Tuesday, 13 June 2017

10:35 – It was 68.1F (20C) when I took Colin out around 0715 this morning, overcast and calm. Barbara is around home this morning, making up subassemblies for science kits, and off to volunteer at the Friends of the Library bookstore this afternoon.

Last Thursday, the local paper reported that a group was seeking permission to build a retirement/assisted-living home across US21 from us, on 20 acres of what had been cow pasture. Neither of us had any problem with the idea. Such places are generally pretty good neighbors, and it would generate quite a few jobs for locals. I told Barbara my only request would be that they install full-cutoff lighting fixtures in the parking lot to avoid light pollution.

The planning board meeting was last night at 6:30 and open to the public, so Barbara attended. On the way to the meeting, she dropped me off at the community college, where I had a ham radio class. On our way home, around 2000, we drove around the area where the new facility is to be built. It looks like we won’t even be able to see it from our house.

I’ve always been interested in pressure canning, ever since I was maybe 4 or 5 years old and “helped” my maternal grandmother pressure can. One wall of her basement was covered with shelves that she kept filled with canning jars of vegetables, fruits, sauces, meats, and so on.

It wasn’t until later that she told me that one of those shelving sections was a false wall that concealed a narrow room the length of the basement. Her grandfather had built the house before the Civil War and made the hidden room as a refuge for runaway slaves. They passed through New Castle on their way to Erie and thence across the lake into Canada.

I always assumed she’d been canning since she was a young wife, when my mother was born right at the end of WWI. And she may have been, but it was probably water-bath canning back then. I’d always thought home pressure-canning had become routine by around WWI, but I just read an interesting document that makes it clear that it was more like WWII before it became common.

As far as I know, pressure canners were sold for home use by about WWI, but most people apparently didn’t use them. No doubt the cost was part of the reason, but I suspect the real reason was that young women tended to use the methods their mothers had taught them, which is to say, boiling water bath canning and Tyndalization (described early in the linked document).

Even with such questionable methods, botulism was pretty rare. In fact, at the time, you were more likely to suffer botulism from commercially-canned products than home-canned. I don’t doubt that a lot of home canned stuff was contaminated with botulism back then, but I suspect nearly all women back then made sure to cooked canned meats and other low-acid stuff very thoroughly, as my grandmother always did.

The thing about botulism is that the bacteria and the toxin it produces are both heat-sensitive. Simply bringing contaminated food to a full boil is sufficient to destroy both the bacteria and the toxin.

In fact, that’s true generally of pathogenic microorganisms and their toxin, with the exception of a few fungal toxins. Some of those survive temperatures of 200C or higher, far hotter than any canning process, commercial or home, reaches.

Those of you who are about my age may remember the aflatoxin scare back in the 70’s. That was just such a toxin, which was why it scared the hell out of people.