Keeping canning affordable

~~ The winner of Train Like a Mother according to is commenter #1 Jennifer.~~

Today I’m doing my very first batch of canning this season:  strawberry rhubarb jam.  Canning is sometimes a money-saver, sometimes not, depending on the choices you make. Here are some things I do to keep it more affordable.

~~Look for canning jars on Craigslist, at thrift stores, and at yard sales.  It is common to pay at least $8-$10 for a dozen new jars, but I have often found them for $5/dozen or less at yard sales.  Just make sure the rims of the jars don’t have any chips out of them.

~~When making jam, check for the lowest unit prices on sugar.  You’ll go through a lot.  Even if you have a small family, this may be a time when the purchase of a 25 pound bag is warranted.

~~A single box of Pomona’s Pectin makes 4 batches of jam more affordably than traditional pectin, and also allows you to make low-sugar jams. (recipes included)  You can also find it in bulk, which makes the savings even greater.

~~Tattler Canning Lids & Rubber Rings have a higher initial cost but they’re reusable year after year.  You’ll recoup the cost of your investment in just 2-3 years.

~~ An obvious way to save on canning is to grow the produce yourself.  But if you don’t have garden space, don’t despair.  Sometimes folks have fruit trees that produce more than they need, and are happy to have folks come pick in exchange for help with the cleanup.  Apricots especially tend to be more prolific than many folks can keep up with, especially for elderly tree-owners.  A Craigslist ad during harvest season is one way to find folks with more fruit than they want.  They may be happy to let you pick for a few dollars a box.  If folks do give you fruit for free, be sure to send them a thank you note.  They may just contact you next year too.

