by Tracy Falbe
Preserving your own food with home canning techniques is no longer the dying art of grandmothers and church ladies. Younger people and families are reviving home canning, but you need fresh food in bulk in order to preserve it.
So, how do you get the produce without spending too much?
Growing the food yourself is the obvious, but not only answer. Home gardeners have been canning their fruits and vegetables for generations. Planting a garden and putting in some fruit trees are definitely rewarding. You will get the freshest and most convenient produce this way, but you probably can’t grow everything you want. Time and space limitations often restrict your ability to produce in quantity as well, but you do have options.
Farmers’ markets are expanding all over the country and they offer you a great way to buy fruits, vegetables and other produce. Check your local daily or weekly newspapers for ads and articles about farmers’ markets in your area. The markets are often located in downtowns, so check with your chamber of commerce or downtown business associations for information about farmers’ markets. The website www.localharvest.org has a searchable database of farmers throughout the United States that may be helpful as a starting point too.
You will likely find that you have more than one market in your area through the summer. While you’re at the market, you will be able to meet growers of the types of food in which you’re most interested. Growers often open their farms to the public, and you can find out if you can connect with them directly outside the market venue. They often have bulk deals at the farms. At the market, expect to pay retail prices. Sometimes the prices are better than the supermarket, but you will still be at the retail level.
You-pick or U-pick farms are also widespread. These operations are popular for berries and fruits. You can find them through ads in local publications and signs on the side of the road. Sometimes your vendors at the farmers’ market have u-pick operations too, so be sure to ask. You can get a great price on produce at the u-pick farms because you are supplying the labor and transportation.
I just paid $1.50 a quart for strawberries by picking them myself. The work was a little dirty but otherwise a fairly pleasant activity. It actually felt nice to be out there with other people harvesting food.
People have been doing this since we were wearing fig leaves, and the experience had a natural and serene quality. If I had to do it all day, the work would have been backbreaking, but it’s a nice outing for an hour to get food for your family at a great price. You will certainly gain a deep empathy with the underpaid people who have to put in long days harvesting the food sold at the supermarket.
Another emerging way to find produce is www.craigslist.org. If your community has an active Craigslist be sure to frequently scan the ads in the farm and garden category. This will alert you to deals on local produce, markets, and u-pick farms.
Road side stands usually have decent prices as well. The produce tends to be very fresh because the stands are often right next to the fields.
You can reasonably expect to find good prices on fresh produce during peak seasons. With a little effort you can find the best growers and obtain quality food for home canning.
When I picked strawberries the other day, I paid $12 for 8 quarts. This would have easily cost $24 at the market, so I gained a 50 percent discount with under 1 hour of labor. With that 8 quarts of super fresh strawberries, I put up 18 half pints of jam, made a strawberry crisp dessert, and froze about a quart of whole strawberries to use in a pie later. I put in a big day of work, but all that jam will last my family for months and taste better than anything I can buy.
This is the basic recipe for Canning Strawberry Jam:
- 5 cups strawberries
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 package fruit pectin powder
- 7 cups sugar
Fill and heat a water bath canning kettle. Bring the water almost to boiling, at least 180 degrees F and sterilize 8 to 10 half pint canning jars and new lids in the hot water. Set them aside on a clean cloth.
Then in a big sauce pan, add the strawberries and lemon juice. Crush the strawberries with a potato masher while heating to a boil. Once you have a nice berry mash, thoroughly stir in the pectin. Bring this to a hard boil that cannot be stirred down. Then stir in the appalling amount of sugar. Keep stirring until you reach that hard rolling boil again. Maintain the boiling for 1 full minute and then shut off the heat.
I usually let the jam cool for 5 to 10 minutes and stir it a couple times. Turn the heat back on for your water bath and start filling your jars to within 1/4 inch of the top. Wipe clean the jar edges and put on the lids and bands. Once the water bath is boiling, lower the jars into the water bath and process them for 10 minutes. (If you’re at elevations about 1,000 feet, you may need to process longer. Look for directions specific to your area.)
Remove the jars from the water bath and set them on a counter to cool for 12 to 24 hours. Do not disturb them. You will likely hear the lids pop shut within minutes of taking them out of the water.
You can get many jam and jelly recipes like this one out of the box of fruit pectin. For complete information about home canning and more recipes, please visit and bookmark my website Canning Local http://canning.falbepublishing.com