Uses and Abuses of Canned Goods in the Household

This is the fifth article in January of the School for Housewives 1905 series published on Jan 29, 1905, and is a revisiting of a topic that had been covered two years previously on the dangers of “canned goods” although I have yet to come across this previous “talk” in my research. Transcribed from the Sunday edition of The Washington Times.

School for Housewives – Uses and Abuses of Canned Goods in the Household

How to Make the Best of the Preserved Foods and Some Errors to be Guarded Against.

SOME of our readers may not have forgotten a lively discussion we had two years ago in this department concerning what we have all fallen into the habit of calling “canned goods.” In this course of our debate sundry unpleasant facts were evolved that moved me then, and ever since, to press upon housewives the importance of putting up fruits and vegetables for their own family use, when this is practicable. It was proceed upon the testimony of competent chemists that many of the “bleached” fruits and such vegetables as corn and asparagus owe color and “staying qualities” to certain acids and salts which are not conducive to the health of the eaters.

One of our staff of chemical experts announced that he found in three tablespoonfuls of preserved pears enough salicylic acid for a strong dose for an adult. From one canning establishment I received the formula for a powder warranted to preserve vegetables, etc., sent in ingenuous good faith. One of the principal ingredients was salicylic acid.

I am assured by several reputable canning firms that nothing of the kind is used in their works, in proof whereof they invite chemical analysis. I am the more willing to believe this because in mid-winter hundreds of families in the country and among the poorer classes of town residents are obliged to depend upon canned vegetables for variety in a diet of salted meats, cabbage, onions, and potatoes.

Next week I shall speak of the need of a winter fare of greenstuffs and fruits. Now, I propose to show how the reproach may be lifted in part from airtight esculents kept over from the fruiting season. We get very tired of them when served au naturel for days together. No matter how good they may be, they are an indifferent substitute for the things whose names they bear. Since we have them and must use them, if only for their antiscorbutic properties, let us study ways and means for making the best of them. The poorest of the tribe is a vast improvement upon the time when desiccation was the one method practiced for preservation, for winter use, of green vegetables, while preserving in syrup, vinegar, and spirits was resorted to for keeping fruits in palatable form for the table. Sweet corn was dried when nearly hard, and had to be soaked over night, then boiled for a long time before it could be eaten. After all, it was hardly an improvement upon the coarser hominy. Tomatoes, peaches, plums, cherries, and pears lost most of their distinctive flavor through long exposure to the sun and subsequent soaking and stewing.

While the demand for canned goods may not have lessened throughout the country, it is undeniable that there is a growing disrelish for them in the minds of people of dainty and cultured tastes, and this is not so much for the reason given in the discussion, viz., the belief that they are not wholesome, as because they are stale, flat, and “common,” if not unprofitable. People who can ill afford it, pay high prices for forced vegetables, rather than set before guests the content of cans purchased at the corner grocery.

Let us see if the cause of this growing dislike many be not in the nature of the thing preserved so much as in the cook’s determination to regard it as an end, not a means, a finished product, instead of semi-raw material. The wrong way to serve all potted provisions is to “dump” them from the can or jar into the saucepan, and from the saucepan into the platter or root-dish, with no attempt at seasoning or enrichment.

Must Have the Air.

It ought not to be necessary for me to repeat again and here as in invariable rule that canned meats, fruits, vegetables, soups, etc., should be turned out of the vessels in which they were preserved at least one hour before they are cooked, or sent to table, and left in open dishes to rid them of the close, airless smell which disgusts many with the entire class. One and all they need aerating – to be “oxygenated” before they are prepared for the service of man.

Get Them in Glass.

Tomatoes, when canned, are the least objectionable of the class. So far as I have pushed my researches for the presence of deleterious ingredients introduced by those who manipulate them for the market, they are comparatively – some brands entirely – free from salicylic acid and the like preservatives. Of course, with these, as with other vegetables, fruits, soups, and meats, there are brands and brands. Some turn out a superfluity of liquid, many unripe lumps and bits of skin mingled with the pulp. Note the name and address of the manufacturer and avoid the brand in future. The housewife who takes advantage of the height of the season, and puts up her own tomatoes, rejecting cores and hard pieces, and draining off half the juice, ill fare best on this score.

When you buy them, give the preference, if you can afford it, to tomatoes put up in glass. The natural acid sometimes forms an unholy alliance with the metals of the cans.

Were I to describe the scallops, croquettes, rissoles, puddings, bisques and other variations of lobster and salmon, which would tickle the palates of the eaters, and gratify the ambition of the hounsemother, I should present the best advertisement of “canned goods” ever spread before the American reading public. Were I to expatiate upon the ease with which the “tinny” taste can be eliminated from canned succotash, and how a can of corn and another of beans may be aired and combined into still better succotash; how canned asparagus, masked by cream sauce, and laid in state upon toast, almost recalls springtime, and when heated and dressed, while hot, with vinegar, melted butter and French mustard, then allowed to get ice-cold – is a delicious salad – there would not be room below this general “talk” for the recipes which are to illustrate this specifically.

The reader is confidently referred to this continuation of our subject for directions as to the “treatment” of some of the countless varieties of artificially preserved foods.

Housewives Gather Around the Council Table
Marion Harland Recipes
A Paper-Doll House for a Little Invalid
A Russian Courtship
Window Kitchen Gardens