~~Be willing to drive to a fruit orchard to buy the fruit directly from the grower.  Farm stands and orchards sometimes offer deep discounts on very ripe fruit that needs to be used within a day or two.  If you go that route,  be prepared to process it immediately.  If I’m short on time, I’ll sometimes freeze ripe fruit on cookie sheets, then make it into jam or smoothies later.

~~~Make jams that mix lower-cost ingredients with higher-cost ones.  Strawberry rhubarb jam is a perfect example of this tactic.  It’s strawberry season, so berries are reasonable — I found some for $1.37/lb, thanks to our local Bountiful Baskets co-op.   But the rhubarb which I used in an equal amount grows on our property for free.  Can’t beat that price.  When our raspberries are in season, but not quite as plentiful as I’d wish, I’ll often mix them with apricots for another delicious fruit-stretching combination.

What do you do to save money when canning and preserving food?  I’d love to hear more tips.


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  1. Beth Gallagher says:

    LOVE canning! I’m just about to put up 14 jars of cherry/rhubarb/vanilla bean jam, and can’t wait until our black raspberries and peaches are ready! There’s nothing like homemade jam. I’m also doing tomatoes, ketchup, and pasta sauce this summer. Often, our farmer’s market has great prices on the ratty looking tomatoes that look unattractive, but taste delicious. 🙂

  2. I have a question about the strawberry rhubarb jam- Can I use frozen rhubarb? I am working on cleaning out my parents’ chest freezer and discovered 3 gallon ziplock bags of chopped rhubarb, and this would be a great way to use it up. I usually make strawberry freezer jam using Ball Realfruit pectin which allows me to make a much lower sugar jam.

    • Sure! Just be sure to include the lemon or lime juice in the recipe to keep it acidic.

    • I think you will want to make sure you thaw it well in a colander to get rid of extra water. It seems whenever rhubarb thaws it has tons of water with it.

  3. When I’m making strawberry freezer jam, I use quart jars instead of the little pint jars. We go through jam fast enough to use it up before it spoils, and we don’t have to buy as many jars when I’m using the larger ones!
    Another way I save money on preserving food is to make pizza sauce, freeze it in ice cube trays, and keep the cubes in a ziploc bag in the freezer. The sauce is in more manageable portions and it doesn’t use up my valuable jars! This way I can save all my jars for freezer jam and yogurt.

  4. David BG says:

    Really helpful tips – thank you!

  5. About the Tattler lids–Do you have to buy new rubber rings often? How long do those last?

    • I don’t think they need replaced often– I’ve used some of mine 3 years so far and they look they same as then new ones I haven’t used yet. But you can buy the rings separately at a lower cost if/when they do need replaced. (Am guessing losing them is more likely than wearing them out, since they are not very big.)

  6. Watch the site in your county; and if not a member you need to join. People are very often weeding out their prolific vegetables to make room for something else. Because freecyle MUST be free, this is a great find.

  7. We have also used V-8 Splash for jam. My family loves the Açai Berry Fusion turned into jam! I can get the 2 quart juices for as low as 75¢ making a lot of jam very affordable.

  8. I love canning and am actually teaching a canning class at my church in August!

    Some ways that I keep canning affordable-

    I have gotten jars from church sales, yard sales, thrift stores and freecycle. Back in the winter I got a brand new box of pint Ball jars, with rings and lids, for $4 at the thrift store. Just today someone posted 20 jars on Freecycle so I am picking them up tomorrow. I also let all my friends and family know that I am always looking for canning jars. Friends from church dropped a case and a half on my doorstep a few weeks ago. I prefer to can jam in pint jars because I love to give it for gifts.

    Rings and Lids-
    I have gotten these from the same sources as jars but I also look for them at the end of the season at grocery stores. Stores that don’t stock canning supplies year round will mark them down. I was visiting a friend in Charlotte and we went to some yard sales and I found 12 rings and lids shrink wrapped to a sheet of cardboard for $1. I have always wondered what the TSA thought when they X-rayed my luggage on the way home!

    Canning Equipment-
    I used a crab steamer until I got a water bath canner with rack from someone I met on Freecycle years ago. I’ve gotten several jar lifters and funnels at yard/church sales. I bought a small, tall enamel pot with a rack at a church sale that is perfect for 3 jars when I am doing a small batch. My girlfriend & I, who I recently taught how to make jam, were at a church sale the end of March and we found her a canner for $4. The only problem with it was the rack was rusted too badly to use. Two weeks ago at a different church sale, we found a rack, jar funnel and lifter for $1.50! Isn’t God good! I also bought a dehydrator, that I use for herbs, for $3 at a yard sale.

    I just put up 16 jars of Cherry/almond preserves from someone’s posting on Freecycle. They moved in last December and inherited a cherry tree and they didn’t want any of the fruit. They have invited me back when their apples are ripe to pick apples. I go to the farmers market and ask to buy seconds for canning. It’s much cheaper but you have to be prepared to process the produce by the next day. I have also traded jam for produce with one of the farmers that I’ve gotten to know. A friend from church has plum and apple trees growing in her front yard so she has invited me to come pick as mush as I want this summer because they don’t use the fruit. I also pick raspberry and blackberries that grow wild on our church’s property. I planted raspberry bushes in our yard a few years ago and they are finally starting to produce. I have a square foot garden that provided cucumbers for pickles last summer. I also will by local produce when they are loss leaders at the grocery store, such as blueberries at 99¢/qt.

    I’ve bought pectin on clearance at grocery stores in the fall so I stock up then. I buy the big jugs of vinegar since it lasts for a long time and has so many uses. Sugar I try to buy when there’s a sale and combine it with coupons.

    Sorry this is so long but this is something I am passionate about!

  9. Thanks for the tips! I just purchased Pomona’s pectin last year after realizing that my jam-making wasn’t too cheap. It’s great that it saves on the cost of pectin and jam. I’ve never heard of the lids before, but will check them out!

    I guess my money-saving tip would be to know your own reasons for canning. If it’s just to save money, then do plenty of calculations. I’ve learned that if I have to buy the fruit, I’m usually better off shopping the sales for commercially canned instead. If you’re canning so that you know what goes in your food, then you’re likely to be willing to pay a bit more. I have also purchased the standard lids by the case to make them cheaper and then split them with others.

    A lot of people around here use steam canners – which all the canning companies say aren’t good. Any experience with them? I know they make it go faster becuase there’s so little water to boil.

  10. thriftymomma says:

    Where I live I can get boxes of the metal canning lids at the dollar store.

    I agree with Alea about your reasons for canning. Commercial jam makes sense for our family so I can save all the fruit I buy for smoothies and the like. I tend to can the “speciality” stuff that I cringe when I have to buy it at the store….good salsa, fancy pickled peppers, crunchy dill pickles, pickled beets, chocolate raspberry ice cream sauce, apple/strawberry sauce…whatever.

  11. My husband found a pressure canner for me at a thrift store for $3! To buy new it would have been $60+, so we were thrilled!

  12. I head to my local produce auction down in Amish country to get great prices on all sorts of things. Last summer I got blackberries for $1 per pint. The store here sells blackberries for $2 for a 4 oz container when they put it on sale, regular price is $4 each.


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