The Great Canning Supply Shortage of 2020

For a great many reasons, the year 2020 will stand out in everyone’s minds.  We don’t need to beleaguer the points about the horrors of trying to avoid and hopefully survive a world pandemic, the economic devastation, the great loss of life and restricted activities worldwide.  Those are all serious things.  I’m going to talk about one thing in particular that has affected me and lots of my people, the great canning supply shortage.

In March and April when things were getting locked down, I already had hundreds of peppers, eggplant, tomato and lots of herb seeds started in little four-inch pots in my indoor greenhouse which is the guest room closet all outfitted with grow lights, aluminum foil coated walls and fans.  I buy all my seeds during the previous fall and winter to I can leisurely organize them, get the planting calendar all filled in and dream about where I will plant everything this year.  This activity sustains me through cold winds, snow and ice.

As I am pondering the coming planting season, I usually get ideas about adding this or that to the growing and I have 3 seed purveyors that I like to buy from.  When I went online in April to get a few things I was puzzled by the “out of stock” notifications on like EVERYTHING.  That is when I discovered that if people are going to be home, they all of a sudden decided to put in a garden.  Every store I went to, every online shop I checked out, everyone, was pretty much picked clean of every seed in America.  WOW.  I thought to myself, this is getting serious.

Now, if I was as smart as I think I am, I would have at that time went to a different aisle in those stores and bought all the canning supplies I would need for the season, but I didn’t.  Honestly, I thought sure, people will grow some tomatoes and cucumbers and make some home cooked meals, but they are not going to go through the considerable effort to can and preserve all that produce.  I was wrong.

Now because I have a great many friends who know I can, I am the grateful recipient of a large amount of quart canning jars.  Throughout the past two decades, many moms and grandmas (sorry if this appears sexist) are giving up all that work and I am always pleased to take the jars.  There is one friend in particular who’s mom Beverly in one giant heap pretty much filled my pole barn room with jars.  Of the hundreds of jars were these really old ones with glass lids and I knew immediately that I would make bath salts with essential oils and house those in there for gifts and for sale.  The older jars can’t withstand the heat and pressure of water or pressure canning, but are still great for other storage and simply beauteous.

At times over the past decades, I have attended estate sales where the folks had passed away leaving piles of jars and canning things that smell like musty old basement or barn and I have happily paid a few bucks and took them all home.  I actually LOVE that stench of old, falling apart boxes that mingles with dirt and grime, mouse poop etc. It smells like HISTORY to me.

So, I always have lots of quart jars in storage ready to be filled, but I was short on jelly jars and the small mouth lids that go under the bands and make the seal to preserve the valuable contents.  I like to give my dad easy jobs, so I put him on the case.  I told him to call every store he could think of and find me some small mouth lids, jelly jars and any plastic reusable lids that he can find. I use those to store the dried herbs I save for teas and medicines and for the yogurt that I make for the chickens. He came up completely empty and gave me the helpful advice of next year to stock up.  Uh, thanks dad.

Many years ago, when I co-owned a big True Value hardware store with my ex-husband, one of the departments I maintained and ordered for was the canning supplies.  Ball jars are now made by the parent company Jardin and like many types of supplies, their glassware and bands and lids are all made at least a year in advance and there is as much as there is.  I don’t know if they knew the whole world would be canning 6 months after the pandemic began so they could start new production to keep up with demand this year, but unfortunately they ran out which means all the stores they ship to also ran out.  Those shelves are empty my friends but I look every time hoping against hope there will be more than an errant salsa or pickle mix on the shelf.   I would bet even Megan and Harry couldn’t manifest canning supplies if the royal ones were in need.

I drove three hours to my Amish store and get some lids but there were no jars and even pectin is hard to come by this year.

I was also able to trade some wide mouth lids, which I use less frequently, and 2 jars of already made jam for some jelly jars and lids from a neighbor’s garage.  That should keep me going.  I am done with jelly making for the year.  I still have pumpkin to can and potatoes but I should have enough for this season.

Speaking of pumpkin, I hear canned pumpkin puree in in scarce supply now too and another thing I was amazed to see gone from store shelves is tapioca and corn starch.  There seemingly  wasn’t one box left of anything to thicken pies and gravy.   As I stepped back I saw WAY in the back on the top shelf one lonely package of Arrowroot.  After I spotted it, my five-foot two body climbed up the shelves and snagged that last package.  Thickeners are needed for many, many dishes and yes you can use flour, but I like tapioca for pies and cornstarch for gravy.   What is everyone doing with all of that I wonder?

So, what next will be in short supply.  There is once again toilet paper (the good stuff too), flour and yeast availability which is good.  I have learned how to make natural yeast though and we have a terrific flour purveyor 7 miles away so I’m covered there.  I should have enough canned supplies to get us through winter which is also good.  I’m just wondering what else I will find astonishingly gone from shelves soon.  I just hope everyone doesn’t join me on my medicinal tincture work and clear out the liquor store of Everclear grain alcohol.  Maybe I better stock up now!!!  You just never know.