The Van Trump Report

Another Napoleonic Contribution… “Canning”

I doubt most of today’s younger generations, especially those never setting foot on a farm, even know what canning is all about. A staple to most farming families over the generations, canning actually goes back to the Napoleonic era. With the French military spreading its influence geographically during that time, the challenge of feeding the army and navy had become such an acute problem that on this day back in 1795 the French Directory offered a prize of 12,000-francs for a practical solution for preserving food. That was a huge amount of money back then! 

Nicolas Appert, the inventor of the process, was born just east of Paris in 1752 and the son of an innkeeper who educated him in the arts of brewing and pickling, which were tasks that were an integral part of running a hotel at that time. Appert would go on to apprentice as a chef and confectioner at the Palais Royal Hotel in Chalons and later serve the Duke and Duchess of Deux-Ponts. He then moved to Paris where he established himself as a renowned confectioner and also became known as a renowned champagne bottler, a practice that may have influenced his future in canning.

Historical reports suggest Appert had very little scientific understanding or training. Not to mention the fact that chemistry at this time was a little-known science and there was virtually no knowledge of bacteriology. Armed simply with his intuitiveness and spending 14-years in a trial-and-error process he eventually happened upon his preserving technique. After experimenting with over +70 types of food, Appert finally discovered the solution to preserving food which most of us know today, heating the foods to above the boiling point of water, submerging the glass jars and bottles filled with food followed by corking and sealing with wax.

By 1804, Appert had devised a method refined enough to open the world’s first canning factory and in 1809 he made his discovery which the French Navy and the Consulting Bureau on Arts and Manufacturing would go on to confirm as successful. It’s worth noting that Appert’s canning factory would continue to operate until 1933. Appert did in fact collect his cash prize, which he invested in his business, and the following year he would publish an account of his findings entitled, “The Art of Preserving All Kinds of Animal and Vegetable Substances for Several Years”.

I should mention that Appert’s contributions to society did not end with the canning process. Also in 1810, he invented peppermint schnapps as an ice-cream topping. It was later noted that it was Napoleon’s wife, Marie-Louise, the duchess of Parma, who brought the recipe back to Austria where it not only became a hit as a condiment but also the drink we know today. Appert also invented the bouillon cube, a dried concentrate that could be rehydrated into a soup base, and devised an acid-free method of extracting gelatin from bones.

Unfortunately for Appert, the collapse of the Napoleonic empire left him bankrupt as enemies of the old regime trashed his factories. He would pass away in Massy on June 3, 1841. Interestingly, it would be 50 years before Louis Pasteur was able to explain why the food so canned and treated did not spoil. Of course, we now know that the heat killed the microorganisms in the food, and the sealing kept other microorganisms from entering the jar. In 1810 Peter Durand of England would patent the use of tin-coated iron cans instead of bottles, and by 1820 he was supplying canned food to the Royal Navy in large quantities. 

Thanks to Appert’s patience and perseverance canned foods were created. I know many of us have great childhood memories of helping mom or grandma with the canning process. I know many of us also have fond memories of busting things out and eating the canned treats! (Source:,,

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