One of the best ways to save money on groceries is to eat seasonally. Food in season is fresher and cheaper. It doesn’t matter if you have a garden full of veggies, shop at your local farmers market, or just find a great sale at the grocery store. You can still put up some amazing food for the winter.
Ideas to get Inexpensive Ingredients to Preserve
Canning or freezing your own tomatoes is certainly cheaper than buying full price cans at the store all winter long. There are a few strategies you can incorporated into gathering your ingredients that can save you even more money.
Gleaning: Contact farmers in your area. Many of them allow people to gather crops that they will not be picking, or that weren’t perfect enough to bring to market. Sometimes this will be at a reduced price, but often they will be glad for the help and let you have the bounty for free.
Buy Seconds: It seems like a weird thing to say about produce, but farmers often sell produce with blemishes or odd shapes at as much as 1/2 the price. You may see them labeled as ugly, seconds, or imperfections. I bought about 25 pounds of peaches for 5 dollars and made a ton of peach butter. You will also have a ton of material for your compost pile from the bad parts that you cut off, so nothing is really wasted.
Start a Garden: If you didn’t get a chance to grow a few things this year, think about starting at least a container garden with a few tomato and cucumber plants. It’s a great way to show where food comes from.
There’s More than One Way to Preserve
You may think about your Grandmother canning every year, but there are other ways to put up food.
Freezing: You’ll be amazed at how much you can pack into even the smallest freezer. Use zippered freezer bags and freeze flat to make the most of your space. One of the best parts about freezing food is that you don’t have to heat up your kitchen like you do when you can foods. It’s also a perfect way to preserve pesto, pasta sauces, and salsas.
Blanch veggies such as green beans and carrots, or cook diced tomatoes in a slow cooker to prepare them for freezing. But berries can be frozen without cooking at all. Flash freezing makes your food easier to use later. It sounds fancy, but all you need to do is freeze things on a cookie sheet first. Then put them in quart freezer bags. This will keep the food from freezing in one big clump.
Check out this article for some dos and don’ts on freezing food. University of Florida has some great info on freezing fruit. A great plus about freezing to preserve is that you lose almost no nutrients.
Drying: Dehydrators are an inexpensive tool in your food arsenal. Apples, pears, bananas, berries, and tomatoes are great to dry and store. Rodale has a great article on drying tomatoes and blueberries. Get Rich Slowly has great dehydrating tips and tricks.
Dried soup veggies like celery, carrots, corn, and bell peppers are great to have on hand for a quick winter soup in a snow storm. And it’s amazing how much money you can save by drying your own herbs.
Canning: This type of preserving requires a little more seed money. There are actually 2 types of canning, water bath and pressure canning. You need either a pressure canne (not pressure cooker), or a water bath canner. Plus you will need glass jars and seals for either method. First time canning requires more knowledge and persistence. If you don’t have enough time to do a little research, then freezing may be better for you this year.
A water bath works for pickles, tomatoes, and jams that have a high acid content. It’s important to follow recipes that you will can in a water bath exactly. Without enough acid food safety will be compromised. But stick to the rules and recipes and you will have nothing to worry about. Check with your local agriculture department’s website for their recommendations. Make sure that the tomatoes you use are not a low acid variety, if they are you need to pressure can them instead.
Pressure canning requires a special pressure canner. Even if a manufacturer says their pressure cooker can be used as a pressure canner. Even in pressure canning it’s important to follow the rules. The Ball company has a step by step tutorial on their site, and you can download it as a pdf to refer to. You are able to can meat, green beans, and other low acid food with this method.
Links to Preserving Recipes and Blogs
Food in Jars – my favorite canning blog
Barnardin – Canadian site on getting started canning and recipes
Videos on all 3 methods of preserving – requires Real player
Keeper of the Home freezes spinach and dries tomatoes.
Flax Crackers made in a dehydrator
Penny Pantry show a step by step way to freeze corn.
Ball video on making freezer jam
Pressure canning squash
The Cooking Channel on canning