It's no wonder more people reach for can openers than for canners.




No matter how wonderful the jams, jellies and pickles it produces, this decidedly old-fashioned method of preserving the harvest usually calls for huge batches of produce and hours of standing over a steaming vat of boiling water.




For time-strapped families who gather their produce at the grocer instead of the backyard garden, that just doesn't work.




But that might be changing. The canning industry is updating its image, offering fashionable takes on formerly utilitarian equipment, as well as easier and healthier small-batch recipes, some of which don't even require cooking.




Consumers seem to be responding.




"All of a sudden, canning is starting to rise," says Anne Zander, a family and consumer science extension agent with Colorado State University. "It's because people are hearing through the media that they should eat produce and eat locally."




A few generations ago, canning and home preserving was an essential means of putting up (as it is known) food for winter. But the advent of processed food coupled with families demanding schedules have slowly eroded this art.




Today, it is estimated that just a quarter of families can, according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia




Working to reverse that has meant the companies that sell canning supplies and develop recipes began focusing less on handling the harvest (and more involved preserving, such as meat canning) and more on hobby canning.




Most people today are interested in canning salsas, jams, jellies and pickles, says Elizabeth Andress, a food safety specialist with the home food preservation center.




Which doesn't mean that some of the more basic recipes are gone.




Vegetables still were the most frequently canned item, according to the center's 2000 survey. And Andress says in places such as Alaska, Washington and Oregon many people still can fish.




The latest edition of the 100-year-old canning tome, the "Ball Blue Book," tries to appeal to both crowds, still offering old standby recipes for wax beans and corn, but now also featuring low- and no-sugars jams, low-salt pickles and quick no-cook freezer jams.




Canning supplies themselves also have become more consumer friendly, says Lauren Devine, a product research and test kitchen scientist for Muncie, Ind.-based Jarden Home Brands, maker of Ball and Kerr preserving products.




During the past three years, Ball has made freezer canning much easier with new plastic freezer jars in two sizes. The jars, which are marked with a fill line and have screw-top covers, eliminate much of the guesswork.




The company also now offers a pectin (a natural substance that thickens jams and jellies) meant specifically for freezer recipes. This means mashed fruit and sugar can become jam without ever going near the stove.




Devine says the company marketed both the jars and new pectin to people who wanted grandma's jam but didn't have time for the "fuss." With no cooking, freezer spreads also are a safe way to get kids involved in canning.




The iconic glass canning jar also got a hip makeover. Ball recently launched its Elite Platinum jars, which are squat, wide and capped with matte silver lids intended to show off as gifts or serving jars.




Changing tastes also have influenced the canning industry.




This year, Ball simplified its pickle mix recipes and introduced new preservative-free salsa and marina mixes that can be used with garden fresh tomatoes or can purchased from the grocer. The box even includes a shopping list.




"We tried to take out as many ingredients as possible that people could not pronounce," says Devine. "People don't want to pick up a jar of salsa and see 40 ingredients, some of them with chemical sounding names."




And Ball recently partnered with San Francisco jam maker Carolina Braunschweig, who owns jam company cmbsweets, to create new recipes more in line with today's tastes.




In one, they paired raspberry wine, raspberries, cloves and cracked black pepper. In another, they created a peach and ginger jam with little sugar and the zing of fresh ginger and cardamom.




The Internet also is helping pull canning into the modern age. Jarden Home Brands, the Muncie, Ind.-based parent company of canning giants Kerr and Ball, offers online step-by-step guides and recipes.




And of course the Web is awash in personal sites dedicated to canning (though consumers must be careful about using untested recipes). Bad (and downright dangerous) advice still abounds, including that jam need not be processed in boiling water to be safe (it does).




Megan DeVorsey of Concord, N.H., got hooked on canning a couple of years ago after picking strawberries at a local farm. DeVorsey had more berries than she knew what to do with and tried a pectin-free jam recipe from the "Best of Gourmet."




DeVorsey was hooked. "I like the whole berry-to-sparkling jar experience," she said.




DeVorsey's bread and butter pickles and bumble-berry jam won ribbons at a county fair last year, and she's hoping her gooseberry rhubarb jam does well this year. She also planned to enter her raspberry chocolate jam, but it disappeared long before the fair.




DeVorsey's found just one downside to her new hobby: Short seasons for local produce.




"I really get uptight if I'm not out there picking," she said. "I feel like I'm really missing out."