ALISON STEWART, host:
It's been said that people go back to what they know in tough times. Across the country, some people are trying to find out what their grandparents knew. As Jennifer Moore of member station KSUM reports, old and young alike are trying to pick up a new skill and save a little money by learning the art of canning food.
JENNIFER MOORE: In the kitchen of the Second Baptist Church of Springfield, Missouri, 30 people are snapping fresh green beans and tossing them into a pan. This canning class is one of a dozen offered this summer through the University of Missouri extension office. Program director David Burton says the interest in canning food this year is unprecedented.
Mr. DAVID BURTON (University of Missouri): Last year in Greene County, we really struggled to fill two canning classes. And this year we thought we might face similar struggles. But our first class filled in just a matter of a couple of days. And really we found every time we would set up another two classes, we would book them about as quickly as we could set them up.
MOORE: Canning students here placed the pot of green beans on the stove. Nearby, eight glass jars are sterilizing inside a pressure cooker known as a canner. Using a jar lifter, the instructor removes each jar from the canner and dumps the steaming water out of it.
Ms. SHELLEY VAUGINE (Canning Instructor): This thing is invaluable.
MOORE: Class members spoon the boiled green beans into the jars, tapping out bubbles before putting the seals and lids on. Then the instructor places them in the pressure cooker, clamping it shut.
Ms. VAUGINE: That's good. Okay.
MOORE: Shelley Vaugine is a master gardener with the MU extension office.
Ms. VAUGINE: Canning is really making a comeback. After about two decades, I'm finally trendy.
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MOORE: Vaugine says just as the bad economy has led people to learn how to grow their own food, it has spurred interest in how to preserve it.
Ms. VAUGINE: In the Springfield area, we've lost hundreds of jobs here. And a lot of these people are not finding new jobs. They're just not out there. And so they are going back to what they know.
MOORE: But most only know of canning second or third-hand. Many of this generation never learned the skill their parents and grandparents relied on to get them through the rationing of the Great Depression and two world wars. And as that older generation passed away, those canning skills went with them.
Ms. PAT SUMMER: During the Depression, I was canning at 11 years old.
MOORE: Pat Summer is 80, and she still cans the food she grows at home. During the 1930s, her father worked on Roosevelt's Works Projects Administration, or WPA, as her mother went door-to-door selling hairbrushes. As a child, her little hands pulled hundreds of weeds from the family garden and canned lots of produce.
Summer was surprised when earlier this year she was approached by community leaders asking her to teach a group of younger women how to can food. She says she gave up long ago trying to keep up with the latest technology — in fact, the only blackberries she knows go in jam.
Ms. SUMMER: It's a good feeling. And it makes you not feel so much like you're rejected by the younger generation.
MOORE: The company Jarden Home Brands, which now owns the popular Ball line of canning products, says it's already seen a 30 percent increase in sales of jars and lids this year, and the bulk of the harvest season is still months away.
For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Moore in Springfield, Missouri.
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STEWART: To see pictures of the canning class as well as Mrs. Summer's canned goods, you can visit our Web site, NPR.org.