When the summer harvest comes in, Rachel Hamman typically cans tomatoes, tomato juice, green beans and sweet relish.
She’s been canning for 25 years and some years has even canned deer meat.
“With the canning process and the seasoning I use, it makes the deer meat tender and tastes like roast beef when you take it out of the jar,” said Hamman, who lives in Frederick County.
This year, she had ambitious plans to can more fruits and vegetables than usual.
Turns out lots of other people had the same idea, and Hamman has had a difficult time finding enough flat-top lids for her glass jars.
A friend gave Hamman four dozen lids to help her out until she could track down more. But she had to share those lids with her father who lives in Edinburg since he couldn’t find lids in Shenandoah County either.
The glass jars and the rings that go around the aluminum lids can be used repeatedly, but the rubber seal inside the lids can be used just once. Improper sealing can cause spoiled food and possibly botulism, a life-threatening illness.
“We don’t really have any lids in stock right now,” Sam Bragg, a sales associate at Miller’s Ace Hardware at 208 Centre Drive in Stephens City, said this week. “Even when we do, they fly right out the door. We heard that we might get more in October, but even then they probably won’t be around long.”
Gardeners who faithfully tended their plots during the pandemic, now want to preserve the fruits of their labors. But a shortage of supplies has them seeking advice on social media about where they might find lids and other supplies.
Solenberger’s True Value Hardware at 832 Berryville Ave. stocked a full-line of canning supplies long before canning got cool.
“We have the largest stock of canning supplies in the Shenandoah Valley,” said Patti Solenberger, who helps her husband John run the business that has been in his family for more than 130 years.
But Solenberger’s, too, has had a hard time staying stocked this year.
A few weeks ago, the store got a delivery of 80 cases of quart jars with lids and rings. They sold out within a day.
Solenberger said there are a few reasons for the canning supply shortage.
To start, more people planted gardens or enlarged their existing gardens this spring. For the first time ever, Solenberger’s sold out of all of its seed packets.
“That has never happened,” Solenberger said.
Top that off with a wonderful year for gardens with plenty of sunshine and a good amount — but not too much — rain.
“People have had an awesome yield and they want to can what they grew,” she said.
The passionate interest in gardening may have been because people were spending more time at home, but it also may mean they were afraid they couldn’t get the food they wanted, she said.
“COVID scared people,” she said. “Their world has been rocked a little bit, and they say ‘I need to be able to take care of myself.’ People are very interested in being more self-sufficient.”
There are also problems on the manufacturing side. Canning products are made in the United States, and some factories had to shut down for awhile to adjust their operations to keep their employees as safe as possible during the pandemic. Other factories are operating under reduced hours because they don’t have enough staff.
“And the other thing that people don’t realize is that there’s an aluminum shortage,” Solenberger said.
Greater demand plus fewer supplies, add up to a mess for those who want to can. Solenberger is recommending people freeze their produce so the food doesn’t spoil for a lack of lids.
The shortage has also made canning more expensive. A 12 pack of lids typically sells for $3.29, Solenberger said, but she’s seen them offered online for anywhere from $10.50 to $25 for one box.
Despite this year’s problems, Solenberger highly recommends learning to can. Canning your own food provides a sense of accomplishment and helps you feel more self-sufficient. A faithful canner herself, Solenberger often offers classes at the store on proper canning procedures.
Canning equipment has come a long way since grandma’s time, Solenberger said. Manufacturers have made their equipment easier and safer to use.
“Pressure cookers are not going to blow up on you,” Solenberger said. “Canning is a great skill to have. It really is.”