Tanya has some hard questions for me this morning. So I know you’re all just as pleased as I was that she remembered to tell me that I’m pretty.
In the tradition laid before me, allow me to first state that you and
your site are beautiful, delightful and worth of admiration!
I have a question…. I grew up in a farming family, where we did a
lot of home preserving/canning. Now that I am an adult with a family
of my own, I am finding it very challenging to find the time to do the
same during the summer (I work outside the home and already have a 12 hour day before walking in the door).
To be frank, it offends me to purchase canned tomatoes when I’m
capable of canning them myself, but when you can get canned tomatoes on sale for 69 cents a can, it’s hard to justify the expenditure of time and energy (not just my own, but that of my stove, air conditioner, sanity, etc.).
Is there a thumb rule for what kinds of canning is best done in house
and what is best purchased at the grocery store? I hate the taste of store-bought stuff, but the convenience is undeniably attractive, and I am no longer certain how much monetary savings are really arising from the home-canning method.
I am also finding that even with produce in season, it is more
expensive in the city than I would like, and almost everything from a
grocery store tastes like cardboard anyway. Is there any alternative
to the grocery store or roadside stand methods of procuring my
veggies? The former is always available, but tastes like cardboard.
The latter tastes much better, but is rarely available and often
expensive. Is there an alternative of which I am unaware?
Thank you for your time!
Phew! Lots of issues in there. Let’s see what we can do.
First off, full disclosure: I tend to dislike canned veggies. Yes, I also use canned tomatoes when I cook. And things like canned beans, sometimes. But given a choice between, say, home canned green beans and… let’s see… death? Well, I’ll need a minute to think that over.
Maybe you should come back later…?
The thing is, most vegetables are meant to be lovely and crisp and vibrant in color! And most canned veggies are limp and salty and soggy and muted in color, because they are so sad at being held captive in brine. It’s kind of tragic, really.
And don’t even get me started on canned fruit; unless we’re talking about jams/jellies/preserves. Those are awesome. But fruit cocktail is the work of the devil, dude.
The thing is, most fruits and vegetables taste the best, and are best for you, in as close to their natural state as possible. Floating delicious food in a lot of liquid and then added either sugar or salt just isn’t going to result in a superior food product, most of the time. I understand that it’s a great way to preserve things. I just don’t think it tastes all that good.
So. That’s my bias, heading into this.
As someone who is anti-canning, does that mean I eat nothing but fresh? Well, no. I wish. Too expensive. And really, in this day and age of $3-per-gallon gasoline, not terribly cost-efficient, either. (Unless I grow everything myself, and seeing as how I can kill a plant without even trying, that sounds like a recipe for starvation, to me. Moving on.)
We eat fresh and in-season, when we can. We also eat a lot of frozen veggies; flash-freezing maintains the integrity of the vegetables pretty well. It’s not as good as fresh, no, but it is (to my mind) much better than canned. So if we’re talking about what to buy at the store, I’m going to reach for frozen when I can’t have fresh. And I’m going to reach for canned when I’m dead.
Ahem. Sorry, what were we talking about? Oh, right. Costs. And options.
So, if you’re determined to grow your own, that’s great. More power to you. Are you really saving money when all is said and done? Maybe. Maybe not. Home farming is a labor of love, most of the time. Also the results may taste better. But highly cost-effective? Not necessarily. I found this piece on home canning a nice little overview and cost calculator. It’s definitely worth a read.
Counting the Cost did a nice compilation of suggestions about eating both healthy and frugal. It covers a variety of topics, including home canning.
Lastly, the University of Minnesota has a great section on all the things to consider when heading into home canning.
And now that I’ve sat here and disparaged canning up and down, you may be thinking, “Well, FINE. What would you have me do, if I’m bound and determined to grow my own food and make it cost-effective?”
One, I’d suggest you buy a freezer already and freeze some of your produce. Easy.
Two, I’d suggest you think about investing in something like this Ronco dehydrator. Dehydrators are like anything else; you can spend as little or as much as you like. I like that one because it’s 69% off and has free shipping and good reviews and it told me I was pretty. Well, not that last part. But it seems like a pretty good bang-for-the-buck option. Dried fruit is a delicious snack, and there are whole books out there on what to do with dehydrated veggies. (I’m not a jerky fan, myself, but some people really love it. So, um, good luck with that.)
Bottom line? Farm away, and can (or freeze, or dehydrate) to your heart’s content, if that’s what floats your boat. Inbetween? Buy in-season, buy frozen, and figure out the affordable local and organic options in your area.
By the way, I’m particularly fond of homemade zucchini bread. In case you were wondering.