Finding mouth-watering fresh garden produce is exciting at this time of year, but many then wonder if they should bottle some of that fresh goodness for later. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind when making that decision.
First, taste — nothing compares with the wonderful flavor of foods that are home canned or bottled! Commercially canned foods and bottled jams and jellies just do not taste the same.
A second issue to consider is cost. It used to be that it was always more economical to bottle your own food, even when it was purchased at a produce stand or farmers market. However, today is a different story. Unless you can grow your own produce, buying some to preserve will most often cost more than buying commercially canned foods.
If having a garden and fruit trees are not options for you, it is possible to find other free resources. Sometimes fruit trees in people’s yards are left to drop their fruit when owners do not have the desire or time to deal with them. By knocking on doors and making inquiries, you can often find people who are happy to have someone else take care of their ripe fruit. You may be lucky enough to find neighbors or friends who have too much produce and are happy to share if you will help to pick it. Occasionally you may find some land nearby lying dormant. Some owners will allow individuals, and sometimes even neighborhoods, to garden on their unused land.
If you are considering bottling fruit, take into account the cost of sugar or other sweetener used. You will also want to consider the cost of buying the equipment if you do not have any. Keep in mind that with the exception of tomatoes, all other vegetables are low-acid foods that must be bottled in a more expensive pressure canner to be safe.
After cost, another consideration is time. Home preservation requires some time to prepare the produce, pack it in bottles and process it. One friend with a large family would not even talk about food storage because she assumed she would have to learn to bottle. It was just too overwhelming. Buying canned foods makes it possible to store food without having to home-preserve anything.
Practically speaking, when a person is short on time and money, looking for canned foods on sale is really the easiest way to build up food storage.
There is one last thing to be said for home bottling. If you have some time and an inexpensive source of produce, there is the satisfaction of looking at and enjoying the work of your own hands. We have a Lemon Alberta peach tree that produces the most heavenly fruit. Sometimes after spending the better part of the day bottling (I know it sounds silly), I love to sit and look at the bottles of beautiful yellow peaches layered inside the jars. When all the peaches are done, it’s fun to count all the jars I bottled. Occasionally, in an odd year when our tree does not produce anything, I actually miss the whole experience of bottling because it is so rewarding.
For the rewards and the taste alone, you may decide to pay a little more and buy some produce to bottle.
If you have never done any preserving, why not find a friend who would let you come and learn? That will give you a taste of the experience and an opportunity to decide if home preserving is for you.
Leslie Probert, a graduate in home economics from Brigham Young University, has been a popular speaker and is co-author of "Emergency Food Storage in a Nutshell, 3rd Edition" with over 400 fast, creative recipes. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org