Prairie home canners lose lids, temper

Some Canadian canners are furious that a U.S. company has stopped making lids that fit their preserve jars

Some Prairie canners are in a jam. They've been left without lids that fit just as they've begun filling jars with their summer produce for the long winter months.

For years, Canadians have reused their Mason jars. But the metal rings and lids that seal the preserves can't be reused because of concern over food poisoning.

The tops, called gems, can fit the quart, two quart and pint sized jars.

But this year, an American home canning company stopped making the gem-sized lids. Bernardin Ltd. said the 78 mm tops were too expensive to make, and that demand was falling. It's the only North American supplier of gem lids.

Paulette Lysyshyn of Unity, Sask. has 2000 gem-sized jars stacked up in her pantry. She preserves 60 per cent of the food for her family of six every year to save money.

Now her jars, which cost about a dollar each, are useless. Lysyshyn can't afford to replace them and buy new equipment.

"You're in between sitting down because you feel faint, or you want to stand up and holler, or you want to cry," said Lysyshyn.

Thousands of other Prairie women have used gem lids for decades. In between canning, they're signing petitions in small towns such as Morden, Man., and on the Internet to protest the company's decision.


"It angers you that they thought they could get away with this," said protest organizer Lori Blight of St. Andrews, Man. "Maybe they could if this was just five people. But this isn't five people."

Reporter Lorraine Stevenson of Farmers' Independent Weekly in Stonewall, Man. said canning isn't just a hobby in Western Canada, and Bernardin should have expected the backlash.

"People don't do this to make gifts to give at Christmas time," said Stevenson. "They do it as a way to feed families."

Now many people say they'll be forced to do less canning, or perhaps stop altogether ending a custom that has helped keep food available out of season, and cut down on grocery costs for years.