Homesteading was a government initiative to grow populations in the early 1900s. The original homesteaders were immigrants who were given free land to entice them to live in specific areas. The catch was that they had to be able to live off their land completely as the areas weren’t yet developed and they were often totally trapped in the winter months.
Children helping to harvest fruit. Photo courtesy of treasurenet.com
The term homesteading has evolved and made a comeback. In my circle it means the act of using your land to grow what you need to survive without being totally dependent on “the man”. There are varying degrees of homesteading of course. Canning is an easy way to create this desired independence.
Canning is the practice of preserving food in jars or cans. Even when it’s in a jar it’s still referred to as canning. This method of preserving food is time-tested and vital to your sustainable homestead.
Anyone can do it!
There are many reasons that people chose to can their own food:
- save money by preserving our own garden harvest
- stock a household that could thrive in emergency situations
- extend the season for eating local
- have access to foods when they are out of season or more expensive
- know what goes into our food
- create food for people we love
I would bet that most people can for all of those reasons. Even if only one of those reasons resonates with you, then you are a canner at heart!
Follow these steps to determine if canning is cost effective and practical for your household.
8 easy steps to help you start canning your own food
1. Figure out what your family actually eats on a regular basis and start there.
Open the cupboard and make a list of all preserved and premade things you buy at the grocery store. What from your list could you replace with homemade versions?
Step one: Make a list of canned items you buy already
2. Look at the ingredients in the pre-made canned foods.
What are they made of?
Can they be grown locally?
Is it realistic to think you can replace and replicate them with homemade options?
3. Make a new list of canned goods that you want to replace with homemade versions.
If you learn how to replace just a few things a year you are well on your way to sustainability.
An easy place to start is condiments, sauces, and salsas. These recipes are simple, all ingredients can be grown locally, and can be preserved for up to a year using a simple boiling water bath.
4. Find recipes and test them.
Make sure the recipes are safe for canning and have the correct ratios of acidity to produce to ensure it is being safely preserved. Use canning cookbooks or reputable websites.
Test small batches on friends and family. Once you find a great recipe write it down in a few different places for safe keeping. I have misplaced more great trial and error recipes than I care to admit.
5. Calculate how many jars of food you will need.
If you can figure out how many jars of tomato sauce you eat in a year, then you can make a more informed decision. If you eat 100 jars of tomato sauce a year, ask yourself if you have it in you to make 100 jars at harvest time. Or will you use homemade as often as you can but not always.
6. Do the math.
Calculate how many fruits or vegetables you need for each recipe and how many jars a recipe makes. How many jars did you calculate you will need? Can you grow or buy this amount?
Look at your schedule and make sure that you have enough time to invest in planting and maintaining a garden, harvesting and turning the produce into the recipes you selected, and then canning and processing the jars for safe storage.
Add up the cost of the other ingredients and supplies. Most of the canning will be done at the end of the summer. It requires a lot of upfront costs but once it’s on your shelf you don’t have to spend money on it again. Can you afford the upfront costs?
Figure it all out now so you know whether or not canning is realistic for you.
It’s ok if you decide that it doesn’t make sense for you to get into canning right now, if you just want to make a few homemade preserves now and then, or if you decide to embrace it fully.
Either way you are making an informed decision and that’s a decision you will never regret!
7. Grow a garden.
If you decided that canning is right for you then you need to figure out how you will get the produce.
Growing it yourself will always be the most cost effective way to can. Also, you will know exactly how the plants were grown and if they were treated with any pesticides.
You already did the math so you know which plants you need and roughly how many. Decide if you will plant from seeds or buy seedlings from a store.
Consider planting fruit bushes or trees. These will take longer to establish but canning is a homesteading lifestyle and the conversion can be slow.
If having your own garden is not possible you can always rent a garden plot in a community garden. If that’s not possible either, then approach a local farm to buy directly, frequent farmer’s markets, or watch the flyers.
Where there’s a will there’s a way!
8. Start canning!
Please let me know how your canning is going. I would love to know what you have swapped for homemade from your own pantry!