7 Things People Don't Can Anymore

You can (not) believe what people used to can.

Spicy Pickled Green and Yellow Beans
Photo: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

Jams, seasonal fruit, and pickles are the kinds of food we most associate with home canning and preserving, but through the first half of the 20th century, canning was a more common home practice that included a wide range of foods.

During the Great Depression families relied on canning, with community canning centers created to provide rural communities with access to costly canning equipment, like pressure canners for preserving low-acid foods like meat and soups. During both World Wars canning became a patriotic duty, heavily promoted by the government during nationwide rations.

Home canning reached its peak in 1943, with over 4.1 billion jars canned in homes and community canning centers, according to Amy Bentley, a food historian and food studies professor. By the 1950s, canning became less popular and many foods people used to can fell out of fashion.

Ball, the preeminent brand of home canning jars and lids, has published its Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preserving since 1915, a classic guide and collection of recipes for home canning. It taught readers how to preserve everything from okra to pumpkins, but its many editions also serve as a time capsule of the foods even experienced home canners today would be surprised to see canned; including the final recipe in the 1974 edition on How to Preserve a Husband—definitely a canning recipe from another era.


There are two recipes included in the original Ball Blue Book for canning walnuts—yes, walnuts. One recipe describes a process of brining the nuts and then letting them sit in a vinegar and sugar mixture spiced with pepper, cloves, and mace. Not to be confused with a spiced walnut recipe that follows, which is similar but uses mustard seed and celery seed for flavoring. Both are canned and are left to stand for weeks before the book says they are ready to use.


The sponge-like texture of eggplant seems like an odd fit for canning, but listed under the squash section, canners were instructed to blanch the vegetable, pack it into hot jars, and then use the water-bath method to can it.


Celery appears across the canning encyclopedia in sauces and soups, but in the 1915 edition, it is canned as a kind of relish. Five bunches of celery are combined with tomatoes and a red pepper, two cups of sugar, vinegar, and some warm spices like cinnamon and clove to make spiced celery preserves. Apparently the cinnamon-celery preserves were served as a condiment with any kind of meat.


Not pickles, but canned stuffed cucumbers. There are many wild ways cucumbers are preserved in the Blue Book over the years, but a recipe for canned Cucumber Sweet Mangos from 1915, which contains no mango, is an odd one. It features cucumbers stuffed with raisins and cubes of whole lemon and sprinkled with cloves and cinnamon. It is certainly one of the more eccentric canning recipes included in the book.

Fried Chicken

A Southern favorite, but in a jar. The recipe instructs cooks to, "season and fry as though preparing for the table," but to stop cooking the chicken when it's only three-quarters done. The chicken, partially undercooked and still hot, is then packed into jars, topped with liquid (grease) from the griddle or frying pan, and canned. Later editions of the book also suggest canning fried fish. Today, we know canning meat is particularly dangerous; it has to be done with the utmost care and a pressure canner, as it's a high-risk food for botulism.


The 1920s edition of the Blue Book suggests rabbit is delicious canned and says it can be preserved just like chicken, as can frog legs apparently. Confit is a more typical method for preserving meat like chicken and rabbit, but it was commonplace to can meat for storage at the time, and rabbit was no exception.


A classic American recipe, but canned. Instructions say to blend meat scraps with gelatin, eggs, breadcrumbs, and seasonings before the mixture is pressed into jars and canned. Meatloaf can already be a tough dinner table sell, but a canned version might be near impossible to get anyone to eat today.

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