This is a little like a “how I spent my summer vacation” story, as I spent mine learning how to can the #10 cans of dried food at a local Latter Day Saints (Mormon) cannery. The canneries are also referred to as Home Storage Centers. I have to say up front, I have heard that different canneries may differ in policy regarding non-Mormons using their facilities, but I had the most wonderful experience in Reno with the good people of their cannery. God bless them for welcoming me with open arms.
Let me explain briefly the “summer vacation” comment. My husband and I were planning to build a home on some property nearby, had sold our big city home and moved to the Reno area. Then we found out the neighbor was a major liability and for other reasons as well thought perhaps we had not chosen so well for a retreat in the mountains. After spending the summer trying to make an impossible situation work, we decided to move on and put the property up for sale. I have always believed in the “Invisible Hand” as George Washington called it, (thanks, Glenn Beck) and our temporary misery had a purpose: to move us on to where we have a better retreat and to give us the time and resources to build our food stores. My connection with the Mormons was a beautiful light this summer when everything else felt so rotten and disappointing.
So one day after moving here, I called the LDS cannery and was given the number of the man in charge of the food storage mission. I called and explained I was new in town and didn’t know anyone, and that I was hoping they would let me do some canning. He was gracious and told me when to come in. In many canneries, they prefer that another Mormon accompany you. They showed me their Bishop’s storehouse and explained they fast two meals every month and used the money they save for the Bishop’s storehouse to help provide food for others in need. I was deeply moved by how they provided to those in need. Then they put me to work in the cannery.
I have to digress here; I had one misconception of the cannery before I went in, thinking that they are canning jars of food. They are not. They are canning large #10 cans of dried food, many with items that store roughly 25 to 30 years. They do have some items that have lesser shelf life, and also some items in bags, like the pancake mix. It is all dry canning. I think #10 cans have an advantage over 5 gallon buckets in that they are lighter and easier to handle, and you are not exposing as much food to the air once you open them.
Here’s how it works. The canning was done by appointment two mornings a week. I called the contact person and would ask if they were canning and if they needed help on a team. Sometimes they had too many people coming in, but I was still able to place an order if I needed something. Orders are placed BEFORE the canning session so they can tally up how much canning of different items they need to do and still have items on the shelf for others. Then they go to work.
Team members wash their hands, put on an apron, gloves and cap before going into the food storage room. Bags of the first item are brought out and six #10 cans are placed in a tub so that when the food (like dried carrots or beans) are poured into the cans, the tub catches the spills and can be poured into another can. The #10 cans are already sealed on one end, and after the food is poured, an oxygen absorber is placed on top of the food. Then the lid is laid on the top and the whole can is fitted into the mechanical canner to seal. The now sealed can is taken off, and flipped over onto the counter for an upright label to be put on it. Once the canning is complete, you can pay for your order and take your newly canned items home.
You may ask, why flip the can? I learned that if you use a can opener that leaves a clean edge (basically cuts the side of the lid) on the now upright end, you can later reuse the can and just buy a lid for 10 cents. It saves 75 cents a can the second use if you do your own canning at home with a portable canner. I honestly don’t know the difference between the ends, but this is just how it was explained to me. The cannery sells the cans, lids and absorbers.
Aside from just having some good, clean fun, what is particularly exciting is that is much cheaper to obtain many storage foods this way. Here is a link to the order form and prices.
This is the form you will fill out and turn in when you first get there so they know how much canning they to do that day.
I was also fortunate enough to be allowed to check out a portable canner short term a couple of times. Because I have diet restrictions and cannot eat gluten, I went to the local grocery store carrying bulk food items and canned lots of gluten free pasta! I also bought some other items, lentils, 13 bean mix, brown sugar for my oatmeal, quinoa, popcorn and some other grains that I could have. It took about four days to get my bulk bagged food items in at the store and I had to calculate how many cans, lids and oxygen absorbers I would need to buy from the cannery for the process. When I bought my items, I first calculated how many cans I needed based on the weight of the items. For heavy grains and sugars that compact well, plan on about 6.0 to 6.2 pounds per can. For lighter items like large beans, plan on about 5.8 pounds per can. When I did my last canning session, I just totaled all the weights and divided by 6, and had just the right number of cans! From this, you will also know how many lids and oxygen absorbers you need. If you are canning sugars, like powdered, white or brown sugar, do not add oxygen absorbers for those as it will dry the sugar into a hard block! You can still order extra absorbers if you want, I have thrown them into jars full of spices like bay leaves and red pepper flakes, and it creates a good vacuum. When using your oxygen absorbers, keep them wrapped up tight until the last moment before you put them in a can. They will start absorbing oxygen as soon as they are exposed to the air, and you will know this is happening if they feel warm to the touch. Also, don’t forget to make labels in advance for your cans, so you can label them as they come off the canner and be sure to date your cans for storage. The LDS cannery also has the plastic lids for using once you’ve opened the can, and you do not necessarily need to have a plastic lid for every can as you will not be opening all of the cans at once. Just get a few lids. I was able to do 70 cans in about three hours. It goes fast. When you store your cans, it is still ideal to store them in a cooler location, away from your salt stores!
One very crucial thing I learned on the storehouse tour was that grains like rice, wheat and quinoa needed to be frozen for about 4 days to kill any potential bug contamination before canning. It’s definitely something to be planned for in terms of time and freezer space.
In writing this article, I was concern that everyone would now rush to their local LDS cannery and overwhelm them with requests and demands. If you would like to try canning this way, call first, ask politely and work around their busy schedule. When you go in, be freshly washed as you are handling food. And of course, no foul language! Wear shoes, not sandals. One dropped can on your toe really hurts. There are times when they may be too busy to have you come in, and if so, then roll with it. At Reno they didn’t have the cannery open in July, and they also aren’t in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were busy after Hurricane Sandy as well because people were (at least momentarily) more aware of their need to be prepared. Be willing to go in and contribute to a team when they need extra hands even if you don’t want to buy anything. Sometimes they do get shorthanded, so give back. If they are gracious and willing to let you check out a canner, plan well and have everything else in place, so that when you check out the canner, you can use it and return it quickly. Clean it off before you return it. Be appreciative and thank them! Each cannery has slightly different policies and may ask you to come with another Mormon, so call and check. Here is a link for the cannery locations in the U.S. and Canada.
Do try the LDS cannery's brand of cocoa. It is the most expensive item on their list, but well worth it! God bless all those who touched my life at the Reno cannery the past few months. I am most grateful for the lessons and the love. Thanks to God for his Invisible Hand.