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.
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.