinnell Land (if you refer to your big map you will find that Cape Sheridan is at the east end of Grant Landon the Lincoln Sea just west of Peary Land in the north of Greenland) and slowly made his way to Fort Conger. This fort lies on the north coast of Grant Land on Lady Franklin Bay in about 60° W. longitude. Near this point he discovered one of General Greely's old camps of the expedition of 1881-1884.

"Here," he writes, "I found relics, all of which were in the same condition as when they were discarded by the ill fated members of that expedition. I found coffee, hominy, canned rhubarb, canned potatoes, breakfast food, and all sorts of supplies. They were just as good as ever and I practically subsisted on them all the time I was there."

Professor McMillan braved the dangers of a winter in that terrible country that he might study its natural features, its climate, and its people. Can't you see him behind his team of "huskies" Eskimo dogs wrapped in furs to his eyes and emitting great white breaths! Quite likely he had been traveling all that day over the endless stretch of snow-covered piles of ice that rose on all sides. No doubt he was stiff and numb with cold and dared not remain on the sled but had to tramp for many weary miles beside the silent Eskimos.

And the camp itself the old Greely camp! What was that like? Were there tents buried in the snow, were there caves, or were there igloos, those queer little ice houses in which Eskimos live during the arctic winter? Can you imagine Professor McMillan's thoughts as he opened and sampled the canned food?

How long will canned foods keep? Now that we know how much cold canned foods will stand without serious loss in flavor or food value, the next question that arises is: How long will canned foods keep? That is a difficult question and the answer to it, no doubt, depends upon the kind of food canned. But here is a story that shows us how one vegetable will keep. There were found in La Crosse, Wisconsin, in 1913, two cans of squash which had been canned twenty-eight years before. These two cans were kept at an even temperature for another year and then opened in March, 1914. The contents were found sweet and wholesome.

Home canning encouraged by. government. Because of the recognized value of canned foods both the national and state governments are doing much to encourage their use and to induce families in the country to put up their own vegetables and fruits when possible. In the South especially, a great work has been done in this respect, and as a result many families of the South now have a greater variety of food on their tables the year round than ever before. But it is the poor who will probably profit most by the government's instruction in the art of canning. In the counties of many states tomato raising and canning contests are now carried on each season. Seed is furnished to the superintendents of the various schools to be distributed among the girls who are willing to raise and can the tomatoes. Then in midsummer there are canning demonstrations and contests held by the county agent under the direction of the state agricultural college and the United States Department of Agriculture.

Don't you think that if you were furnished seed, ground, and instruction, you would like to try raising food and canning it yourself? Wouldn't you like to win the prize for the best canned tomatoes? Perhaps the United States government is helping the boys and girls in your neighborhood now. It may be that your public schools are already interested in corn clubs and ing clubs.



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