2 years ago I was terrified to do canning. I thought it would be expensive, difficult, and that it would not be something I could do with 3 children under the age of 5 in tow. I managed. But was it expensive? Is it cost effective? The answer is: no. Not conventionally, but my husband has a knack of making ANYTHING cost effective! Here are some of the ways we’ve made canning cost effective in our home:
- Never Buy Full Price. First rule of all penny pinchers! We found a variety of ways to do this:
Buy in bulk. Grocery stores are not the place to buy your produce, if you want to be cost effective. We buy ours at the produce auction, in bulk. (Last haul was $35 for 200lbs of produce, mostly peaches, nectarines, with some tomatoes, and green beans thrown in.)
Work hard. Growing your own produce is another way to cut costs. Also, swap with friends, family, or neighbors. I cannot begin to count how many times we got free plants, or swapped produce with someone who had a prolific tomato plant. My husband has an arrangement with his Brother. Allen’s brother and his wife have 2 apple trees. They don’t want to harvest the whole lot every year. So Allen picks the apples, his brother’s wife picks out the ones she wants, and Allen brings the rest home. Didn’t cost a cent, but it did cost some work. The apples pictured are only SOME of what he brought home. I’d already made roughly 12 pints of apple butter and apple sauce.
Shop around. Don’t just go to Wal Mart to get your canning supplies. Allen found out the Dollar General near our home was cheaper. This way we saved on gas AND canning supplies. Double win! Remember that your jars and rings are reusable. The first year might seem like quite an expense, but every year after, all you really need to buy are the lids, and those run $2-$3 for 12.
Buy used. Allen found me two water bath canners for a song at an auction. Yes, they were used, but who cares? Its only water. Be careful though about buying used jars. Check for nicks, scratches, and imperfections in the glass, it could end up costing you in produce later, if the jar bursts in the canning bath.
- Skip the gadgets, doo dads, and tools. All you really need are the jars, the water bath canner,
rack, a jar lifter, a knife/peeler and a few bowls and pots for cooking. In my experience the gadgets don’t ever work as well as you think they do, or process as fast as you think they will. They’re fun the first couple of gos, or can be good when your hands need a little bit of a break, but nothing can replace a knowledgeable person on the business end of a knife. It is faster for me to core, peel, and slice apples myself than to use this gadget. (pictured)
- Be humble. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people up their calculation of the “cost” of canning by factoring in time spent. How much is your time worth? My time is worth whatever I want it to be worth, and it is worth it to me to have low sugar preservative free foods for my children to eat.
- Consider your habits. Do you only eat canned veggies? Or canned tomatoes? Those are cheap at the store, and so it might not be a better option to can them yourself, if that is all your family eats. But there is the other group of items to consider, do you eat a lot of pie filling? Canned fruit? Pickled items? Jams and Jellies? It may be more worth your while to can if your pantry is usually full of these more expensive items.
- Limit your expensive ingredients. It does not cost much to buy the produce, if you are careful about where, when, and how you buy/get it. But you can spend a lot on things like pectin or sugar. Try to make sugar free applesauce with apples, Don’t do a ton of Apple Butter or Pie Filling, if the cost will be prohibitive. Also, buy bottled lemon juice. It goes farther than the lemons themselves, and makes for a more stable acidity content. You know what you’re getting, and it costs less.
- Do big batches. It takes a LOT of energy to heat up the water bath canner. Try to manage your canning so that electric and energy is not wasted.
I’ll be honest, canning isn’t all roses and Unicorns. Some downsides of canning:
- You’ll have no life. It really takes up a lot of time and energy to can. I spend most of that time on the couch, peeling apples, peaches, or whatever else. Helps me not to be bored, plus it is nice time with my kids, watching their favorite Disney movies together.
- Your house will be a wreck. Canning is messy. It makes a lot of dishes, and you have no time to do much more than take a few minutes to swish some clorox in the toilet, tidy the house a bit, and hope nobody comes over to see you, in your sweatpants, hair slapped back in a hair tie, and covered in apple sauce.
- You don’t come out unscathed. Nicks, burns, and blisters, Oh My! If you are like me, you’ll sustain an injury, or eight.
- Your muscles will be angry… Believe it or not, canning requires massive amounts of fine motor skills, and large motor skills. You’ll have achy muscles from head to toe, despite the fact that most of your canning hours will have been spent on your bum, peeling stuff.
- Your house will be a myriad of smells. From fabulous (Apple Pie Filling!) To dreadful (Apple pie filling mixed with pickled jalepenos? Ew.)
Canning is mostly a lot of hard work. So the question is, is it worth the work involved? If not, then it will never be any kind of effective, cost or otherwise. It takes a lot of time and effort to peel, cook, clean dishes, etc. If you are up for all the elbow grease required, then happy canning!