1880,  Around the Home,  Browse By Era,  Browse by Subject,  In the Kitchen,  Victorian

Canned Goods

A couple of Victorian articles on canned foods. The first one goes into describing the process of packing and canning certain foods and also lists many of the foods that were currently being canned. The second article goes into how to use canned foods. Both articles date to 1889.

The preservation of fruits, vegetables, fish and meats, by hermetically sealing them in cans, is by no means a new process; but the developments and improvements which have transformed that process into a vast and vitally important industry, is comparatively recent. During the Mexican war, it received its first impetus as a bona fide business in the United States, and during the Rebellion it expanded into a leading industry. Today the list of articles preserved by canning are almost countless, and includes fish, meat, poultry, chowders, plum puddings, sauces, and fruits and vegetables of all kinds. Custom has done away with most of the prejudice arising from fear of poisoning, but there is great room for care in the canning of acid fruits or vegetables. Some goods are now packed in tin cans coated with paraffine wax, and the custom of soldering on the outside only is now very general. Most articles, when properly canned, are kept in as good a condition as when fresh, and in the case of lobster and crab meat, the advantage is very marked on the side of the canned article, as the lobsters and crabs which are carried to the cities and crawl around in the sun for hours, are generally half-dead before they reach the consumer; and, as Paddy says–” they have to be killed to save their lives!”–while the tinned meat, being prepared in the neighborhood of where they are caught, is firm, fresh and in full flavor. The immense consumption of canned salmon all over the world shows how well fish can be packed.

Domestic canning has become an indispensable part of household economy; but the canning for market has now grown to be so absolutely essential to the existence of the Produce, Provision and Grocery sections of American commerce, that without it, her trade in these productions, both for export and home consumption, would be speedily annihilated. In canning for market, the division of labor is so nicely adjusted, and the employment of machinery so extensive and complete, that the cost of the products and the time and labor expended, is brought to its lowest minimum. These factories generally put up a large variety of the legion of articles destined to undergo the canning process, so that operations can be carried on from years’ end to years’ end. In the prosecution of the process, the entire exclusion of air from the cans is the chief object, and all operations tend to that end. Of course a very large number of people are employed, and every operation has to be conducted with the utmost rapidity. A brief description of the process in the canning of fruit and sweet corn may prove interesting to our readers: In many of the peach canning factories for instance, the fruit is piled on the upper floor, thrown into hoppers, and conducted to tables on the lower floor, the cans being filled by placing them under the hopper and pressing the fruit in with the fingers. The cans are then passed to another table, where syrup — about one pound of sugar to a gallon of water — is filled in, and time given to allow the air between the peaches to escape. The cans are then cleaned from the syrup spilt on the sides and passed to the tinmen, who put on the circular covers, rapidly soldering them down. Each can has a small hole on the top to allow the air to escape, and after the cover is on this hole is soldered up. The cans are then placed in a rack and lowered into a tank of water, which can be heated by steam. As the temperature increases, the imperfect cans are detected by the escape of air, and are taken out. The water is then raised to a boiling point, which is continued for half an hour, more or less, according to the size and kind of the peaches. After being boiled, the cans are allowed to cool slightly, and are then vented by opening the prick- hole in the cap, which allows the steam to escape; and immediately closing it again, when the cans have cooled. If all right, the head will snap in by a slight pressure, showing that there is a good vacuum. The cans are then placed in the store-room, and labels put on them when sold.

In canning tomatoes they are first slightly scalded, so as to remove the skin, and when peeled are thrown into pans to allow some of the watery portion to drain off. They are then packed in cans, and a little syrup added, made of water, sugar and salt, and are subsequently sealed, tested and boiled as before described.

The canning of corn is more difficult, though similar in operation. The corn is boiled, cut from the cob, put into cans, and the spaces being filled with a little syrup of sugar and salt, the Can is soldered tight. The cans are then boiled in a solution of chloride of calcium or refuse from salt-works. This solution has a much higher boiling point than water. After being boiled for several hours, the cans are taken out and vented, again soldered up and returned to the bath for another boiling of several hours’ duration, when they are taken out and the process is complete.

