Preserving Culture

A color photo of a display of home canned food

Many Franco-American families, as well as many other cultures, share a history of canning. Though the popularity of food preservation and it’s various usages has spread worldwide, to many Franco-Americans it holds a special meaning, as it is a part of their past dating back to its invention in France in the late 1700s.

In 1795, Napoléon Bonaparte, the Major General of France, offered a reward of 12 thousand francs for the invention of a new way to preserve food. Napoléon wanted to extend his military campaigns, but with larger armies and a limited food supply, he needed a way to keep food longer to provide his troops with the needed nourishment.

A chef from Châlons-sur-Marne, Nicolas Appert, answered this call from the Directory Government of Revolutionary France. It took Appert 14 years of experimentation before he created his method of airtight food preservation in 1809.  It was unknown at the time why the preservation worked, as the knowledge of microbes and food spoilage wasn’t known for another fifty years. In 1810 he was awarded the 12 thousand francs for his service. In 1811, Appert published a book titled ‘The Art of Preserving All Kinds of Animal and Vegetable Substances For Several Years’, which brought canning to Europe and the United States.

A sketch of the bust of Nicolas Appert by Edouard Foucaud created around 1841.
Les Artisans Illustres, by Edouard Foucaud, Béthune Et Plon, 1841, p. 630.

Appert’s method used glass jars which would be filled with produce, corked and sealed with wax.  The glass jar would then be wrapped in canvas and put into boiling water.

In 1810, Peter Durand of Great Britain, patented the usage of tin cans, though the original idea is said to have stemmed from a French inventor by the name of Phillipe de Girard. In 1812, canning production had moved overseas with Robert Ayars opening the first American cannery.

This French invention employed many Franco-Americans and French-Canadians in Maine as canning factories began to sprout up in the State. In the early 1900s, Maine had 111 vegetable canning factories.

Canned foods became a staple in times of war when non perishable goods were in high demand.  Yet canning also became a practice in many households.  It was common in many Franco-American families to dedicate time at home to canning the produce from their farms as well as meats.  The canned goods would often be kept in root cellars, common in households at the time. They provided a cool location for storage, keeping the containers out of the sunlight, but close at hand to get when needed.

Black and white photo of a woman stacked home canned goods in her cellar
A 4-H Club Member Storing the Food Canned from the Vegetables Grown in Her Garden, Rockbridge County, Va. Washington D.C., 1942.

Today the invention of Nicolas Appert still remains a popular one, and many Franco-American families enjoy upholding a tradition that they watched their mothers, grandmothers, and others perform.

With the help of Lise Pelletier, Anna Faherty, and Maureen Perry, we are able to provide few recipes that could be used in the canning process.  

With many Mainers enjoying the fiddlehead season, the University of Maine under the Cooperative Extension Publications has suggestions on how to prepare and make this delicious treat.

Fiddlehead Recipe

The School of Food and Agriculture at the University of Maine and Cooperative Extension staff have tested these fiddlehead recipes below. The most successful of these recipes in terms of flavor, keeping quality, and safety are included in this fact sheet.

Plain Pickled Fiddleheads

Cider or white vinegar (5% acidity)


⅛ teaspoon each of black pepper, ground nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and celery seed

(salt is also optional)

Clean and wash fiddleheads thoroughly using the process above. Pour enough vinegar over the fiddleheads to cover; then strain the vinegar off into a pan and measure the volume. Add 1 cup sugar for every gallon of measured vinegar. Add a large pinch of each of the spices and celery seed. Boil this syrup for 7-8 minutes, then immediately pour the hot liquid over the fiddleheads that are packed into clean pint jars.  Remove air bubbles, adjust the liquid to 1/2-inch headspace and wipe the jar rim. Apply two-piece dome lids and adjust lids to fingertip tight. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner, ensuring a rolling boil for the full 15 minutes and at least 1-inch of water is covering all jars in the water bath.

Makes approximately 6 pints if using 3 pounds of raw, cleaned and trimmed fiddleheads.

Page from cook book with a Dill Pickle canning recipe

Thanks for Reading!

This post was written by Dylan Smart-Pelletier. It was produced by Rhumb Line Maps and the University of Maine’s Franco-American Program in June 2021. We would like to give a special thanks to the Bicentennial Grant that made this possible.


Writer — Dylan Smart-Pelletier
Editors — Emily Meader and Forrest Meader
Media Sources — Library of Congress, Bibliothèque nationale de France
Further Reading— on canning

“How Did We Can?” Omeka RSS, 

Schauffler, Marina, et al. “Immigration Issues in Maine? Been There, Done That.” The Maine Monitor, 29 Aug. 2020, 

“Canning: A Maine Industry.” Maine Memory Network, 

Brown, Sheryl. “Nicholas Appert.” Famous Inventors,

Title Photo

“[Display of Home-Canned Food].” Home, 1 Jan. 1970,


“Bulletin #4198, Facts on Fiddleheads – Cooperative Extension Publications – University of Maine Cooperative Extension.” Cooperative Extension Publications,

Recipes and Remembrances: a Collection of Recipes by Ste-Agathe Historical Society. Morris Press Cookbooks, 2014.

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