Hello again! I lied.
I talked about taking care of your old t-shirts last, but actually, I’ve been canning like a crazy woman of late. I planted a garden this year (with positive results!), and worked up the courage to go ask neighbors if I can pick from their trees (again, positive results!).
Between those endeavors, the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, aka local farms) subscription we have this year, and the fact that my parents have some apple trees in their own back yard, I have been swimming in produce. I know it’s not for everyone, but I love canning. I love taking something that’s perishable, and turning it into something I can enjoy even years later. In the past, I made what I was ‘supposed to make’ out of the fruits and veg I encountered, but this year I stepped out. I took risks. I got dangerous.
And I would posit to you that you might give it a shot, too, especially if you have generous (or at least tolerant) neighbors, or friends, or families with gardens or fruit trees. First of all, it’s like mad science in the kitchen. There are like four hot things boiling at the same time, you have time constraints and you have to time things right, and doggone it, I even like the fact that if you mess up, sometimes things might blow up. Don’t worry, I will give you recipes with very low explosion rates, and very high deliciousness rates.
For frugality’s sake, I would pick recipes that you don’t have to buy your fruit for – or if you buy it, pick something in season that is RIDICULOUSLY cheap. Roadside fruit stands, local fruit markets (I hope you have some near you, because I love the ones around where I live), and there are even Craigslist ads from people who want their fruit picked and gone so it doesn’t make a mess on their lawn. There are a ton of avenues for you to explore, if you feel like going a’questing.
I will tell you that the actual mason jars are the single expense, but if you get them from the thrift store, your aunt who was totally into canning but doesn’t do it anymore, or from stores in the dead of winter (think February), you’ll drastically reduce your costs. Most of the time, you’ll want pint jars or smaller, and you MAY NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES re-use jars from the jam or pickles or whatever you purchased from the store. Absolutely never. They will be the wrong size, they won’t have the right threading for the caps, and they’re not meant to be re-used for this purpose. That’s explosion number one waiting to happen. Also, while some argue that it is feasible to re-use the metal lids for mason jars, I would abstain. They have glue that you activate with boiling water, and, well, think about when you re-stick a piece of tape over and over. Just don’t work right. Buy new, unless the world has ended and you have no choice.
Another significant expense are the spices, especially near holidays. You can buy them in bulk and save some money, but make sure you have airtight containers for them. You could also trade for the spice, with something perhaps akin to a jar of whatever you’re making! It’s up to you. Watch for deals, and you’ll be dandy.
So for these recipes, I will assume you have A) jars, B) rings sized appropriately for said jars, and C) metal lids for said rings. Without further ado, here are all the things I made with fruit I got for free, grew in my garden, or got a completely screaming deal on when purchasing.
Apple Jelly. I am ashamed to link to a page with Comic Sans as its primary font, but they have a good recipe and a great tutorial on how to actually, like, do canning.
Apple BBQ Sauce. So good, some people eat it with a spoon. It’s more time consuming, but if you make the effort, it’s *so* worth it.
Applesauce. I’ve made this so often, I don’t use a recipe – but this one is pretty decent. Double the cinnamon, and just put the hot apple mix into the blender right before you’re ready to pour it into jars. It’ll make your life easier. Apple butter is identical to this recipe, but add 1/2 tsp of ground cloves, make a double batch of apples (it cooks down), and use a crock pot on the 10 hour setting. It’s better for your sanity. EDIT: Try TWO rounds in the crockpot on the 10 hour setting. It takes a lot of apples to make a little bit of apple butter, so don’t lose heart. Just keep shoving apples in the crockpot, and eventually you’ll get your fair share of delicious, spreadable apple goodness.
Margaret’s Picante Sauce. The best salsa I can imagine. It’s a recipe for a HUGE batch, but you can halve or quarter it if you can do some math. For those who prefer a less chunky sauce, just pulse it through a blender or use an immersion blender on it.
Green Tomato Salsa. Do you like salsa verde? Because this is the best darn version of it I’ve ever had. The beauty of this recipe is that most people think their green tomatoes aren’t worth eating, but they’re WRONG. When it starts getting cold out in the fall, tomato plants stop ripening their fruit, and the tomatoes stay green. Keep your eyes peeled for friends and neighbors with tomato plants, because eventually, you *will* get their green leftover goodies, and this is a darn good way to put them to use.
Plum Wine. My friend Aaron and I got crazy and used the Easy Plum Wine recipe from this page. It’s still fermenting away in the corner of my bedroom, waiting until February for us to bottle it. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Chinese Plum Sauce. It’s got more texture and color than the clarified plum sauce you get in a restaurant, but the punch of flavor more than makes up for any discrepancies. I like it FAR better than its more processed cousin, by the way.
Spiced Rum Crabapples. I had one jar that just wouldn’t seal correctly, and I was just SOOOO SAD that I had to open it and eat some. Because the crabapples I used were very tiny, they’re really seedy – but so worth the spitting. Oh man.
Pickles and Relish. I used this recipe, but left out the chilis. I used the same brine for all the pickling, and just changed the texture. Oh, and in the relish I added about half a shredded onion to the mix for variety.
White Grape Jelly. Delicious and light, and needing little sugar, this is awesome to make. Boiling the grapes to get the juice, FYI, is also one of the first steps towards making wine… But to be honest, this year’s jelly didn’t work for me (I couldn’t put in enough pectin to make it any thicker than snot… eugh), and I usually make jam anyway (which is Hulk Green if you leave in the skins!), so I think I’ll go back to what I know.
And that’s most of it! I made some little one-offs here and there, but these were the real steals of the season. It’s amazing what you can get out of a little garden and some friendly neighbors. I’ll be back again with those t-shirts, I promise!