Dealbusters: Homemade strawberry preserves

This Monday series checks out whether something that sounds like a good deal — or in this case, takes a lot of extra work — is a good deal. We’ll look at cost and benefit — with everything filtered through my individual experience. Please chime in with your take.

Strawberry Preserves

Remember all those strawberries I got on Friday? This weekend, they became five half-pints of homemade strawberry preserves.

I used a recipe from a Kerr canning cookbook. Basically, all recipes are similar, I think. This one called for 1.5 quarts of strawberries (6 cups), 5 cups of sugar and 1/3 cup of lemon juice. You boil to a jelly stage (234 degrees, or more like 222 at Denver’s 5,280-foot altitude), let it sit out in a shallow pan for 12 to 24 hours (I did about 8 hours because I was getting nervous it was too thick, and that was a good call), boil it again, put it into hot jars and process.

For a breakdown of home canning basics, check a canning cookbook or check a site like this one.

OK, now to the nitty gritty on the strawberry preserves.

The cost breakdown:

  • 5 cups of sugar = $0.53 (based on a 5-pound bag for about $2.50. I used every grain of sugar in the house. When I restock this week, I plan to check prices at Costco on bigger bags.)
  • 6 cups of organic, local strawberries = $5.25
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice = $0.21
  • Perhaps 8 gallons of water (which was used and re-used for boiling, then thrown out to water our tree) = $0.01 (based on our water costs of $.00186 per gallon)
  • Cooking gas = $0.56 (two hours at $0.28 estimated per hour)

This doesn’t count jars, lids, canning kettle, etc., because I had all of those on hand. Only the lids are non-reusable. I suppose they might add $0.17 to each jar.

Total: $1.48 per jar

The winner: Homemade. I rarely buy strawberry preserves, even though I love ’em like a worm loves dirt, because they seem like a luxury — all those big globs of berry all over your toast! Yum! But assuming a jar of storebought would be about $2, homemade saves 26 percent.

The priceless factors:

  • Local, organic, fresh strawberries. The berries were so delicious that each of us gasped in amazement when we tried our first berry.
  • Only three ingredients.
  • Having five jars of preserves on hand (although I already broke the first one open this morning).
  • Very little non-reusable packaging.

A couple of caveats:

  • Canning takes a lot of hot, sweaty work. I complain about it, but I think it’s worthwhile afterward. But if you won’t use the products, don’t bother.
  • If you don’t have the supplies on hand, it does cost extra to get started.

The verdict: I’ll absolutely do it again, although I wonder about lower-sugar options or options using local sugar (like the gallon jugs of honey from the farmer’s market). I’d also love to see even MORE berries in my preserves.

Grade: A-

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4 thoughts on “Dealbusters: Homemade strawberry preserves

  1. L'an says:

    It comes down to the enjoyment factor, doesn’t it?

    Canning *is* hot and sweaty work, but if you like the satisfaction of seeing all your jars lined up at the end of the session, then it is worth it. On the other hand, if you hate every moment, the extra 26% for storebought seems like a bargain.

    Where I get hung up is making sure I’m comparing strawberries and strawberries: you make it with organic berries you’ve gotten locally, and just the amount of sugar you want (or not!) and whatever flavorings you want… so it’s perfect to your tastes. How much would it cost to find something comparable in a store?

    BTW: if you haven’t already encountered it, and you have some “open” reading time, check out The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Fascinating look at four different meals (where they come from, what’s involved in making them including the oil and gas costs of transporting feed, food, manufacturing packaging etc.)

  2. Shara says:

    Just read your Strawberries Article. Frankly, it’s a pleasure seeing someone with a similar take: Cheap AND Green. My mother has a been making preserves of various things for YEARS. Most of hers are sold at a local charity auction, so we don’t have that many always sitting around the house. Most of our fruit take is either home-grown or parrt of my wild food adventures. (I strongly recommend you check out a few foraging books if you haven’t already. Who doesn’t like ffree organiz food?!
    A few things we’ve learned from lots and LOTS of Jelly/Jam/Preserves- making, you might be interested in.

    1. You know the little “non-reusable” dome lids? Yeah.. that’s a fib the companies tell you. As long as the rubber seal on the edge of the lid and the white coating on top are intact, you don’t have to worry in the least about re-using them. We’ve used some of the same lids for years and had no problem.

    2. If you give Preserves away, add a little label that asks that
    your giftee return the jar. This saves money and waste, and makes it easier and more tempting to make more preserves in future.

    3. MRS WAGES. Sure-Jell (And mose other commercial pectins) Requires a lot of sugar, and you mentioned above that you were looking fo ra lower-sugar version. Mrs. Wages Lite Pectin is designed for Low or No Sugar preserves. And (though I loathe artificial sweeteners) can be used with those as well. The only drawback is that that brand of Pectin can be hard to find, and may only be available wholesale, in which case you need to mak a $100.00 investment for a few jars of jelly.

    3a. Crabapples. Many modern neighborhoods have a crabapple tree or two, they are used extensively as ornamentals. When the crabs’ are just about right, they can be pulled from the tree stem and all, and boiled for a Pectin-rich juice, which can then be processed with other fruit for an excellent jelly. Underripe apples work too, although they dont have as good of a flavour, and tend to not be as easy to come by.
    Thanks for the post, I will probably continue looking, as I enjoy your outlook very much!
    -Shara

  3. cheaplikeme says:

    Thanks for the great comment, Shara! We have a crabapple tree, but they are the small kind, so we’ve never done anything with them … although I have been known to eye our neighbor’s larger crabapples — now I can find something to do with both, perhaps?

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