Is Preserving Your Own Food Worth the Effort?

DSCN3808Happy Friday, my friends!  So, we canned salsa this week, and let me tell you, as a first time salsa-canner, that it is a HUGE P-I-T-A.  The first time I did everything by myself (the kids were sick and tired of the “game” after we finished the pickles. 🙂 ), and it took roughly 4 hours for me to dice, cook and can my 2- 16-oz. and 4 8-oz. jars of salsa.  For the second batch I insisted on the kids’ help.  Things went much faster (2 hrs. or so of work for 7 – 16oz. jars) and we had a ton of giggles in the process.

But even with the kids’ help, it really is a lot of work.  I figured out that we each made about $1 an hour when we worked together as a group.  Worth it?  Yes.  Here’s why:

1.  We know what we’re eating.  All of the veggies we grow are organic, non-GMO veggies, so we know we’re getting fresh, healthy food all the way around.  With store bought stuff, you just never know what you’re getting.  Case in point?  Store bought onions never bring tears to my eyes, while our home-grown onions are sure to make me tear up.  This is largely a freshness issue.  A guy we know who does over-the-road trucking to deliver fruits and veggies to the stores said that often times fruits are 2-3 weeks old by the time we take them home from the store.   There’s something calming about knowing that you’re feeding your family fresh, home-grown, quality foods.

2.    It tastes better. Anyone who’s tasted a garden-fresh tomato or cucumber can testify to the fact that the quality and potency of the taste far exceeds anything you’ll find on grocery store shelves. Home grown, organic veggies carry a sweeter, more intense flavor that makes any meal shine.  When we served our first batch of salsa at the girls’ b-day party last week, we didn’t share with anybody but a couple that it was our first attempt at home-grown canned salsa, yet we received numerous compliments and requests for more of the good stuff.  And it’s a joy to know that you’re satisfying tummies with your home-grown goodies.

3.  We’re building a valuable skill.  By canning and freezing our own foods, we’re teaching ourselves and our children how to be more self-reliant.  During storms and other catastrophes, store shelves empty out quite quickly, leaving hungry survivors with potentially nothing to eat.  Granted, this is a rare occasion in America, but I for one don’t want to be stuck telling my kids there’s no food to eat and that I have no idea how to get them food if a disaster hits.  It’s nice knowing we’ve got a little pile of canned foods as backup in our cellar, and the ability and skills to grow more if needed.

4.  We’re saving money.  With food prices continually on the rise here, growing, canning and preserving your own food serves to combat the financial hit that groceries can bring to your bank account.  Our Roma tomato plants, which we paid roughly $3 a piece for, gave us so many tomatoes this year (in spite of a bad growing season and our serious neglect) that I’m not sure if I ever want to see another tomato again.  The ROI here was huge: We invested just a few dollars in plants and seeds, yet we’ve got several jars of pickles, salsa and bruschetta in the cellar, and several bags of frozen green beans, green peppers, onions and carrots in our deep freezer.  This’ll be a huge money saver come winter.  During the Great Depression, gardening was literally what saved people from imminent starvation.

Growing, canning and preserving your own food is, in many respects, a thing of the past due to modern-day conveniences, but maybe it’s time for us to get back to basics.  For us, it’s nice knowing that if food prices ever got out of reach for us, or if stores simply couldn’t handle their food demand for whatever reason, that we’ve got the skills and the know-how to feed ourselves.  In our eyes, it’s worth every penny we never earned.

46 comments

  1. We’re not quite at the canning stage yet – especially how this moderate summer kept some things from growing. However, we do freeze a lot of the peppers we grow and we pulled about 8-10 dozen habaneros, jalapenos and a variety of a few others yesterday. We freeze them and pull them out when we want to throw them in something and it works great for us. Hopefully we’ll start canning next year. My Dad gave us his pressure cooker, so we’re all ready to go. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      That’s awesome, John! We’re doing the same thing this year – I just froze a bunch of green peppers and onions this AM. :-). Can’t wait to see what you guys think of your canning experiences next year!

  2. I would love to learn to preserve our own food. We have fruit trees and it’s something that I’ve thought about in the past. But, now we’re moving…so I guess it won’t happen! =/

  3. In all honestly, I probably will never garden much or can, but I love the idea of it. Both my grandparents canned. My one Granny had a basement, but the other one had an actual root cellar that doubled as a tornado shelter. Even as a kid, I remember how cool it was to go down and see all the jars and know there would be food, regardless. I wish I’d paid more attention to some of those skills.

