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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 30, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Estimating How Much Food Home Can

Frugal Kitchens 101
Home canning is the most frugal activity possible.  Even if you only home can high acid foods (eg. jams, jellies, pickles, fruits) you can save a significant amount on your food costs.  Add canning low acid foods (eg. vegetables, meats, poultry, soups, dried beans) greatly increases your food cost savings.  Keeping a well stocked pantry that relies heavily on home canned foods requires a bit of planning.  The ideal goal is to put up enough produce to last until the next growing season with a bit extra as reserves and for gift giving.  There are three approaches to home canning.  The first approach is to simply can whatever possible.  This approach is the one used most often by new home canners.  The problem is it can lead to too much of one product and not enough of another but it is a good way to get started in home canning.  The second approach is to use a canner's planning guide based on the number of servings per week as recommended by Canada's Food Guide.  This approach can be quite overwhelming for new home canners as it would result in 824 - L jars, 72 - 500 ml (pint) jars and 160 - 250 ml (half-pint) jars for a total of 1,056 jars of food for a family of four.  The third approach and the most versatile is a combination of the first and second approach.  It also takes into account your family's actual food usage while giving you the flexibility of preserving your garden harvest as well as taking advantage of fresh local produce and meat or poultry sales.  I use the third approach which is, in my opinion, the frugal and cost effective approach.  Here are a few tips to help you estimate how much food to home can.

  • basic calculations - amount used per week X 52 = amount required per year OR # jars used per dish X number of times the dish is made per year
    • take stock - Go through all of your food cupboards, your pantry and your freezer.  Make a list of the foods you use on a regular basis.  If there is a food product like relish that has sat in the cupboard for over a year that is a strong indicator that you should not be home canning relish.  If there is a product you use a lot of like tomato sauce that is what you should be home canning.  Make note of the size jar or can you are currently buying as that will be very similar to the size you will want to use for home canning.
    • focus on what you use -It is nice to experiment and each year I always try a few small batches of a new product to home can but my main focus is canning what I know we will use.  We use a lot of tomato product, green beans, kidney beans and meat/poultry stocks so that is the focus of a good portion of my home canning.  I can other foods in lesser quantity.  For example, we have green beans at least twice a week.  That means I need to can at least 104 - 500 ml jar.  Another example, we use home canned carrots not as a side but rather an ingredient.  I use 1 - 500 ml jar about once a month in the cooler weather.  November through March is 5 months so I need a minimum of 5 - 500 ml jars carrots.  I usually round this up to 8 so I can run a full half canner load. 
    • don't go overboard - If you are the only one in the house that likes pickles, don't can 40 jars of pickles.  Do a small batch or two of whatever pickles you like.  This will give you 2 to 7 jars of pickles depending on the size of the jar used.  The average small batch recipe gives a yield of 4 - 500 ml jars.  Any new product that you have never canned before but like the sounds of it so would like to try should be canned in a small batch size.  This reduces waste in the event you do not like the food.
    • think convenience -  Some home canned foods are convenience foods (eg. kidney beans) while others are great quick meal starts (eg. meatballs in sauce).  I use 6 - 500 ml jars of kidney beans per batch of chili (huge batch).  I make about 6 batches this size per year and the resulting chili itself can also be canned for a ready meal.  At minimum I need to can 36 - 500 ml jars of kidney beans (#used X times made). 
    • break up canning sessions - I use a lot of meat stock, upwards of 4 - 500ml jars per week.  The basic calculation would mean I need to can 4 x 52 = 208 jars of stock BUT meat and poultry stock can be canned year round and is canned when the bones are available.  That means I can stock as I have the bones throughout the year.  Tomatoes are a horse of another colour.  Our garden starts producing tomatoes by mid-July but the bulk of the tomato harvest here is September through mid-October or first frost.  Over that time period I will do multiple canning sessions focusing only on tomato products and usually one or two tomato products per session.  Depending on the product each session will give a yield of 12 to 48 jars of food.  The pre-determined number of jars of each product determines how many canning sessions I need to do for that particular product.  For example, if I need 24 - 500 ml jars of roasted tomato basil sauce with each batch giving me a yield of 6 - 500 ml jars, I need 4 batches total.  Since this is a long cook sauce, I would make one batch per session in addition to whatever else I was canning during that session.  I would need 4 canning sessions to complete what I needed for the roasted tomato basil sauce but at the same time would be running another tomato product like whole tomatoes while the sauce cooked.
    • keep records -  I keep detailed records of what I canned, the cost of the raw ingredients, any problems encountered and the yield as well as the inventory for any product in the pantry when I am ready to a canning session for that product.  This information helps me form my canning plan for the following year.  For example, if I made 12 jars each of mild, medium and hot salsa (total jars 36) but have only 2 jars of mild salsa left, it would mean I have to increase the amount of all three salsas  Chances are good, I ran out of the medium and hot, then stretched the mild to get to the next canning season.  I would increase the total number of jars by 12 then track whether it was enough or not.  On the other hand, if I canned 12 jars of cherry jam and my inventory was 8 when cherries were ready that would mean there would be no need to can more or I could do a small batch of cherry jam to replace the 4 jars used, which is likely what I would do.  If I find like last year there is a higher demand for something I usually don't make (eg. dill pickles) I note that so that I can include that product in the following year's canning plan.
    • be flexible - Some years are good gardening years with plenty of local fresh produce at reasonable rates.  Other years it can be harder than heck to keep the garden going or find the fresh produce you want to can.  This is why I always add a 10 - 20% margin on what I am canning unless it is a new test product but if it is something I just have a feeling about I will make a two year supply.  For example, if I need 12 jars of peaches I would round it up to 14 jars which would be two canner loads of 500 ml jars BUT if peaches were expensive the year before yet abundant and inexpensive that year with predictions of adverse weather conditions that may drive the price of peaches up the following year, I would can 28 jars.  I always take into consideration the availability of what I'm growing plus what is available locally for purchase.  At the same time if there is a good sale on produce, meat or poultry I will take advantage of it.  It's usually for produce that isn't grown locally (eg. citrus, mangos) but again I follow availability and our usage.

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