Canning Update

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101 jars. Top row, left to right:

  • 3 pints pickled cucumbers
  • 6 8 oz cranberry peach preserves
  • 9 8 oz fig preserves
  • 8 pints apple sauce
  • 5 pints basic tomato sauce
  • 7 pints green bell pepper
  • 7 8 oz peach salsa

Bottom row, left to right:

  • 9 quarts green beans
  • 6 pints peach pie filling
  • 8 8 oz peach butter
  • 6 pints peaches in light syrup
  • 7 pints peach chutney
  • 4 quarts + 1 8 oz apple sauce
  • 16 blueberry jams – several recipes

Canning was one of the hurdles I cleared this season. As a teenager I witnessed my mom making and canning crab apple jam, but can’t remember participating. There really is nothing to canning, but it’s one of those old/new skills that was a bit intimidating to me. Nevertheless, wanting to work on our food self-sufficiency, I knew it was something I really wanted to do, so I started collecting jars early on, through Freecycle, Craig’s list and from the landfill. I still have many cases of empty larger jars. I only had to buy 8 oz jars, and lids and screw bands.

The shelves of the canning pantry were already there in our basement. I think the lady who lived her before us kept her own jars on them, because you can see some ring marks. I like it that they’re not deep, so I can see and check the jars at first glance. I’ll have to add some shelves if I keep this up, and also because I want to start adding things like flours, sugar, etc. The pantry is close to the furnace but the temperature fluctuations are minimal. Our basement is a constant 65 F, give or take a degree. It is always dark, except in winter, then I use the same space to grow my seedlings in winter: I will have to install a curtain for the pantry when those 16/24 lights come on

Like most of us in the States this year I was expecting a lot more from my garden then what I really got – bad weather and inexperience contributed. So I turned to the Farmers Market for produce (blueberry jam was my first attempt) and began hot-water bath canning in my large stockpot. I was already having fun when DH bought the high-pressure canner (the biggest Presto) for my birthday and helped me out on my first run, and then I was truly off. I use the Presto for the hot-water bath, since it is now my largest pot and it has a nice rack which keeps the jars from falling over.

I use the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving for recipes and instructions, as well as the manual for my canner. I use my glass top electric cook stove. It takes a lot longer to get that big pot of water boiling than on a gas stove, but that’s how it is for now. I have no trouble with the glass stove top as my canner has a flat bottom and I’m extra careful when I put it down (so as not to break the glass).

As I wrote earlier, canning (especially in a hot kitchen on a summer’s day) is heightening my appreciation for food production as much as growing the food does. Peeling, coring, chopping up, boiling, straining and processing 12 lbs of apples takes about 2 hours of work and comes to 4 quarts and 2 8 oz jars. A quick run to the shop takes 15 minutes and could come to hundreds of jars of applesauce!

Then there is the financial issue. Those organic apples at my Farmers Market were about $7 for a bag of 6 lbs (much cheaper than the apples the grocery store). So let’s say I made 5 quarts of sauce, that’s $1.40 per pint, which doesn’t calculate in the cost of the jar (okay, free in this case), lids and screw bands, electricity, water, sugar, spices, and my time. The organic applesauce in my grocery store comes to $2.64 per pint. I think the jar, lids and other ingredients can easily fit into that $1.24 difference… but not my time.

But that’s applesauce. On the one side there are the so-called more added-value foodstuffs, like fig preserves, salsas and pestos, which will come out quite a bit cheaper home canned if you can source the key ingredients cheaply. On the other side there are things like basic tomato sauce, which will be much cheaper from the supermarket shelves. My $1.99/lb organic tomatoes made a shocking $4 per pint home canned basic tomato sauce (so again excluding jar, other ingredients, electricity and time), while the supermarket organic tomato sauce is only $1.14 per pint. Another factor is organic vs. conventional: if the raw materials are the latter, then the price compared to non-organic store bought cans will likely be against the home canner.

So let’s say it all comes out in the middle, like the apple sauce: it comes to the same, except for the time. Then the question is: is it worth my time?

I believe it is, for a variety of reasons. I am preserving not just apples, but a skill as well. I enjoy working with food (especially if I’ve grown it, or if I’ve come to know the farmer who has). I fear that in the future the supermarkets might not be so well-stocked on applesauce and I want to know how to fill that gap myself. I can be certain of the “local-ness” and “organic-ness” of the raw materials. And I know exactly what went into my handwashed jars: the apples, sugar, spices, water and lemon juice of my choosing and making – no Bisphenol A, no neglected bacteria and other contaminants, no “manufacturing oils”.

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6 Comments

  1. I think doing anything the way you might have to do it later today is a good drill for the future even if it doesn’t make sense financially (both directly and thinking of your time as money).

    Modern life has made everyone lazy, myself included. Just training yourself to be willing to do these sorts of chores is a mental preparation for when you won’t have any other choice.

    The loss of idle time will perhaps be the first casualty of peak oil.

  2. Thanks Ed, so true.
    “Idle time,” though, what do we modern do with it? Waste it on tv and internet (sorry). Also, if we all revert back to a pre-industrial life, we’ll probably have loads more idle time, and none of the modern trappings to waste it on.

  3. You said it right, when you said you are preserving a skill for the future(generation too). It is a disease of the modern world to to put dollar amount on everything. I hope I can get over the hurdle and try canning sometime!

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