    • Laurie says:

      Wow, I’d love to get a look at your granny’s root cellar. I’m finding that canning isn’t nearly as difficult (although it is tedious) as I feared it would be. Even just the freezing of the veggies is a huge help to our grocery budget.

  4. Funny – this is good timing. My husband spent all day yesterday making jelly. His only comment when done was “this totally wasn’t worth it and I think I spent more money than if I had just bought it.” I didn’t respond because I know there has to be positives, so many people do it. Now I know making jelly isn’t the same as canning, but the lessons learned are the same. Thanks for this article. And I love what Matt said about spending time together as a family. Perhaps if we had helped out my husband, it might have been more fun! 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      How ironic! We’re going to try jelly/jam next year too, and I think you’re right about it being worth it despite the work. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts after you taste hubby’s jelly. 🙂

  5. What a cool skill to know though. My grandma used to can stuff. I think of those skill from their generation is lost on us because we never “had to.” There is so much she knew (sewing, cooking, canning, act) that I have no idea how to do. The salsa sounds delicious!

  6. Britt Landon says:

    We garden, can, freeze, and dehydrate as a family. We live in So. Cal. and have a well (otherwise, it probably wouldn’t be cost-effective here). My husband has taught the kids to garden, and I’ve taught them the preservation end. Not every child (we have 8) has appreciated it, but we are giving them life-skills they may need someday. And, in the process, they are being fed organically–something we couldn’t otherwise afford. My husband has a desk job, and feels much better during the gardening months, as gardening is really a calming and low-stress form of exercise. I am learning new things (more pressure-canning this year, for example) which helps keep my brain young. We had such an abundance this year that the younger kids started a produce business–selling to friends and friends-to-be. Is it worth it? YES!

    • Laurie says:

      Britt, that’s awesome!! That’s our goal too, to take our home-grown produce, etc., and head up to the local farmers market for the kids to earn some cash. Interesting to hear that your hubby feels better during the gardening months, but not surprising – eating that home grown stuff really does make a person feel better! Thanks for sharing what you’re doing there – sounds awesome!

  7. Iforonwy says:

    It can take a lot of time but it is well worth it to know “I did that!” 31 years ago I won 3rd place for my Lemon curd in the county show where we were living at the time. I am so proud of that certificate – it is so faded and dog-eared now!

    We do a lot of swapping with neighbours so that there is always a variety of jams/jellies/chutney/marmalade in the cupboard.

    The Bramley cooking apples are about ready and a lady that I met through Freecycle a few years ago came last week for her first bag of windfalls. She says she looks forward all year to coming to get them. Simple pleasures.

    This year our grape vine is covered in grapes! This has never happened before. They are very small but maybe we can have fun making a bottle or two of wine!

    To date we have harvested 8 pounds of new potatoes, pounds and pounds of rhubarb, lots of raspberries and blueberries, free blackberries from the hedgerows, lots of herbs, and we are awaiting the Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes)and garlic.

    • Laurie says:

      Wow- you’ve got quite the bounty there! Love the idea of swapping with neighbors. Congrats on your lemon curd award – I’d never heard of lemon curd before but it sounds delicious! We’ve entered baked goods in the fair before, and can’t wait to start entering preserves. Have a great day! 🙂

  8. Our church is starting a community garden and is asking for volunteers to set the whole thing up. I’m down for that, but the bit about actually gardening has me worried. When I had an plot in our organic community garden back in San Diego, in my twenties, the whole thing seemed like a chore after a while. I wouldn’t weed enough, didn’t like going there all the time to water…

    I wonder if I’m just not a green thumb, or if perhaps I’ve matured a bit since then and should give it a go. I love all the benefits of canning that you mentioned and think it would be a cool thing to do if we started planting…

    • Laurie says:

      Oh, DB, I’m the same way. Those long term tasks don’t set well with me, so by August my garden is full of weeds and badly in need of water. But I’m working on that. 🙂 Maybe with the community garden you could get on a schedule where you didn’t have to go too much?

  9. I don’t do a lot of canning but I do make orange marmalade right after Thanksgiving to kick off the Christmas season. It’s tradition and I make the girls help me too, even though they aren’t really fans of the jam. 🙂 It is sad how we have lost that tradition and I bet your salsa will taste fantastic! Have a great weekend, Laurie!

