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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, July 09, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - The Economics of Home Canning

Frugal Kitchens 101

Home canning is a cost effective way to put high quality foods on the table for a fraction of the price for store bought.  You can easily put up unique home canned products (eg. pineapple jelly, pulled pork, rhubarb pie filling) that you cannot buy in the stores while preserving your garden harvest and taking advantage of sales.  Contrary to some beliefs, home canning is not labour intensive or time consuming as some make it out to be.  A batch of jam takes about 10 minutes to prepare the fruit and cook the jam then another 10 minutes for processing.  You have 20 minutes invested into 5 or 6 jars of jam that will keep you in jam for 6 weeks or more assuming you use one jar of jam per week.  Unlike freezing foods, home canned foods do not cost you any electricity during storage.  It really is one of the most frugal kitchen activities you can do.   That being said, there are associated costs of canning that need to be considered.  These include equipment, supplies, cooking fuel, and cost of acquisition for food and/or equipment and/or supplies.

  • equipment - Equipment for home canning includes BWB canner, pressure canner, jar lifter, wide mouth funnel, lid lifter, jars, reusable lids, metal bands, a food strainer and up to date recipe book (eg. Bernardin Guide to Home Canning, Ball Blue Book).  Other standard kitchen equipment such as knives and food processor can be of use as can specialty equipment like a cherry pitter or apple peeler but they are not must haves.  The necessary equipment pays for itself usually within the first year of canning depending on how much canning you do.
    • BWB canner (for high acid foods) - A large enamel boiling water bath canner complete with rack will cost about $25.  You can retrofit a large stock pot to use as a BWB canner for about $2 or you can use your pressure canner as a BWB canner by leaving the gasket off or leaving the lid loose on a metal to metal seal pressure canner.
    • pressure canner (for low acid foods) - A pressure canner will range in price from about $65 to $400 depending on the size and brand.  Some pressure canners (eg. Presto, Mirro) require rubber gaskets that need replacing (about $12) but the All American has a metal to metal seal so no gasket is required.  Used pressure canners can be found that will cost less than new.
    • lifters, funnel - Both Bernardin and Ball sell a home canning kit for about $15 however, you can buy just the jar lifter (a must) and a large mouth funnel for about $7.  Use silicone tongs to lift the lids from the hot water.
    • reusable lids - There are two types of reusable lids, Tattlers (plastic) and glass inserts.  While they are expensive, they will pay for themselves in about 7 uses after which they cost nothing to use.  Both can be used indefinitely but be warned the glass inserts will break if dropped.  The rubber rings for Tattlers are still in production are $2.85 per dozen.  They need to be replaced after several uses.  The rubber rings for the glass inserts (2  - inch inner diameter) are very difficult to find as they are vintage, no longer in production.
    • jars - New 500 ml (pint) jars cost on average $6 per dozen.  Larger and smaller jars are priced higher.  The jars are reusable with a payback period of 4 uses.  However, you can find used jars at yard sales and resale shops for less than half the price of new.  Check Freecycle and Kijiji for free jars.
  • supplies (consumables) - Consumable supplies include the metal snap lids, pectin, ClearJel, citric acid, Pickle Crisp and any ingredient you normally would not use for day to day cooking.
    • metal snap lids - My cheapest price here is $1.50 per dozen or 12.5¢ each so when using the metal snap lids that 12.5¢ has to be factored into the overall cost of each jar.
    • pectin - Pectin ranges in price from 70¢ per batch (Pomona's) to $3.49 per batch (Certo liquid) with pectin crystals and Quickset falling between that range.  Regardless of the type of pectin used, factor in the cost per batch which can then be translated into cost per ml.
    • ClearJel, citric acid, Pickle Crisp - None of these products contribute a significant cost to the final product.  Keep the cost of citric acid low by buying in bulk from a wine making shop.  In general, factor in about 4¢ per batch if using these ingredients.
  • cooking fuel - The cost of cooking fuel should be factored into the overall cost of the final product.  Here, a 2,100 W electric burner running for one hour will cost about 25¢.  A large natural gas burner running for the same period of time costs 8.3¢ so clearly it is less expensive to can using natural gas if at all possible.  In general, never run a partial canner load especially when pressure canning if at all possible.  Some foods need to be processed as long as 90 minutes in the pressure canner.  It costs the same amount to run a full canner load as it does a part load but when calculated over the cost per jar the full canner load is less expensive with respect to cooking fuel use.
  • cost of acquisition - Cost of acquisition includes shipping & handling, travel costs, Cost of acquisition should be factored into home canning costs.  Clearly if I walk to my backyard, pick the produce and can it the cost is considerably less than if I drive 10 miles to pick up free produce.  If you have to drive, get the maximum amount of whatever you will be canning that you can comfortably can within a day or two.  For example, my comfort zone for canning tomatoes is 2 - 3 hampers in a day or day and half.  It is not cost effective to drive 10 miles for 2 quarts of strawberries with today's price of gas but driving that same distance to stock up at a farmer's market can be worth it.  Always reduce the cost of acquisition whenever possible.

1 food lovers commented:

Heather said...

I love all your posts on canning! You are the blogger that got me started on my own canning adventure.