Why Strawberry Jam and Cucumber Pickles Are the Worst Ways to Start Canning

published Aug 7, 2013
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(Image credit: Christian Jung)

Over the last five years, I have taught lots of people to can. I’ve written many thousands of words about canning online, I’ve taught hundreds of hours of live classes, and I have answered countless questions about food preservation in both person and in writing. All that interaction has led me to the following opinion: 
People start canning with the wrong recipes. 

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Nearly all of you choose to start your canning career with strawberry jam and cucumber pickles. And I understand. They seem like safe, easy recipes for beginners. But then, your strawberry jam doesn’t set, your pickles end up a little bit soggy and so you decide that you’re just not cut out for this preserving thing. 

The truth of the matter is that you are not to blame. Despite their ubiquity, these are two of the toughest preserves to get right. Strawberries are naturally low in pectin and so are notoriously tricky to coax a set from (I still struggle with it some years). And even the snappiest pickling cucumber has a hard time retaining its texture after five or ten minutes in a boiling water bath. 

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Instead, I think people should start with blueberry jam and dilly beans. Blueberries are high in pectin and so you have a far better chance of getting a good set with them than with strawberries. Green beans have far more substance and texture than a cucumber and so can weather the overprocessing that inevitably happens in a canner’s first or second batch. Even if you doubled the processing time, you’d wind up with crisp, snappy pickles (carrots are another good option if you can’t abide beans). 

Here are two recipes to start with: 

So, if you’re one of the many who has struggled with one of these classically picky preserves, take heart! Don’t give up on canning, try a more forgiving recipe instead! 

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(Images:  Christian Jung/Shutterstock; Marisa McClellan)