    • Laurie says:

      That sounds yummy, Shannon! What a great holiday treat. Yes, we’re excited for the taste test – maybe if it’s edible I’ll send you down some. 🙂

  10. I made and canned jelly for the first time this weekend and it was so enjoyable! For me it was a way to store a “taste” that’s not around all the time, as I made sea grape jelly out of wild sea grapes from the beach. They only ripen once per year, and depending on the year the crop can be bad. But this year it was great and I wanted to try something different. I’m already planning on making one more batch this weekend so that I have plenty to give away with Christmas presents around the holidays!

    • Laurie says:

      Mrs. PoP, that sounds delicious! I’ve never heard of wild sea grapes before. Love the idea of including it with Christmas gifts too – that’s something I’d love to do. Planning on trying dandelion jelly next year – that’d be a great gift addition. 🙂

  11. Alicia @ Financial Diffraction says:

    I completely agree about it being a lost skill (aka back to basics). My grandparents grew up just after the Great Depression from parents who grew up during it. The lessons they learned are amazing. And since my parents were raised by people who were connected to the Great Depression, they too know how to can and stretch gardening. I used to help my Mom make jam and pickles/beets/chow, but not any more. I might take a shot at it next year though.

  12. My Wealth Desire says:

    Planting vegetables will give you a fresh one. You are confident that there is no chemicals or pesticides in you food. It is really true that canning and gardening can save a lot of your budget. Working together with kids is one way of having quality time with them.

  13. lyle @ the Joy of Simple says:

    Way to go Laurie 🙂

    I do believe it is worth the effort as well…but from a totally different perspective! As a confirmed bachelor, I benefit from the generosity that my friends who do preserve their own food, bestow upon me since there s always enough left to share with friends (ie: ME!)

    That being said, my sister does the same as you and it’s always a treat visiting her and savoring the yumminess of her preserved foods!!

    Thanks Laurie and enjoy the weekend 🙂 All the best.

    Lyle

    • Laurie says:

      That’s awesome, Lyle! Yes, people have already hinted at expecting some homemade goodies as gifts once we get more proficient in our art. 🙂 I can’t wait to share our goodies. 🙂

  14. Jake @ Ca$h Funny says:

    That’s so great to hear that you had a decent year for growing. Our garden did alright, but it wasn’t as good as yours it sounds like. Homemade salsa is delicious and I completely agree with you that it’s totally worth it. Enjoy the salsa over the fall and winter!

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, Jake! Yeah, I was surprised at our bounty, because honestly, we weren’t very responsible gardeners, plus it was weird weather here with the soaking rain for the first 6 weeks and the bone dry weather for the second six weeks. I’d say we lucked out (i.e. grace of God 🙂 ), b/c it certainly wasn’t our gardening skills that hooked us up. 🙂

  15. Kali @CommonSenseMillennial says:

    Thanks for this great post, Laurie! I have been wondering if it would be worth it to preserve veggies and to try and make more things myself (like jelly or jam). I was already convinced on the “valuable skill” argument, but I wasn’t sure if it was worth the time and money it would cost to get started. You’ve convinced me to seriously research this to figure out what we need to get started! Thanks again!

    • Laurie says:

      Kali, you should try it, if nothing else just for the experience. Ball’s book of canning and home preserves is a great one to start with. I’m a newbie, but it’s my go-to book. You’ll have to share your experiences if you try it next year. 🙂

  16. Kelly @Stayingonbudget says:

    Next summer I plan to garden a lot more and can/preserve food. I think it connects you to where your food comes from and how it’s made. It makes it taste better knowing you put all the work into getting it to the table!

  17. Iforonwy says:

    I am about to de-frost the small freezer this morning so that there will be plenty of room for the last of the rhubarb and the apples that are coming.

    I think I might make lemon curd too as I have some organic lemons and eggs that need to be used. It is not a great keeper though, mind you next door gave us a jar of green tomato chutney yesterday, they picked all their tomatoes before then went on holiday, so a jar of lemon curd would be a great swap!

  18. My mom used to preserve the produce from the garden. I think it’s a great way to ensure that you’re not wasting food and to be a bit more sustainable. Even if it can be expensive, I think all of the reasons that you’ve listed make it worth it!

    • Laurie says:

      I totally agree, Tushar. Great to hear that your mom did preserving too. We can’t wait to expand our skill sets in this area. 🙂

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