Friday, April 12, 2013

Is canning really worth it?

You probably only need to read about two posts on my blog to figure out that I love to can.  There's something about the sense of accomplishment of seeing all those beautiful jars lined up on the counter filled with good hearty home grown food that makes me happy.  Here's some of the reason I like to can.

  • It's fast food in a slow food world.  Popping a lid of a jar of canned tomatoes in mid winter reminds me of the days I spent canning all those tomatoes last took time but now I am reaping the rewards of time well spent.
  • Home canned foods have no unpronounceable additives or chemicals and are not preserved in plastic lined containers.  Glass jars do not have toxic chemicals leaching out of them like many of our commercially canned foods.  Many organic whole foods companies are switching over to glass jars or tins that don't have BPA which are good options but usually very expensive.
  • Canning preserves food that could potentially go to waste.  How many pounds of tomatoes can you eat in the summer anyway! (the answer is A LOT - but not enough to keep up in a bountiful year!)
  • Canning saves on fuel because you process large quantities at a time and once it's done it doesn't need the freezer to store your food.  
  • It's food you would eat cooked anyway. My favourite recipe lately is layered chicken soup.  Somehow canning it made it taste even better than eating it freshly made.  Why does commercially canned soup taste so bad anyway??
  • It's a hedge against a time when there's more month than money.  Gee - I never have that problem do you??? (that was sarcasm)
  • It's a convenient way to share a meal with a friend or a sick sister (who is stuck at home with the worst cold EVER)
  • It just makes me happy - isn't that reason enough??

Canning isn't the only way to preserve food.  Dehydrating, freezing, fermenting and root cellaring are common ways that come to mind.  I like each one for different reasons. I like dehydrated green veggies better than frozen of canned.  I like frozen fruit better than canned or dehydrated.  I like fermented cabbage (aka sauerkraut) I like apples best when they are root cellared.

I also like raw food.  I eat as much salad and raw vegetables as I can when they are available fresh and spend the money all winter long to continue to eat fresh greens...some day I hope to have a cold frame/greenhouse where I dream of eating fresh picked greens through most of the winter but until then I eat the store bought variety with some home grown sprouts thrown in.

Each method has it's own benefits.

So back to the monetary cost of canning.  What does it really cost?

It depends. 

If I look at the cost of purchasing all the equipment brand new, having to purchase new jars and having to purchase the food because you don't grow it yourself - I can not promise you it will be cheaper monetarily - at least not for quite awhile.

If you need to purchase equipment and jars and you grow most of the food your self - you should break even within a reasonable amount of time.  If you stick to water bath canning high acid foods (jams, jelly, tomato sauce, pickles...) you absolutely will find it worth the money because your cost output is lower for water bath canning than pressure canning.

If you are given the jars because you have wonderful friends and neighbours who know how to fuel your canning addiction I mean - who are nice enough to give you their old jars because they don't can any more, you buy your lids when they have them at the dollar store for half the price of anywhere else and you grow most of the ingredients yourself or get them for a really good deal...then monetarily I believe you will be ahead.

None of that takes into account the quality of the food of course which is hard to quantify in dollars and cents.

For Water Bath Canning high acid foods you will need:  1 large pot with a lid and some kind of rack so the jars don't sit directly on the bottom of the pot.  You can make a rack out of extra canning rings - just use twist ties to attach them together - so simple!  The pot needs to be large enough that you can put the rack, the jars and enough water to cover the jars by an inch without the pot overflowing when at a rolling boil.  You will need jars, lids, rings and a jar lifter.  A magnetic wand is handy for fishing the hot lids out of the simmering water - the rest of your equipment can be found in a reasonable stocked kitchen - spoons, a wide mouth funnel, a heavy bottomed pot and tea towels.  All of these can be purchased (not including jars and lids) for less than $40.00 or even cheaper if you check out a thrift store or ask around for "donations".

For Pressure Canning low acid foods you will need: A Pressure Canner and all of the above.  Just note that a pressure canner is not the same thing as a pressure cooker.  A pressure cooker is not made to keep the pressure constant for the length of time required to can low acid foods.  The Presto Pressure Canner is a reasonably easy to find item in stores like Home Hardware and on-line. I have one that holds 7 quart jars or 14 pints and the cost was about $150.00 including taxes.  See my post on a comparison of Pressure Canners for more information.

An integral part of the cost of canning is the time it requires.  When I first started canning many years ago it was a slow process.  I needed to read and re-read the instructions.  I fussed and fiddled and worried my way through the first season.  It took me forever to figure out how to organize my space efficiently.   I was fortunate to get one batch done in a day and I wondered at that point if all this work was worth it.

I consider all of that time and energy the cost of my education.  As time passed I found ways to be more efficient and I worried a lot less. Don't be discouraged  if that's the stage you are at.  You will improve with some practise.

So to answer my question: Is canning really worth it?  My answer is a musically resounding YES with just a hint of something that sounds suspiciously like the pinging of sealing canning jars.


  1. When I was selling my jams and jellies it worked out to 75 cents a jar.

  2. What is layered chicken soup? Now that sounds like a canning recipe I could use.

    1. Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you sista! Spring weather has been calling! I'll put up a post about it son because it IS a good one!


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