To can or not to can

By Mir
July 10, 2006

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.

Good afternoon!
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.

Still thinking.

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.


  1. One good option for fresh produce, especially for those who are short on time is to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). is the best way to find one near you. Yes, you will be spending money up front, BUT, you will be getting the very best, freshest local produce all summer, and it will encourage you to cook more, and that will save money (over heating up TV dinners or eating out), so in the long run, I think it’s money-saver.

  2. I understand the dilemma. My garden produce always comes ripe when I’m too busy to can it or prepare for freezing because I’m a public school teacher. But…I agree, buy a freezer and do what you can. I sometimes freeze big ziplock bags of fresh green beans right off the vine. Mmm…they taste great in January. Using appliances like a dehydrater is NOT cheating! You’ll enjoy the end product much more than you would if you bought it from the store.

  3. i am a farmer’s market addict. if there in one in your area its a great option for the fresh produce and for buying to can or freeze. it can be a bit more expensive but the quality is far superior and if you are just canning tomatoes of some kind (or salsa) always ask for their canning tomatoes. they are usual about $10 a box. i made a huge batch of salsa last summer and just ran out in may. completely cost effective.
    Here is a list of veggies and fruits that freeze well in my opinion: corn (cut off the cob), green peppers, onions, rhubarb, any berries, peaches, cherries (already pitted).
    – when freezing, cut it up into whatever form you will use is later and lay it out on a cookie sheet. stick that in the freezer for a couple of hours until frozen. Then transfer to freezer baggies.
    Here is a list of veggies that can well in my opinion: tomatoes, any form of apples or pears, jams, babyfood (which can be made out of just about anything).

    Just my two cents. Hope it helps!

  4. What about pick-your-own orchards and farms? You can get fresh produce for less than the grocery store without having to grow it yourself. Back east, it seemed like most places had berries, pumpkins and apples (and sometimes peaches). Sometimes, the orchard also has a farm stand where you can get corn and other in-season vegetables. I’m homesick just thinking about it! Here in the Las Vegas valley, we have one pick-your-own orchard that sells melons, squash, dates, peaches and apples, plus pumpkins in the fall.

  5. In the past I’ve tended to shy away from freezing for two reasons
    (1) Space is at a premium (I have a small freezer and generally get a 1/4 beef in there)
    (2) Unreliable power. This was a greater problem when I was growing up, but even now, my power can go out for a day at a time, so I’ve always shied away from the freeze method for massive quantities of produce simply because canning was an option… I wont loose my canned bounty if the power goes out.
    I’ve never canned meat though. I’m not that insane.

    I will definately investigate the pick-your-own option… I had no idea anything other than Strawberries did pick-your- own.

    So… does anyone know how to store massive quantities of root-type vegetables over the winter? (ie- if I got 50 lbs of potatoes, and a bushel or so of cabbage, squash, cauliflower, etc)?

  6. I think the one thing missing from the answer is to Tonya’s comment about how it seems tough to justify the canning when things like tomatoes go on sale for so cheap.

    Just remember this, that the same fresh fruits and vegeetables that you deride as cardboard tasting in the Supermarket is the same pesticide ridden tomatoes you will find in that DelMonte can.

    In today’s food as a cheap commodity world, canning may not seem like (and isn’t on the surface) the cheapest option… until you take into consideration you and your families health, as well as the amount of greehouse gasses emitted by plants, etc to get that can to the shelf of your local grocer.

    I am obviously late to this party and there have been some great comments already, like finding a CSA or pick-your-own places. Another good source of finding information on local CSA’s and the like is at

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