Is home canning worth it?
The answer is emphatically and absolutely “YES!”
Or “It depends.”
Preserving your harvest can be rewarding but it’s also lots of work!
Between growing or acquiring the produce, gathering and preparing the equipment, canning your produce, and cleaning up the mess afterwards, you definitely rack up hours in the kitchen.
So, the real question is: Is home canning worth it to you?
Ultimately only you can answer that question. And your answer might be different than mine, or your mother’s, or your neighbor’s.
And that’s okay!
I would love to share with you some questions to consider, and if you do decide to start or continue canning, a few things that can make it more worthwhile for you.
Going back to basics seems to be all the rage. We’re fighting against chemicals and processing and prices. We’re wishing we had paid more attention to the way grandma did things.
I’m right there with you.
While my grandma is an experienced home canner whose shelves are filled with jars of everything you can imagine, I don’t remember seeing my own mother can anything while I was growing up, and I never did any canning at all until after I was married.
And I first learned from a man in his eighties!
We were renting the basement of an older home with our elderly landlord couple living above us. One summer a major limb on a peach tree broke. Rather than watch all those delicious peaches go to waste, our landlord took it upon himself to teach me how to preserve them. For years after he passed away, our family was still enjoying the peaches we had canned together.
Ten years later, I’ve kept canning and kept expanding my repertoire. Canning with friends who are good home canners is a great way to expand. I’ve also learned a lot from some friends I’ve never met or talked to. Years ago I stumbled on some canning recipes from Paul and Bernice Noll, an older couple who share decades of well-illustrated canning wisdom on their web site.
Today, my in-laws are avid gardeners and preserve a large portion of their produce, so the last four years, I have had a wonderful tutor living very close.
Why do I want to can my own food?
One of the first questions you’ll need to ask yourself to decide if home canning is worth it for you, is the WHY. Why do you want to can your own food?
Here are some common reasons you might preserve your own food:
I like being self-sufficient.
There is a real sense of empowerment that comes when you can do things yourself. Not having to rely on the store for your food is pretty cool. Plus, having some food stored and being able to preserve more will allow you to provide for your family during emergencies or economic hardship.
I want to know exactly what is in the food I feed to my family.
Commercially produced food is loaded with ingredients and preservatives that we don’t know much about and probably can’t even pronounce, let alone spell. When you preserve your own food, you know exactly what is in it, which is comforting to your mind and your body.
I don’t want my harvest to go to waste
If your garden or orchard is producing more than you can use, learning to can the extras will stretch your harvest throughout the year instead of just one season. Plus, when you’re already making the effort to grow some, growing a little more isn’t that much more of an effort.
I want to save money
If you have a source of produce or meat at a good price or you’re already growing your own, canning can definitely save you money. In fact, if you have canning skills, you can take advantage of free produce when it happens to come your way (and trust me, if you are known for having canning skills, free produce will find you).
Don’t forget to consider…
Once you’ve determined your main reason for wanting to can your own food, there are a few more factors to consider when deciding if home canning is worth it for you.
There are lots of ways to save on the equipment costs though. When you’re just getting started, you might be able to borrow the major equipment. You can also get used canning jars if you ask around, ask on freecycle, or look at garage sales. Make sure they have no cracks or nicks, especially along the flat surface where the lid makes contact with the jar. If you’re buying used jars, be sure to know the regular price of new jars (right now these regular mouth quart jars on Amazon are actually cheaper than what we have in the store), because I’ve noticed that thrift stores often over-price them.
My favorite way to decrease the equipment cost is to do your canning with a friend who already has all the equipment! It’s also a great way to learn from a more experienced food preserver. If you bring jars and jar lids, and either bring or help buy the produce, you can have a great time, learn a lot, and get a lot more canning done than you could have done yourself.
Once you have the major equipment and jars, the only thing you will need to buy year after year is flat lids (you cannot reuse these) and the food you will be canning.
Canning your own food can require a major time investment. I’ve found that it significantly reduces the time (and increases the fun) when my husband works with me on canning. I’ve also canned with friends, where both of us bring our own produce and our own helpers and we work together to get twice as much done in the same amount of time. My kids are even old enough now that their help actually saves me time (instead of making things take longer).
One of the most important time savers is canning in bulk. You might spend three hours preparing, canning, and cleaning up six quarts of peaches or green beans or applesauce. Increase that to twenty-four quarts and your time investment doesn’t even double. You can do twenty-four quarts in five hours or less! Much of the prep and cleanup takes just about the same amount of time no matter how many jars you are doing, so adding bulk dramatically decreases the time-per-jar average.
Compare your options
After you’ve decided WHY you want to can, and taken time and money constraints into account, it’s helpful to compare a canning project with your next best option. If you didn’t choose to can your own [fill-in-the-blank], what would be the next option?
Can you find two-quart bottles of applesauce on sale for $1.50 at your favorite store? What about salsa, or turkey chunks? If it’s a question of cost, is canning really cheaper? If not, and you really want to do it anyway, maybe your WHY wasn’t cost after all. If you discover that your real WHY is knowing what’s in your food, what is your next best option for food you can know and trust?
Putting your two best options head-to-head will help you decide whether to embark on your own canning odyssey. Sometimes looking at two specific options can even make a third, even better, choice come to mind.
After thinking through the reasons and factors above, the best option for you should start to become pretty clear.
Whether you take up canning or not is up to you. It doesn’t make you bad if you don’t or better if you do. It’s totally personal. What’s worth it to you might not be worth it for me and vice versa.
We all go through different seasons in life. Sometimes, even if we really want to start into something like home canning, it just isn’t the right time for us. If that’s the case for you, don’t feel guilty about it!
At the same time, if you have nothing holding you back but fear or lack of knowledge, don’t let that stop you! Grab your supplies, find a friend, and dive right in!
How about you?
- Do you can your own food? Why is it worth it for YOU?
- How did you get started canning? I’m really curious about this one.
- If you want to start canning, but haven’t yet, what is holding you back?
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