Category Archives: pantry

My Big Bulk-Shopping Trip

by aka Kath

by aka Kath

Monday, school closed due to the remnants of Hurricane Ike, which did some damage all the way up here in Ohio.  After doing a little happy dance at the unexpected holiday, I decided to head out to the grocery store for my first attempt at buying for three months.  Last week, I posted the rules for my new approach to groceriesBasically, I want to buy non-perishiables to last three months.  Then, I’ll supplement with trips to the farmer’s market, and bi-weekly trips for meat and cheese.

Thanks to some tips from readers, I decided NOT to join a bulk warehouse or go crazy buying things online.  Instead, I went to Meijer and aimed to buy the store brand as much as possible.  The trip itself was actually pretty fun.  They have nuts and granola in bulk bins and lots of large quantities of other supplies.  By limiting my shopping to the middle aisles, it didn’t wear me out the way buying everything does.  With my big bags of nuts and spices, I got a few odd comments at the check-out line, but also struck up an interesting conversation about grocery shopping as newlyweds.  Here’s what I bought:

  • 6 packs of butter and some canola oil to make our own spreadable butter
  • $40 worth of mixed nuts, sliced almonds, raw almonds, and walnuts
  • 12 cans of beans and 6 cans of salmon
  • 10 lbs of rice, 2 lbs of couscous, 10 lbs of sugar, 35 lbs of flour, 8 lbs of oatmeal
  • the largest containers of olive oil, honey, whole pepper, red pepper, and 6 italian spice grinders
  • choclate chips, nutella, peanut butter, raisins, bread crumbs
  • minced garlic, boullion cubes, lemon and lime juice, yeast, vanilla, taco seasoning, salt
  • 10 lbs of coffee
  • vinegar and rubbing alcohol to make our own cleaning supplies
  • 25 lbs of cat food and 12 cans of tuna (for the cat)

I also bought a few odds and ends for the week, but all told, I only spent $300!  I feel that this is much cheaper than the weekly deals I’ve been trying to get at Kroger’s.  Partly, I think this is because Meijer has lower prices, but I could also see the savings in buying the largest packages.  For example, the largest jar of minced garlic was about $3 cheaper than the equivalent in the smaller size I usually buy. 

I subtracted $50 from this month’s budget.  Then, I’ll pay back the other $250 out of each month’s budget over October, November, and December.  I’m hopeful to hold my bi-weekly budget to $70 and the farmer’s market to $20 a week.  If I do this and my supplies last, I’ll be able save about $1,200 over the course of the year.   That would be significant!

More than just the savings, I like the feeling of having all that food stockpiled.  Just with the moderate wind damage we had, several friends lost power for 4 or 5 days.  I like knowing that I’d have plenty to eat if that happened to us. 

Realistically, I know we won’t face a three-month disaster.  However, I also like that this approach is cutting down the mental clutter.  Getting together a big grocery list, scouring for deals, and doing a big shop every week took a lot of energy.  Now that the basics are all in place, I can free up some of that energy for more interesting things.  I’ll keep you updated on how my supplies last, and how well I do baking more items from scratch.  For now though, I’m quite excited about my “new thing.”


Quick Summer Minestrone

The other day, I came across this recipeby Martha Rose Shulman in the New York Times.  It looked delicious and fairly simple, so I planned to give it a try.  I decided Wednesday night would be soup night, but by the time I got home from work, decompressed, and straightened up the house, I only had about thirty minutes to put it together.  The recipe would easily take an hour.  Now, I used to be a faithful recipe follower; I would never stray from the directions.  I think all that was good training, but now I can happily improvise when needed.  This is an especially important skill when you’re trying to live off a frugal pantry.  Here’s what I came up with in under thirty minutes.  I swapped out the water for diluted chicken broth to get a heartier flavor a little quicker and cooked the soup over a little higher heat to speed up the vegetables.  If you’ve got some tomatoes (and who doesn’t these days!) and a bit of summer produce in the bin, try this soup out.

