Canning and Napoleon’s Wars.

Time itself is our tragedy and most of us are fighting some kind of war against it. Napoleon had the Marquis de Sade arrested and imprisoned in 1801, and his family had him transferred to an insane asylum in 1803, where he remained for the eleven years until his death and burial in that grove. Napoleon’s administration also offered a reward of 12,000 francs for anyone who could come up with a better way of preserving food on a grand scale.

Human beings had used drying, fermenting, salting, pickling, and, in cool climates, storing in cold cellars and, in the coldest, freezing food for later, but none of these could adequately provision a vast army. So as he prosecuted his wars against all Europe, Napoleon also sought to fight a war against decay. The confectioner and cook Nicolas Appert won the prize in 1810 after many years of experiments with sealing and boiling glass jars, pretty much the method that is still used, the one that my friend and I were using in my kitchen on an August evening in the twenty-first century.

Rebecca Solnit The Faraway Nearby


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