“An army marches on its stomach.” —Napoleon

You have Napoleon’s Small Man Complex and resulting lust for power to thank for that delicious pickled bean that you stir your Caesar with in the dead of winter. Wikipedia tells us that:

During the first years of the Napoleonic Wars, the notable French newspaper Le Monde, prompted by the government, offered a hefty cash award of 12,000 francs to any inventor who could devise a cheap and effective method of preserving large amounts of food. The larger armies of the period required increased, regular supplies of quality food as limited food availability was among the factors limiting military campaigns to the summer and fall months. In 1809, a French confectioner and brewer, Nicolas Appert, observed that food cooked inside a jar did not spoil unless the seals leaked, and developed a method of sealing food in glass jars. The reason for lack of spoilage was unknown at the time, since it would be another 50 years before Louis Pasteur demonstrated the role of microbes in food spoilage.

Canning rapidly became ubiquitous, with any good housekeeper “putting up” fruits and vegetables for the winter. In recent decades the prevalence of fresh produce in our grocery stores from every corner of the world, and at every month of the year, has reduced reliance on  canning, and for a while it seemed that canning produce would got the way of salt meat.

But no!

Canners are a loyal and quietly passionate bunch. A few years ago the company that makes the rubber rings for glass mason jars announced they would not longer be available in western Canada. Oh the Hew and Cry! The Letters to the Editor! Q-tips marching the the streets of Regina! In the wake of what passes for a scandal on the prairies, the decision was reversed. The preserving of peaches recommenced.

Happily, the rise of the Eating Local movement seems to have given the art of canning a shot in the arm. Rather than buying the cherries from Argentina in the dead of winter, a younger generation is turning to their pantry where they have put up beautiful BC cherries months before. Maybe, just maybe, canning will be one of Napoleon’s most enduring legacies!

In honor of National Canning Day, I’m going to share with you my family’s most-beloved Pepper Relish recipe, developed by my paternal grandmother Eva Billo. This jelly based relish is sweet and tart and beautiful to look at. It goes very well on many types of meat, including roast turkey and pork loin. We also traditionally pair it with tourtière at Christmas.

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2 cups of red peppers (9-10 medium) chopped  finely in food processor  (note: peppers are much bigger than back then, you may only need 1/2 as many!)
3/4 c. vinegar
3 1/2 c. sugar
1 box Certo crystals

Method: Use a colander to press out juice from peppers, discard juice. Measure 2 cups of peppers and add vinegar and Certo. Cook on high until reaches full boil. Stir in sugar and return to a full boil. Stir and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Skim off top foam (with a metal spoon) for 5 minutes and put in sterilized jars. Process in boiling water bath. Store in your pantry, under primate guard, because it’s really yummy.

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D.

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