Maybe she saved money when she grew produce herself, said the Tyrone Township woman, who’s been canning the past 30 years. But a full-time job made it too time-consuming to keep up a garden.
Now, she preserves food because she likes to recycle. Each year, she reuses jars, which is more earth-friendly than buying canned food weekly at the grocery store.
“It’s a lot of work, but everything’s a lot of work, right? I think it’s more satisfying doing it yourself,” Riley said.
If gardening isn’t an option, the next cheapest alternative is to purchase fruits and vegetables during peak seasons.
That’s the preference of Martha Zepp, food preservation consultant at Penn State Extension in Lancaster County, who has been canning for about 60 years.
When Zepp gardened, fruits and vegetables would come in little by little. She canned on the garden’s schedule. When she visits a farmers market and buys the produce, she cans on her schedule.
One way to save money at the farmers market is to request seconds. It won’t be the prettiest produce, but it won’t matter when you’re canning juices, sauces, jams and jellies, says Marcia Weber, family living educator at Penn State Extension of York County.
To freeze or not to freeze?
“Pick-your-own fields can be a cost savings as well,” said Weber, who prefers freezing to canning.
She says there are often fewer opportunities for food-borne illnesses by freezing produce.
“The whole business of food preservation is a lot of science,” Weber said. She recommends first-time produce preservers take classes offered by extension programs. And follow well-tested recipes.
“(Preservers) can’t play with the recipe and guarantee it’s going to be safe,” Weber said.
Although freezing might be safer than canning, you run the risk of losing precious produce should that freezer stop working. And it’s not necessarily cheaper.
The cost of running a freezer can be costly over time. For example, a 15-cubic-foot frost-free freezer costs $123 to run per year, according to a Colorado State University Extension study. And those who freeze run the risk of losing precious produce should that freezer ever stop working.
“It’s easier to freeze, but the cost of the operation of a freezer is much greater,” Zepp said. “Once you’ve canned those green beans and they’re sitting on the shelves, there’s no additional cost.”
Pinch those pennies
To compare, pressure canners cost more than $100, the CSU study reports. Water-bath canners are a cheaper option, ranging from $20 to $40, but are only recommended for high-acidic foods, such as tomato and pickle products.
To save money, make a water-bath canner yourself with a deep pot and a circular rack that fits inside the pot — think a cookie cooling rack, Zepp said. When the jars sit on the rack, water must be able to cover the jars by about an inch.
Ultimately, the economical choice between freezing and canning depends on the product, and that’s a personal preference.
“If you don’t like frozen green beans, then canned might be the better choice for you. If you don’t like canned green beans, some people like a more crisp texture of the frozen green beans,” Zepp said. “There are some things that just don’t preserve well at all.”
Like summer squash.
“I don’t like the product,” Zepp said.” “I tried (freezing) it years ago; it’s watery.”
- Freezer, if you don’t already have one. Chest freezers ($150+) typically cost less to run. A new freezer might last about 20 years.
- Reusable containers, which can last several years (about $6 for five).
Canning Option No. 1
- Pressure canner ($100+). A new one might last 15 to 20 years. If purchasing a used one, Penn State Extension York County will test pressure for free.
Canning Option No. 2
- Water-bath canner ($20-$40). Also helpful are jar lifter (about $4) and jar funnel
- Canning jars with lids (about $5 to $8 per dozen). Jars and screw bands last about 10 years. If buying used, look for nicks at the top of the jar, which prevent lids from sealing properly. Also beware of rust on screw bands. Purchase lids yearly.