Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ah, the Sparkle of Clean Canning Jars....

With the shamrocks just over, you probably are not thinking of canning season. Change that! With the economic downturn, you might have heard last fall that all the local stores were out of canning jars. You might also have heard the Extension Service Horticulturist state on recent news that they had been deluged with calls from people planning to garden who had not before had gardens. Put two and two together, and it's not hard to figure out that another canning jar shortage might happen this year, probably beginning much earlier than previous years.

With many dozens of jars, I always think I have enough to can all I need, but there I am every year running to get a few more jars during canning season. I have found that many things store better in glass than they do in plastic -- haven't you noticed those spices in the glass jars stay nicer longer than the spices in the plastic jars? Perhaps there's a reason why the expensive spices are in glass instead of plastic. It's not practical to use glass for everything, but even frozen foods seem to hold better in glass than in plastic. I also have mason jars full of dry storage items such as spices, nuts, and dried fruits and veggies. I'd store chocolate chips in jars if the family didn't eat them so fast there is no chocolate left to store!

By now, you might have figured out that I'm frugal, thrifty ... aka "cheap." That means I'm on the lookout for my favorite style of canning jars every time I hit a yard sale or a thrift store. Who wants to pay $12 and more for a case of new jars when used ones are perfectly good and cost me at the very most 50 cents per jar? A bath in the dishwasher, and all is as good as new -- just make sure the rims don't have nicks. That's why I picked up a box of 20 canning jars at a Deseret Industries thrift store yesterday for 25 cents per jar. Yes, that's $5 for 20 jars. A hint for you is that the price of mason jars varies at thrift stores, even stores with the same name. Another hint is if you wait until canning season, you will pay more per jar at those thrift stores and the jars might well be already snapped up -- they were gone last year by canning season. So, start keeping those eyes peeled and pick up jars over the next few months.

If you want new canning jars, here are your options in March. A few local stores do have a case or two of canning jars, but you will likely have to ask where they are -- stuck high on some shelf, most likely. You can also buy canning jars on the internet. Search for the size of mason or canning jars you want. The cheapest I found was about $10 per case of 12 jars, with most sites higher than that. It won't matter which brand you buy, as long as it holds a standard or wide-mouth lid.

You'll also need canning lids. Last summer, the best price I found buying bulk lids was at Mulberry Lane Farm. It is much cheaper buying lids in bulk than just by the box of 12 lids. Don't cringe at buying dozens of lids, because in a cool place, those lids can be used years later. Incidentally, I've always been a fan of Ball lids versus Kerr lids. Now, the same company makes both lids, and it apparently changed the Kerr lids' compound. So, essentially, you get the same lid wheather it says Ball or Kerr now, and they are packaged virtually the same.

Begin preparing now for summer and fall canning. Just think of those jewel-toned jars of tomatoes and green beans and peaches and... now, there's a sigh of contentment.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Peace of Mind -- It Might Be in a Can

I can't imagine living on just "long-term" storage items like grains and beans without something to add flavor, interest, and nutrition. So, I use our local supermarkets' case lot sales to stock up on tomato sauce, a few kinds of veggies I don't can from my garden, creamed soups, canned beans (for the days you are in a hurry), and pineapple for ethnic dishes we make. Depending on the store, case lot sales are often also your chance to get a good buy on dried milk, sugar, salt, baking soda, etc. -- some of the things you use every day in your kitchen.

If your area doesn't have case lot sales, you can stock up the same way by buying a case when an item is at a good sale price. The clerk might look strangely at you when you ask him/her to get you a case of an item, but they'll go back and get one. You leave the store with a feeling of accomplishment and real satisfaction.

For items that never come on sale, like the coconut milk our family regularly uses in Thai cooking, I find a store with a good price and pick up a half dozen or so cans every time I go in the store. Sure, we could live without Thai curry and we could live without pineapple on our homemade pizza, but why should we when we don't have to?

Why buy canned goods in bulk?

First, price. Consider how much you will save over a year if you purchase most of your canned goods at a dime or so cheaper each can. With a box of 20 cans, you've already saved $2, just on one item you use regularly.

Second, you've made life easier for you, the cook. It's so comforting to know those cans are there and ready when you need them -- no running to the store for a can of tomato sauce you discovered you needed right in the middle of cooking the meal.

Third, find peace by being prepared and self-reliant. With the economic downturn, I don't need to say too much about the value of having a supply of food ahead of time. I will just say that I personally have friends right in this town who have had to live off their food storage when husbands lost what seemed very secure jobs. Those people put that food on their shelves in the good times, never knowing they're really need it soon. Our family has lived off food storage when car repairs went into hundreds of dollars more than planned. Sometimes the financial crunch is short-term and sometimes long-term, but all of us go through at least a short-term financial crunch at some point

Peace of mind just might come in a can... and in the freezer... and in buckets in our basement.