Canned soups are put up by many of the most prominent packers.

The canning of shrimps is a very delicate process, but it has been brought to perfection.

The New England dish of baked beans is now very extensively canned.

Brawn [see article thereon], has been quite generally introduced to the trade, and meets with considerable sale to saloon-keepers.

The multitude of packers, and the great variation in the quality of goods packed, have caused a very general demand for a guarantee of one year on all canned goods. The subject has been persistently agitated in the New England Grocer and the grocery press generally, and the leading packers of the country have agreed to guarantee their goods. Defective canned goods are known as Swells–which, on account of their growing frequency of occurrence, are becoming of grave importance to those who handle canned goods, and we would warn grocers when they are making purchases not to omit to demand guarantees against the goods becoming unsound. The “Swells” are usually caused by imperfect cooking of the fruit in packing, so that the oxygen is not entirely expelled. Sometimes, also, they are caused by an almost imperceptible leak in the can which admits the oxygen. Whenever the grocer finds a “Swell” among his cans, he should take it for granted that it is unsound, and return it at once to the wholesale dealer without opening, who, in his turn, can demand a rebate from the packer.

The chief items in Canned goods, now having the “run of the markets,” comprise : Corned Beef, Ox-Tongues, Potted Tongue, Potted Beef, Lunch Tongues, Turkey and Tongue, Boneless Turkey, Boneless Chicken, Roast Beef, Boiled Beef, Ox-Tail Soup, Chicken Soup, Ham, English Brawn, Green Turtle Soup, Pigs’ Feet, Tenderloin, Potted Ox-Tongue, Potted Ham, Tripe, Kidney Soup, Minced Collops, Minced Steak, Clipped Dried Beef, Mock Turtle Soup, Improved Smoked Dried Beef (Boston brand), Rolled Ox-Tongue, Blue Cross Pickles, Queen Olives, Baby Olives, Potted Turkey, Potted Chicken ; Walnut, Tomato and Mushroom Ketchups ; Capers in three grades; Apples, Apricots, Asparagus, Blueberries, Blackberries; Beans–Lima, String, Champion and Baker; Sweet Corn, Cherries, Clams, Lobster, Crab, Mackerel, Oysters, Plums; Peas–Marrows, Early June and Sifted; Pears, Peaches, Pineapples, Quince, Succotash, Salmon, Tomatoes, Raspberries, Strawberries, Sardines, Pumpkins, Squash, Standard and Extra Yellow Peaches, Standard Bart- lett Pears, Dessert Fruits (assorted), and Horse Radish Flour. – The Grocer’s Companion and Merchant’s Hand-book 1889

How To Use Canned Goods
An “expert,” writing to the Grocers’ Chronicle, well says that canned goods should be turned out and eaten as soon as possible. If kept at all, the food should be covered up and put in a cool place–always, however, turned out of the original tin. The liquor around lobsters, salmon, and all vegetables, excepting tomatoes, it is desirable to strain off and throw away. Lobsters and prawns are improved by being turned out into a sieve, and rinsed with clear cold water. Never on any account add vinegar, sauces, or any kind of condiment to tinned foods while they are in the tins, and never leave such mixtures to remain an hour or two, if from forgetfulness it is done. All tinned goods are put up as fresh as it is possible to be, but, unless corned or salted, will not keep if turned out, as freshly cooked goods will, and certainly not longer, as many thoughtlessly suppose or expect they will. Sardines, if preserved in good oil, and if of good quality, will be an exception; as long as the oil is good, the fish can be kept in the tins. But seven days is long enough to trust these before eating. Consumers should not buy larger packages of canned goods than they can consume quickly; if they should, most of the fish and meats can be potted after recooking, sauces and seasoning being added. If the nose and eyes are properly used, it is as impossible to partake of an unsound tin of canned food of any kind as to partake of bad meat, fish, or vegetables from a shop. – The Sanitarian 1889

And just for the fun of it I found this site, Victor Trading Co., that makes reproductions of old tin cans, both the cans and labels. They are just for decoration but they have quite a large selection of “goods” to choose from! Almost like walking back into the mercantiles of old.