Home-canned foods, like home-sewn clothes, are not always the cost-saving wonders that their Depression-era backgrounds evoke. As has recently been pointed out, canning can get expensive. But it doesn't have to be. As a canning obsessive, I would like to share my tips for doing it on the cheap:
1. Stock up on Jars
Buying new canning jars can cost about $.75 a jar. Start trolling thrift stores and Craig's List, where they're generally half that. Yard sales are also huge sources, as people clean the dusty jars out of grandma's house, or make the wise decision not to take several pounds of glassware with them when they move. If you need to buy new, call around to a few places -- prices can vary hugely.
2. Find Free Fruit!
This is the biggest cost saver around. Here in the temperate rainforest of Portland, this can be pretty easy, and new websites are springing up every day to spread the word about urban gleaning. But it can be surprisingly easy to find fruit on your own -- in the past few weeks, I've harvested sour cherries and cherry plums (more on that below), just by knocking on doors and asking. Some folks are just happy for you to keep the fruit from rotting on their sidewalks. Just make sure to drop off a jar of jam afterwards.
3. If You Must Buy Fruit, Buy in Bulk
Getting friends together for a canning party can be a surprising amount of fun (depending on your definition of fun), as well as helping you net good deals. If you're willing to buy a lot of fruit, 10 lbs, or a full box, farmer's markets will often cut you a deal. Hitting the market at the end of the day can also be good, although it's something of a crapshoot -- farmers might be sold out, or they might be willing to give a ridiculously good deal on leftover stock (especially perishable fruit like berries).
4. Value Your Product!
Okay, this isn't entirely about thrift, but I feel compelled to share this hard-learned lesson. When you first finish canning, and your pantry shelves are groaning, you may have a false feeling of flushness. You want to share your jewel-like wares, and you seem to have a lot of them. Beware! Jam can go oh-so-quickly, and then it's the dead of winter, and you have nothing sweet to fall back on. I'm all for sharing the sugary love, but don't go nutburgers with it. I brought jams as gifts to parties where I barely knew the host, even as a tip for my hairdresser, for goodness sake. I think it was only our second cut.
Rosemary Plum Jam
makes about 8 half-pints
Cherry plums are widely grown as ornamentals, with reddish-purple leaves and fruit. Many people don't even know that the fruits are edible, and are happy to let you collect.
6 cups pitted and roughly chopped cherry plums
3 cups sugar
1 large sprig rosemary
- Simmer fruit with rosemary, add sugar and pectin according to directions (I'm especially fond of Pomona Pectin, which doesn't require a particular sugar ratio in order to set). Because our household is somewhat fussy about texture, I'll fish out a few of the scrolled-up plum skins as it simmers. Taste periodically, and remove the rosemary sprigs as soon as the flavor has permeated to your taste. You're aiming for a light herbal flavor, almost just a scent.
- Pour into sterilized jars, seal and process in a water bath. Although it's tempting to artfully place a rosemary sprig in each jar, don't do it! Unless you fancy jam that tastes like pine needles.