Guide to Canning and Freezing Food: Save Money by Preserving Produce at Home

Canning the extra when you find specials helps even out the budget expenditures by taking the sting out of those seasons when food prices skyrocket. It also provides a reliable source of safe food when the power goes out, the freezer is on the blink, or the local supermarket gets destroyed in the area’s worst ever tornado.

For rural families the canning season is in the hottest part of the year when the garden produce is ready. For families who do not grow their own food it can be just about anytime. It is the end of December and I just canned ten pints of Irish Potatoes and eight quarts of carrots. My “Ball Blue Book”, a reliable guide to home canning and freezing of foods, indicates that you can freeze these two products, but I haven’t had much luck with home freezing either one of these two foods. I took advantage of a Christmas gift of produce that would have gone bad before my husband and I could have used it up by canning it. There-in lies an epiphany: You can take advantage of discounted produce anytime of the year and avoid the heat of late August to do your canning.

Here’s how you do it. First purchase a “Ball Blue Book” or some similar canning guide. Do not plan on using unorthodox methods such as canning in the dishwasher, the oven, or the microwave. It doesn’t work and its dangerous, both due to the possibility of exploding jars and due to the probability of inadequate processing times and temperatures leading to food spoilage.

Equipment Needed
1. Canning Jars and Supplies
2. A Pressure Canner
3. The “Blue Book” or a similar canning guide
4. Lids and Rings to fit the jars
5. Timer
6. Jar Lifter

You can find these supplies in late summer or early fall in nearly any large grocery store such as Safeway, Albertsons, Winn Dixie or Wal Mart; but in mid winter you may have a bit more of a search to do to find them. I can always find canning equipment at my local Bi-Mart store.

With most families the annual ritual of harvesting and canning, drying, or freezing foods has passed into the realm of history. The rising prices of everything from fuel to food has given people a new incentive to look for ways to save money and preserving your own food is one way to do it.

Have you ever gone into your local grocery and found ten pound bags of potatoes on sale for $1.99 and didn’t get them because you knew they would spoil before you could use them up? Well buy up as many as your budget can stand at the moment and can them. Then when the price of potatoes is up in that “I wouldn’t buy them at that price if I was starving” range you have a store of potatoes that are wonderful mashed, fried with polish sausage or bacon, or served with eggs at breakfast.

Almost anything in the produce section of your store can be canned or frozen at home. Fresh picked or harvested is best but sometimes saving money is more important at the moment. A Good book to help you get started with something other than potatoes or carrots is “The Complete Book of Year-Round Small-Batch Preserving: Over 300 Delicious Recipes (paperback) by Ellie Topp and Margeret Howard.”

In times past preserving your own food was a life and death necessity. In about 1810 when Nicholas Appert discovered that foods heated and sealed in glass preserved them, the preservation of wholesome foods took on a new ease and safety that eventually led to the home canning industry. Since the 1800’s canning has been studied, researched, perfected and scientifically fine tuned. Today it is safe and easy, and a fun family activity that puts beautiful food on your table.

The advice in the canning guides is to always get the freshest produce possible and that is particularly important with corn because it begins to loose its flavor and get starchy immediately after picking. There are other foods that do not store well fresh that won’t be a bargain no matter how low the price. Avoid anything that is beginning to spoil or that has wilted significantly. Foods that store well for long periods raw will be the winter root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, turnips, rutabagas, or parsnips. Watch for specials on these foods when the store has just received a new shipment and needs to clear the produce bins for the latest arrivals.

Farmers Markets are another place to get great bargains on can-able produce. The prices will be higher in the morning when the produce is snapping fresh from the garden plot, (the best time to can) but lower in the evening just before the market closes when the seller wants to clear his tables. Generally the produce is still in better shape than what you might get at the grocery store.

Watch for specials on these foods that can well:
1. Apples, pears, peaches, apricots
2. Cucumbers (for pickling)
3. Potatoes
4. Carrots,
5. Spinach
6. Tomatoes
7. Green Beans
8. Yams or Sweet Potatoes
9. Pumpkin and Winter Squash

You can also can meats, fish and poultry that you find on special. I prefer to freeze most of my meat and fish products but canning half pint portions of meat, fish or poultry is a very good way to provide your own sandwich meats without all the salt and preservatives. I have been know to take a tiny new unopened jar of mayonnaise and a small jar of home canned meat along on a picnic so the food is still sealed and safe until time to eat. If the day is hot or the picnic is delayed there is no fear of the food spoiling.

Half pint jars of fruits are a special treat in lunches and when you can them yourself you can control what goes in the jar. If you have a diabetic family member the sugar content can be adjusted to your needs. Its as simple as using a recipe you would use for a family meal and much more economical than purchasing specialty diet foods.

So the next time you see a really unbelievable special in the produce section take advantage of it, and happy canning.

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