Mixed feelings as COVID clip snowbirds wings
Have you heard about the SaltWire News app?
Daily fall forecasts and weather facts from Cindy Day
SaltWire's cartoonists bring heart and humour to the news.
SaltWire Selects: Stories you don't want to miss
What you need to know about COVID-19: October 20, 2020
Baker Dawn Woodward packs her glossy, hazelnut-chocolate spread in squat, widemouthed canning jars. The 250-millilitre vessels are as essential to the Nutella-inspired treat as the toasted nuts and cocoa. In a typical year, the use of jars would have been a given — not something worth mentioning. But due to an increase in the number of people gardening and preserving during the pandemic, the focus has shifted from the contents to the container. Canning supplies are now scarce in many parts of the country.
Last week, after fruitlessly searching stores and wholesalers for 250-millilitre mason jars, Woodward put a call out on social media. Customers of Evelyn’s Crackers , the bakery she co-owns in Toronto, returned two dozen as a result of her Instagram plea, and she’s hoping to get more after mentioning the issue in her newsletter. “Now the challenge will be to find the lids,” she says, “because there’s a shortage of those too.” (Flat canning lids are designed to be single-use.)
During COVID-19, Woodward diversified her product offering. While in previous years, she might have made 200 jars of jam, this year she’s on track for roughly 1,000 in varieties like coronation grape with star anise, and Italian plum with bay leaf and ginger. Sales have been great, she says, but when she recently tried to place an order with her supplier for 12 cases of Bernardin jars, there was a hitch.
“Consolidated Bottle (a packaging company with offices in Montreal and Toronto) said, ‘We’re out until the new year. We have a similar product but you have to order over 4,000 pieces because it’s a special order,’” says Woodward. “We are not built to accommodate 4,000 jars, so I was like, OK. Time to use Instagram and see if our customers will return their jars.”
Bernardin, the largest canning jar company in Canada, has yet to respond to requests for comment on the shortage. A spokesperson for Home Hardware said the company is seeing “unprecedented consumer demand for all preserving items,” and that its suppliers “have been maximizing product availability to ensure they get as many jars and lids as possible to consumers during the peak of the canning season in Canada.”
For Rebekka Hutton, pickle maker and owner of Alchemy Pickle Company in Toronto, a lack of jars is also presenting challenges. Seemingly the result of a variety of factors — an 11-day Port of Montreal strike in August, a decrease in the number of drivers from Montreal to Toronto, and virus-related manufacturing shutdowns — she’s now experiencing shipment delays.
“What used to be a four-day ordering turnaround has turned into potentially four weeks for this particular shipment,” says Hutton, who specializes in making kombucha, and fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi. “When you have a product that has to be packed into jars when it’s ready, and you don’t have anywhere to put it unless it’s in jars, that creates a serious problem.”
Hutton managed to find enough jars at a local cash-and-carry company to see her through this month. In forecasting her jar needs for the next six months, though, she identified a potential shortfall of kombucha bottles in November. “I’m trying to work with (my suppliers) well ahead of time,” she says, “so I can scramble around and try to find something that we can put the kombucha in that works in the interim.”
While for businesses, an undersupply of jars and lids could potentially disrupt production and require significant work-arounds, for home canners, it puts a dent in their ability to save the season. More than half (51 per cent) of Canadians grew at least one fruit or vegetable this year, according to a study from Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab (AAL). Nearly one in five started growing their own food for the first time, and two-thirds were influenced by COVID-19 to do so.
This boom in gardening, says Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food distribution and policy, and senior director of the AAL, has been a major factor in the scarcity of canning supplies over the past several weeks.
“Canning companies weren’t ready for the jump,” says Charlebois. “Montreal has been out for a while and here (in Halifax) we’re out — it’s happening everywhere. Any gardeners out there will know, the last thing you want is to spoil the food you produce … There’s probably a lot of freezing going on as a result of jar shortages.”
While many new home canners begin by making jam or vinegar pickles, says Batch co-author and Well Preserved co-founder Joel MacCharles, there are other things you can do — such as freezing — that don’t require a cache of mason jars and canning lids.
“It’s an awesome place to start but the first year I started making jam, I made 300 jars of jam. And then I figured out that I had a problem because I didn’t know what to do with 300 jars of jam,” says MacCharles. “If you start looking at other techniques, the lack of jars doesn’t hold you back as much.”
When we spoke, MacCharles was in the midst of making several different styles of preserves. He had sage dehydrating, hanging from a clip in his kitchen; hot sauce and green tomato salsa fermenting; and was getting ready to make stock, which can either be pressure canned if you have lids, or frozen if you don’t.
Since he practices various methods of food preservation, he wasn’t concerned about a lack of canning lids. And with a stash of 700 mason jars in his basement, he wasn’t worried about running out of vessels either. “If you do any amount of jarring, your problem is too many jars,” says MacCharles, laughing, “ not not enough.”
If you start looking at other techniques, the lack of jars doesn’t hold you back as much.
Now’s the time to make better use of your freezer, he says. If you have a glut of green beans, for example, chop them, then blanch and let air-dry on a rack before storing them in a freezer bag or container. Many people stock dried mushrooms and chili peppers in their pantries, yet don’t consider making them, “because we’re stuck in, ‘Oh, I need to make a pickle or a jam.’” Salt-preserving chili peppers, or fresh herbs in the style of French Canadian and Acadian herbes salées (herbs preserved with salt) is another versatile option that doesn’t require two-part canning lids, as is simply air-drying herbs.
“If you think about canning, the technology — the glass, the lids — is really 50, 100 years old. But the other preserving techniques are hundreds if not thousands of years old,” says MacCharles. “These techniques long predate a mason jar. So finding the other ways to preserve is a really easy way to extend the season without a jar.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020