When canning was a vibrant industry in Baltimore

A dish of stewed tomatoes was once a familiar presence on Baltimore dinner tables. Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey once canned 65 percent of the country’s processed tomatoes. Canned tomatoes with some cornstarch, spices and sugar added, took their place alongside mashed potatoes and canned peas in the 1950s.

Baltimore’s vegetable packing houses — or canneries — were located in Southeast Baltimore, along the Boston Street corridor. Places such as Gibbs, J. Langrall, Lord Mott, Roberts Brothers, H.J. McGrath and P.E. Foote were close to the boats that carried DelMarVa produce here and close to where the Eastern European immigrants and the African-Americans who worked in this industry lived.

There were reports that sections of the Patapsco River — the Baltimore Harbor — had a reddish tint with tomato canning waste during July and August.

Maryland had another big cannery, owned by the Phillips family in Cambridge. When it closed in the 1960s, it adversely affected the economy of this Dorchester County town.

There was extra income to be made in the summer as the crops came in, in Dorchester County. It was also demanding work that could be dangerous should the mechanical equipment fail. Women and often children worked shelling lima beans, hulling peas and capping strawberries. Canners put corn, string beans, spinach and oysters into tin canisters.

Nearby tin-can plants, such as American Can and Continental Can, supplied the empty canisters. Fancy oyster tins are today prized collectibles.


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