The Thrifty Preserving Rules
Making preserves is a great thrifty habit to get into, allowing you to enjoy a luxury product for pennies. Over the years I have developed eight golden rules for myself to avoid my tendency to waste both time and money preserving like I am going into competition with Bonne Maman. Here they are
- Buy cheap sugar – it is just as good for preserving. For fruits low in pectin, get preserving sugar or sachets of pectin to add to your cheap granulated.
- Don’t pay more than you have to for fruit. Forage for free fruit, or befriend someone who has a glut. If you can’t find free fruit, visit a pick your own farm but check their prices first – some are a rip off. A quick google of your local supermarket prices should tell you if your PYO is cheap enough to be worth visiting. Fruit for jam needs to be at its peak so don’t buy fruit being sold cheaply because it’s at its sell-by date. Do buy fruit in peak condition that is being sold cheaply because it’s in glut though.
- Don’t buy jam jars. If you haven’t saved a stock of them already, try Freecycle or put the word out to your friends that you want empty jars. Jars without lids are not a problem – you can buy replacement lids cheaply. Even cheaper, buy little packs of cellophane disks, waxed circles and rubber bands instead of lids. The heat of the cooling jam tightens the cellophane and creates a vacuum beneath it that effectively seals the jar.
- Do buy jam jars if you are planning to give preserves as gifts. Yes, it ramps up the price, but it also ramps up the style factor. Estimate how many times you will actually want to hand over a fancy jar of jam to someone and splurge on only that many nice jars. If you already have a collection of pretty jars to reuse though, just buy new lids.
- Don’t buy labels. You can buy cute jam jar labels but why bother when there so many lovely ones available to download free? Check out my Preserve Something board on Pinterest for some suggestions. You can buy adhesive printer paper sheets to make labels that stick to jars but I prefer the kind you tie on – card is cheaper for printing on and you don’t have to pick labels off the jars to re-use them.
- Don’t go nuts buying special equipment. Unless preserving is going to become a serious hobby and money-saver for you it will be many years before you recoup the cost of some of them. A sugar thermometer is very useful for checking if you have reached setting point but a cold plate works too. A proper maslin pan reduces the chance of injury from rapidly bubbling jam but any high-sided pan will do. The one piece of equipment I wouldn’t want to be without is a jam funnel. I have wasted too many minutes from my life and layers of skin from my fingers trying to wipe hot dribbles of jam from the outside of jars.
- Do invest in a reliable recipe book that offers a wide variety of preserve recipes. That way, no matter which part of nature’s bounty you find falling into your lap, you will have a recipe on hand to preserve it. I have bought more such books than is decent over the years, but the two I come back to time and time again are Pam Corbin’s River Cottage Preserves and The Good Housekeeping Complete Book Of Preserving. Their recipes have never failed me yet.
- Don’t waste time and money making more jam than you can use in a year. Make small batches to avoid waste and stop the process turning into a mammoth chore. In any case, a family can only get through so many jars in a year without losing all its teeth. Jam may start out as fruit but health food it ain’t.