Does Canning Your Own Food Save you Money?
Jam from our pick-your-own strawberries.
I believe it does, if done the right way. As with all things, you can spend however much you want on it. If you have only a few dollars to spend on canning your own food, then that is what you will spend. It can be done cheaply! Many people will spend more money on things just because they have it. I think you should spend as little as possible on things and canning is one of the ways I save money each year. I think that with the rising costs of purchasing food at the grocery store, more and more people will be looking into producing and storing their own foods - and canning your own food is a great way to do this.
Having a garden myself, canning is a great way to store the excess vegetables I grow. The cost to me each year is the price of the lids used. It hasn't always been this way though. Initially I did have to purchase jars, rings and lids. If purchased full price this can be very pricey. I have been able to get many of my jars for free from friends and family that know I can my food. Many people have canning jars sitting in their homes not knowing what to do with them. Maybe they canned decades ago, or maybe they have received gifts of canned food. If someone knows that you can your own food, they are very likely to offer you some, if not all of their jars.
I have also purchased canning jars at garage sales for a dime each. I have seen them listed on Craigslist and Freecycle numerous times for much less than retail prices. Before canning anything you have to boil all the jars and make them sterile, so it doesn't really matter where it came from to start with. Canning jars don't stain and as long as they aren't chipped or cracked, they can be used.
Rings and lids are a different story. You need both the rings and the lids to can the items initially. Rings can be reused indefinitely. The only time I replace them is if they are rusty or so bent that they won't fit nicely on the jar. Once you have canned something and the jar has cooled, you should remove the ring from the jar. This will allow you to visually make sure you have a good seal and will prevent the rings from rusting. Canning jars can be stored with just the lids on - some foods are safe for years after canning, if stored properly. Removing the rings, will allow you to get by with only a dozen or so rings for a whole season of canning.
Lids need to be replaced each time you can something. It is not safe to reuse the lids, as the rubber seal will not be as effective the second time around and this could possibly allow bacteria to enter the jars and spoil the food. Lids are the cheapest part of canning - I can purchase a 12 pack of lids for $1.09, or $.09 per lid.
Acquiring a canner can be a challenge. I use my grandmother's old canner. It works wonderfully and is probably 60 years old or more. Let people know that you are looking for a canner if you don't already have one. Maybe someone inherited one and doesn't know what to do with it. Maybe an elderly person doesn't use theirs anymore and would love to find a good home for it. Letting people know what you are looking for is often times the fastest and cheapest way to get something.
Also check garage sales, eBay, freecycle and craigslist for a canner. You should be able to purchase a used canner pretty easily. New these can cost $100 or more, so purchasing a new one would absolutely increase your cost tremendously. If you use it year after year though, the per use cost will go down accordingly and it would still be a good purchase.
Another expense when canning food is the food. If you do not grow your own, it could quickly become expensive. Having a garden is a wonderful way to save money on food. If you do not have your own garden, do you have friends or neighbors that share their bounty? You could work out a deal with an avid gardener that he or she grows the food and you can it. Then split the food 50/50. Check pick-your-own places and farmers markets. These will offer you the next best deal in acquiring the food to can. Do keep in mind the health benefits of canning your own food when considering the price. There is a definite benefit there. Purchasing food full price at a grocery store will be your most expensive way to can food. And health wise would be my last resort for canning. Sometimes you can get loss leaders that could make it a good price, but do consider how far it has traveled and how long it has taken to get to you. It might not be a very good option health wise to can this produce if it was picked 2 weeks ago.
Some people might say that canning uses too much electricity. However using your canner to can 7 quart jars of spaghetti sauce uses about the same amount of energy to make a meal size portion of spaghetti sauce all by itself. But with canning you get 7 meals worth for the same electricity. Canning can be time consuming, especially when you are first getting started. The more you do it though, the faster you will get and it will become routine and easy. The faster you get at it, the cheaper it becomes to can your own food.
There are many benefits to canning your own food. You can pick vegetables right from the vine or fruit right from the tree and within a few hours have it canned and ready to store for the year. You have saved all the nutritional value in those cans and you also know exactly what goes into each jar of food you can. No artificial preservatives, no high fructose corn syrup, etc. Just good old fruits and vegetables (unless you are making jam and then of course you have sugar as well). A benefit of canning over freezing your excess food is that it requires no thawing time and if you lose power, it doesn't effect your canned food like it does your frozen food. It also doesn't require electricity to store if it is canned.
A great way to see if canning foods is for you, would be to start simple. I have been making jellies and jams every year for a long time. I do not use my canner for these. All you need to get started is a box of Pectin, the fruit of your choice and sugar. The directions are always in the box of Pectin (found at your grocery store with the canning supplies) and are very simple to follow. I use the inversion method to can my jams - which just means that after I fill them and get the lids on good, I turn them over for 5 minutes. After the 5 minutes I flip them back and wait for the popping of the lids. It is so simple! Starting easy will allow you to see if canning your own food is something that you really want to get into.
Canning your own food has many benefits, but the one that I like best is the money savings. If you are looking for a good way to save money on food, then I believe that canning your own food will do that for you. Spend carefully when you are getting your supplies together for the most savings. And remember that every year your cost should go down, because you are reusing everything except the lids. Good luck and happy canning!