Jean Ince | County Extension Agent Staff Chair
With today’s rising food prices, many people are thinking about home gardening and preserving nature’s bounty. Nothing tastes better than fresh fruits and vegetables and that taste can be preserved through home canning and/or freezing of garden fresh foods.
Before you invest your time and money in home food preservation, there are some considerations to help you decide whether or not it will help you save money.
Cost of the food you want to preserve. How much you spend for food depends on where you get it. Grocery stores are usually the most expensive place to buy food especially for home canning. Produce may be less expensive at farmer’s markets, roadside stands or U-pick farms. If you grow your own food, you will have to consider the time and energy you will spend in maintaining a garden plus the cost of equipment, fertilizers, seeds, water and tools.
Which method to use. Canning and freezing are the two most common methods for preserving food. Do you have space in your freezer for extra foods? What about cabinet space to store jars of canned food? Plan to can only what you can use within a year because the quality will deteriorate after a year. Food safety experts also recommend discarding any home processed food after one year.
Make sure you follow safe, up-to-date directions for preserving food. Follow USDA recommendations for home processing. If you are still using recommendations from your grandmother or from old publications, you will need to update the time tables and other recommendations from the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
Cost of freezing food. Freezing fruits and vegetables is the easiest and least time-consuming way to preserve food. Some costs to consider are the cost of a freezer if you do not have one, maintaining and repairing the freezer and the electricity needed to operate the freezer. Here are some ways to keep operating costs down.
– Typically, chest freezers are less expensive to operate than upright freezers.
– Frost-free freezers can cost as much or more to operate than conventional defrost freezers.
– Buy the size freezer you need. A large freezer costs more to operate than a smaller version.
– Full freezers are less expensive to run than ones half full.
– Avoid putting the freezer in a warm place, such as the laundry room near heat-producing appliances.
– Keep the door closed as much as possible.
– Read and understand the owner’s manual to make sure you are operating and cleaning it correctly.
– Be sure to use the correct packaging to protect the flavor, color, texture and nutritional value of foods. Containers should be moisture-vapor resistant and should be labeled as freezer containers on the packaging.
Cost of canning food. Canning can be a less expensive way of preserving food, especially if you are an experienced canner and have the necessary supplies and equipment. However, it does take more time to can food than to freeze them. If you are a beginner, here are some costs you may have:
– Cost of pressure and/or water bath canners.
– Cost of jar funnels, lifters, jars, lids and other necessary tools.
– Cost of water, gas, and electricity.
– Cost of added ingredients such as vinegar, spices, and sugar.
If you decide to use can foods, you must use procedures that will keep the food safe. Up-to-date procedures from reliable sources, such as the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning or the National Center for Home Food Preservation web site, www.uga.edu/nchfp.
If you want to can both fruits and vegetables, you will need two different canners. For canning high-acid foods, such as fruits, pickles, jellies and jams, you will need a boiling water bath canner. For canning low-acid vegetables (green beans, corn, peas, etc.) you will need a pressure canner. If you choose a pressure canner with a dial gauge, it must be checked annually to make sure it is working properly.
Whichever method you choose, you will need to plan ahead. Here are some things you will need to plan for:
– Check your jars and decide if you need to buy new ones. Do not use jars with cracks, nicks, or chips, especially around the top.
– Buying jars at yard sales may save you money, but be sure to check the jars before purchasing them. Standard canning jars are recommended. Avoid mayonnaise or peanut butter glass jars.
– Jars that use a two-piece self-sealing metal lid are recommended. You must buy new flat lids every canning season. Do not reuse lids. Avoid using screw bands that are dented, rusted or bent. Throw them away.
– Be sure you have the right storage place. Store foods between 50º and 70º F for the best quality, and use the food within one year.
For more information on home canning of fruits and vegetables, contact the Howard County Extension Office at 870-845-7517 or visit our office located on the second floor of the courthouse. I’ll be glad to give up up-to-date recommendations for timetables and other home canning information. You can also get your soil tested for your garden spot to determine what fertilizer needs you might have in order to get the most produce from your garden. It doesn’t cost anything and you usually get lab results back in 2 to 3 weeks.
Recipe of the Week
Here is a favorite freezer jam recipe that my family loves. If you want to try your hand at home food preservation start with jellies and jams. They are easy to make. This freezer jam recipe is super easy and takes about 30 minutes from start to finish. Great activity to do with children. The whole family will love it on biscuits or toast in the morning or spoon some on ice cream for an old fashion ed sundae treat!
Strawberry Freezer Jam
2 cups crushed strawberries (buy 1 qt. fully ripe strawberries)
4 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl
¾ cup water
1 box powdered fruit pectin
Rinse clean 5 (1 cup) plastic freezer containers and lids with hot water. Dry thoroughly. Wash, stem and crush strawberries thoroughly, 1 cup at a time. Measure exactly 2 cups prepared fruit into large bowl. Stir in sugar. Let stand 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Mix water and pectin in small saucepan. Bring to boil on high heat, stirring constantly. Continue boiling and stirring 1 minute. Add to fruit mixture; stir 3 minutes or until sugar is dissolved and no longer grainy. (A few sugar crystals may remain.)
Fill all containers immediately to within ½ inch of tops. Wipe off top edges of containers; immediately cover with lids. Let stand at room temperature 24 hours. Jam is now ready to use. Store in refrigerator up to 3 weeks or freeze extra containers up to 1 year. Thaw in refrigerator before using.
Nutrition Information: Serving size – 1 Tablespoon, Calories – 50, Total fat – 0,
Carbohydrate – 12 g., Vitamin C – 10%DV