Yesterday, my home-canning season officially began with my first batch of strawberry preserves. My spine went a little tingly when I heard that “pop” from each lid, signaling another successful jar. I also shelled and froze a pound of peas for the winter. Now that I’m done, I thought I’d share a few tips.
Cost: $2.33 + sugar
Since I already have all my canning supplies, for this batch, I only spent $2.33. I bought six pounds of strawberries for $7 (we ate two pounds, and I made one pound into strawberry syrup). So, I only canned two pounds ($2.33) and ended up with 4 half-pints of strawberry preserves. I used three cups of sugar in the whole batch, but had that on hand.
Store-bought equivalent: $16
I did a quick google search and found Dickinson’s organic preserves for $4 a jar. Certainly, my strawberry preserves rival that, so yay! That’s a savings of $13.67. I plan to can a total of 12 jars, so that will easily save me $30 for the year, if I subtract out estimates for the lids, sugar, and lemon juice.
Be sure to buy or check out a book about canning and follow your recipe exactly. I’ll just give you an overview of what’s involved. You want to hull the berries and mash about half of them. Then add sugar and lemon juice and cook bring to the jelling point. This can be a little complicated. My favorite method is to freeze a saucer. Once the berries have boiled and gone over to lots of bubbles, I put a spoonful on the frozen saucer and re-freeze it for a minute or two. Then, when I run my finger through the jam, if it holds my finger mark, rather than running right back together, I know I’m in business. Stop, let the preserves cool and plump them overnight. The next day, bring them back to boiling, pack into hot jars, and process for ten minutes in your canner. Pull them out and wait for that satisfying “pop.”
Try to find a u-pick field.
As you can see, I got a great deal on my strawberries. There’s no way that I could get them that cheaply from our farmers’ market. By picking them myself, I save about 50%, and I get that nice summertime feeling being out in the strawberry patch.
Break the canning into steps.
I did this batch over two days, about to an hour each day. This time, I made sure that I sat down while prepping the fruit. I used to stand while doing everything in the kitchen and was exhausted after canning for the day. Now, I understand why my grandma always sat down to shell peas or cut strawberries!
“Plump” your berries.
Last year, I was too impatient to wait for the berries to plump overnight. This year, I followed the advice in my trusty Joy of Cooking: All About Canning and Preserving. The idea is that the chunks of berries left in the preserves absorb more liquid and sugar so that they won’t rise to the top of your jar. Sure enough, my jars look much nicer, with big chunks of fruit spread throughout the jar.
So, that’s my advice for canning berries. Along with saving money, I love to do it because I can control how much sugar goes in the jars, and I know that there are no other chemicals or preservatives in my jam. Plus, I love the consistency. It’s a bit runnier than store-bought preserves, so it’s delicious on ice cream or stirred into yogurt or oatmeal. You’ll save even more money by buying plain oatmeal and yogurt and flavoring them yourself with preserves. Mmm, I think I’ll go eat some oatmeal with preserves right now!