09/26/2013 05:16 EDT | Updated 11/30/2013 05:12 EST

Embrace Preserving, Dent the Universe

"We're here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise, why else even be here?" -- Steve Jobs

I came of age in the early 90s. I wore Doc Martens, a lot of plaid and I knew what teen spirit smelled like. I was full of angst in a time that had plenty of it to go around.

Back then, I wanted more from the world. The Berlin Wall was coming down, technology was clearly starting to explode and the world was changing. Yet, I was bored and thought the world owed me something bigger and more exciting.

One week I thought I'd be a poet. The next week I was training to be a fighter pilot. A basketball player. The owner of a coffee shop. A programmer, musician, astronaut. I was restless and I was certain that I would leave a mark on this planet. Like the quote that begins this article, I wanted to leave a mark.

While I sat in a coffee shop dreaming about changing the world, my parents were quietly changing their eating habits. Both of them enjoyed cooking and preserved on occasion. I remember, as a young child, 'helping' them make the occasional batch of jam or pickles. But this was different; they were preserving tomato sauce, clams sent from family in the Maritimes, pickling beets and more.

Like the child of many families who preserve, I avoided helping with the work (though I was glad to help eating it). I didn't see preserving food as important, fun or as family tradition. The only thing I could see was work. And it wasn't work that was going to change the world; it was just work.

There is an amazing number of youth who do change the world for better. They are exceptional people who really do alter the planet. And, while I was a good person who volunteered a lot, the change I wanted to make was more about ego than altruism. As much as I wanted to leave a mark, I would have settled on leaving a scar. Back then I would have loved the idea of denting the Universe.

It's been a long time since I've loitered in a coffee shop. And it's been a long time since I thought that preserving food was a lot of work.

My re-discovery of preserving happened about seven years ago. I travelled back to my family home to make jam. Less than a year later I was living with 700 jars of preserves. I was more shocked that this had happened than anyone else. It wasn't a plan; it just sort of happened.

There are at least eight different forms of preserving food that include dehydrating, smoking, curing, fermenting and even freezing food. Some of the techniques require a lot of work and/or equipment while many of the other techniques can be done in minutes (or less). Each technique has it's own advantages and disadvantages and using a variety of them can help minimize waste, and help you save time and/or money. By using multiple techniques a home cook can make more than condiments; they can use preserving to make ingredients that can be the core of a great meal.

Beyond all of that, preserving is fun! Some of my favorite memories of the last few years are tied to preserving. It hardly feels like work when we get together with friends or family, pour a glass of wine and choose some great music and make a bunch of preserves together.

I stopped stopped trying to dent the Universe long ago. Preserving taught me a different answer to the question posed by Mr. Jobs; I think we might be here to fix some of the dents.

Joel MacCharles is a speaker at this year's TEDxToronto conference taking place on Wednesday, September 26 at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. For more information on his talk and how you can still participate in the event, please visit