The bright red of a tomato, the crunch of an ear of corn, and the delight of not spending $3 on one bell pepper in January are all chief among the reasons that I like to preserve the summer harvest. We’re right in the thick of it too, with produce bursting off the vine that farmers can’t pick fast enough (which sometimes means they’ll sell you more for less!).
Though it’s hard to think about winter when it’s 85 degrees in the dark of night, it’s exactly when we need to be thinking about it. Because it’s time to can. It’s time to freeze! It’s time to turn the air conditioner down a notch or two and spend a rainy day in the kitchen over a cutting board and a hot stove.
I’ve been on a preservation kick myself, starting with a 25 lb. box of tomatoes from the State Farmers Market last weekend for $15 and a 12 pack of new Ball jars. Canning isn’t just fun though, it’s a serious undertaking that could really hurt you if you don’t take precautions. Always use new jars, and unblemished, non-rusty can lids and rings. Only use scientifically tested canning recipes, like ones from the Ball website, because not having the right acid ratio can cause botulism and kill you. So don’t skip a step when it comes to sterilization, follow every step and every measurement precisely, no matter how not like you that may be when cooking normally.
But does canning really save money? Yes, on some recipes. Let’s take my 25 lb. tomato extravaganza. I used 10 lbs. of tomatoes to make six-quart jars of spaghetti sauce. A jar of organic garden sauce at the store would run about $5 on average, or $30 to account for the six I made.
I then used an additional 10 lbs. to make tomato paste. Tomato paste gets reduced down a LOT, taking nearly all of the water volume out, and I ended up with only three 4 ounce jars of it. At 75 cents for a can of organic tomato paste, plus keeping the oven on for two hours in the summertime, I definitely lost out on this recipe money-wise. It’ll still taste great though!
My last pounds of tomatoes I decided to go artisanal with, inspired by a recent trip to Motor Supply Company. The tomato jam that they include on their cheese and charcuterie boards are out of this world. I ended up with five 4 oz jars of this jam. However, a little goes a long way in this case. I feel like a jar of this at a store would definitely run around $4-5 so I’ll call this one even if not ahead.
Though it’s time-consuming and a little sweaty with the standing over a big pot of boiling water, canning is a fun way to spend an afternoon. My next go round is going to involve corn – freezing ears, freezing cut kernels, and canning corn salsa. Grab a canning book from the library, or your grandparents, or even look into online resources, gather up your materials, and remember… yes, you can!