Summer, spring, winter and fall: there is no better dish than a piping hot plate of spaghetti with pummarola, the rich Italian sauce made from tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil. But how do you make the sauce if you have no fresh tomatoes? You open a tin of tomatoes, of course. But sometimes we forget that there was once no such thing as canned food. Someone had to invent the process that we now take for granted when we purchase anything from tinned asparagus to pet food from
That someone was a Frenchman called Nicolas Appert (1749–1841). Credited with being the “father of canning”, half a century before Louis Pasteur’s findings revealed that heat killed microorganisms in food while sealing it kept other microorganisms from entering a jar, the chef, confectioner and distiller Appert began a long period of experimentation to discover the best way to preserve food. He did this because the French government was offering a prize to anyone able to stop food deteriorating so it could be sent to its army and navy in battle. The method Appert devised in 1809 was to hermetically seal food inside a bottle or jar, heat it to a high temperature for a certain period and then store it until needed. With the prize money he won, he opened the House of Appert, the first commercial cannery in France, which remained in operation in Massy, near Paris, from 1812 until 1933.
Illustration by Leo Cardini