Monday, 9 August 2010

Frugal canning - time & money

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

It's that time of year when the garden abundance is staring you in the face and the thought of filling your shelves with home canned food is now a reality.

But, if you're just starting out, canning is an expensive proposition. Canners, jars, lids, raw ingredients, and misc tools start to add up, not to mention your time and labor. Many times the items that make the most impact on our budgets are the little things, not the big dollar items that with a good deal represent a large one-time savings. Say that steal on the practically new pressure canner at an estate sale is hard to argue with, but where the money really adds up is the continual purchase of lids, etc., over the years. One new option now is to buy re-usuable lids, they are expensive but should be a one-time purchase. Another way to save money is to can some items in larger quantities.

For instance in my kitchen for our family of three, I can most of my tomato sauce in quarts and some pints, depending on what my sauce yield is. Let's say, my batch may yield 5 1/2 quarts of sauce, so in that instance I would can either 5 quarts and one pint, or maybe depending on my pint tally I might can 3 quarts and 5 pints. And even though we have pizza once a week and I only use one cup or 1/2 pint of tomato sauce for my marinara sauce, I never can my sauce in 1/2 pint jars, because I have to purchase many more lids and jars to do that. Besides saving money on jar and lid purchases, by being frugal this way, that many more lids won't be manufactured, and have to be recycled. To get around the large quantity problem of having an opened quart of tomato purée, I repackage the remainder in half pint jars, one will go in the fridge for the next week's pizza and the other two will go in the freezer for either pizza or when I need a cup of tomato sauce for another recipe. By then I have a little space in the freezer, so I can tuck a jar in here or there, and I am mindful that I have those jars in freezer needing to be used.

I also try to use regular mouth lids and jars where they are appropriate. Too many years of being judged at the county fair by strict judges who suffered through the Depression, in many cases the money just wasn't available, they had no choice. Wide mouth jars and lids were deemed fitting for hard to pack items such as peaches and pears or foods that contained fats that would be hard to clean. I priced lids yesterday while I was at the store, and the price difference between wide mouth and regular ranged from $.65 to $.99 per dozen lids. It doesn't sound like much, but these days aren't really so different for many, fifty cents here and there does add up. So those lessons have stuck with me, I appreciate all my jars sizes and their many uses, and I cringe when I see all wide-mouth jars. Sorry, old ingrained habits and ideals are hard to break.

The other intangible in canning and home food production is time. We are aware of it, but when we aren't receiving a paycheck for our work, but a jewel-toned jar instead - we tend to gloss over how much time it really takes to preserve food at home. When preserving season hits in earnest we are all stretched for time, whether you work at home or away - any time savings is a gift. If I can fill 7 jars instead of 28, in the case of quarts vs. 1/2 pints, I have just put some money in my time piggy bank, not to mention I just saved a dollar in lid purchases.

Ahh, a little of summer preserved for the dark days. What do you do to save time preserving the season's bounty?