Penny Stilwell and D. Gail Lawrence

Canning

Master Artist
Penny Stilwell
Apprentice
D. Gail Lawrence
Folkway
Canning
Location
Wythe County
Apprentice D. Gail Lawrence looks on as master canner Penny Stilwell works. Photo by Morgan Miller/Virginia Folklife Program.
Apprentice D. Gail Lawrence looks on as master canner Penny Stilwell works. Photo by Morgan Miller/Virginia Folklife Program. 

Born out of necessity long before refrigeration, “canning”—the process of preserving traditional jams, jellies, relishes, and pickles by hand—has been elevated by master canners such as Penny Stilwell into an art form. Canning has been nothing short of a way of life for Penny since she was six years old. Penny cans everything, from beets to okra, from apple butter to roasted tomatoes. Because most of her recipes exist only in her head, Penny decided to teach her daughter and apprentice D. Gail Lawrence many of her unrecorded recipes, and share with her some of her most-cherished canning secrets.

To be recognized as “Master Artist” for this was something I would have never dreamed. I mean, canning was always just something you did. It was just how we survived. My mother, she canned everything. And she never wrote any of her recipes down. Actually, I don’t remember her ever really teaching me about this. I guess I just learned by watching. It was just always around.
-Penny Stilwell