  • 2 TBs olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp chili powder or red pepper
  • 2 tsp dried herbs (I used an Italian mix)
  • salt
  • 1 lb tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 quart water and 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 lb summer squash or other firm-ish vegetable
  • 6 oz green beans
  • 1 c broken pasta (I used leftover lasagna noodles)
  • 1/4 c fresh basil
  • extra olive oil, Parmesan, and crackers to finish

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic, chili powder, and dried herbs.  Cook until onion softens, about five minutes, stirring occasionally.  While the onions cook, chop the tomatoes.  Add the tomatoes and salt, cook about five more minutes to soften the tomatoes.  While they cook, peel and dice the squash.  Once the tomatoes have released their juice and softened, add the water, chicken broth, and squash.  Bring to a boil, then simmer over medium heat about 15-20 minutes, until the squash softens.  While simmering, prep the green beans and toss them in.  About 9 minutes to the end, add the pasta to cook.  Finish by adding basil, a bit of extra oil, and cheese.  We also crumbled in some crackers, which thickened up the broth.

While Shulman’s version sounds delicious for a weekend meal, this streamlined version is nice because it’s all in one pot, and you can prep the vegetables while the soup is going to save time.  We loved it and plan to have leftovers tonight with pizza.

Is it Worth Canning Berries?

When I clicked on my stats page today, the above phrase came up as a google search.  I decided to answer this random searcher’s question directly. . .

Yes, it IS worth canning berries!

In a recent post, I calculated how much my home-canned strawberry jam cost versus an organic strawberry jam at the grocery store.  By my calculations, canning a dozen jars of jam saved me $30 a year.

Now, how is saving a mere $30 worth a whole day’s effort picking berries and canning them?

What is important to remember is that canning fruit can save you on more categories than just jam. Sure, you may say to yourself, “I doubt I’ll even USE twelve jars of jam in a year.” However, check out some of the other ways you can save money by canning preserves:

  • Save money on yogurt.  Rather than buying all those little pots of yogurt, buy one big container of plain yogurt.  Then, stir preserves into your daily portion.  You can eat it at home or on the go.  I love it because I get a much fresher taste than from the regular “fruit on the bottom” variety.  Organic yogurt is $4.00 for 32 ounces while the cups are $1 per 6 ounces. That’s about $1.20 a week for me. Annual savings: $62.40.
  • Save money on oatmeal.  Here too, don’t buy those pre-packaged packets with dried-up fruit.  Buy the large container of oats.  You can make it in the microwave in three minutes (I use equal portions of oats and milk).  Then, at the end, stir in your favorite preserves.  I made a batch of spiced apples that are absolutely wonderful stirred into oatmeal.  Again, ten times better than what you’ll buy in the store. The carton I buy has 30 servings for $2.40 versus $10.50 for 30 packets. I go through a carton in about two months.  Annual savings: $48.60.
  • Save money on ice cream toppings.  No need to buy that artificial strawberry syrup from the store.  Top your ice cream with a serious dollop of jam and some whipped cream.  Heavenly! The good toppings are about $2.50 a jar at my store. Annual savings: $10.
  • Save money on Sunday brunch.  Rather than going out for a fancy Sunday brunch, whip up some crepes at home (Julia Child’s crepe recipe is perfect!).  Put out several bowls of preserves, some Nutella, and more whipped cream, and watch the happiness spread across the table.  We had a crepe extravaganza with rhubarbs, strawberry preserves, and mullberries.  It was amazing! Just do this four times a year, and annual savings: $120.
  • Save money on hostess gifts.  Everyone loves a homemade gift.  Especially if you do a batch of preserves that is rather uncommon, like the delicious rhubarb/grapefruit preserves I made this year. If I give away six jars, then annual savings: $120.  (figure $20 for a nice bottle of wine.)
  • Now, look at our annual savings: $391! That’s some hard-working jam!

I can for several reasons: to support local farms, to ensure quality ingredients, and to feel a connection to the generations of my family who did the same thing.  A few nights ago, the husband needed a quick late-night snack.  I have to say whipping up some oatmeal for him and offering him the choice of apple, peach, or strawberry preserves was pretty darn satisfying!  However, I also can local produce because it really does save some serious money!  If you’re considering it, don’t just consider an “apples to apples” comparison.  Think of the many other ways you’ll save money by running a more efficient, self-sufficient pantry!

Save Money Canning Preserves

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.

The process.

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.”

My advice:

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!