Frugal Foodie’s Guide to Preserving Summer Produce

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The idea of standing over a hot stove during the last days of summer may not sound too appealing, but it can do wonders for your grocery bill.

We’ve mentioned more than a few times that it’s best to buy seasonal produce because the excess quantity drives down prices. Summer is the cheapest time for strawberries, peppers, peaches, tomatoes and a long list of other produce.

Home cooks who figure out how to preserve their haul with homemade jams, jellies, sauces, pickles and other goodies can take those savings well through the winter. Plus, they can do it using less sugar and without the chemical preservatives of store-bought versions.

Just how much can you save?

Frugal Foodie used peppers from her garden this year to make half a dozen 8-ounce jars of pickled jalapenos, for just about $2 worth of ingredients. That’s how much it would have cost to buy a similarly sized jar at the supermarket.

Steven and Lina Zussino of did their own test, making a batch of strawberry mango daiquiri jam (recipe below) for $2.65 per 8-ounce jar.

That’s roughly half the price of gourmet jams, although some single-fruit store brands can be as cheap a $2 per jar. The recipe factors in the cost to buy the canning jars, so home cooks reusing jars can save even more.

But preparing canned goods to store at room temperature isn’t a feat to tackle without a little research first. One wrong variable, like a poorly sealed jar, can lead to spoilage.

Before you get started, read the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s canning guide, and then follow recipes to the letter. (You might also consider a few freezer- and fridge-stored preserves that don’t require actual canning.)

We asked chefs, food bloggers, home cooks and other experts for their easiest home preserving recipes. Here are nine to try:

Tomato Jam

Kathy Catlin Davis of “Lessons From Cooper” tweaked her tomato jam so it’s less sweet. Use it “on toast with eggs and bacon; on a 
bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich in place of the tomato, basically anything 
that involves bread and tomatoes,” she says.

Zucchini Relish

Tired of zucchini bread? If you’re faced with an excess of squash, this spicy zucchini relish recipe from Karen Ciancio of “Cooking Nook” uses a whopping six pounds of the summer vegetable.

Strawberry Mango Daiquiri Jam

The Zussino family’s recipe uses strawberries, mangoes and lime, but the secret (and optional) ingredient is a half-cup of rum.

Strawberry & Rhubarb Pie Filling

Rhubarb isn’t in season very long, but Ashley Walkup of has a canned pie filling that can be used year round. (She suggests doubling it to make enough for several pies.)

First, prepare jars for canning. 
In a non-reactive pan, combine three peeled and chopped Gala apples, a tablespoon orange zest, a quarter-cup freshly squeezed orange juice, seven cups sliced rhubarb and two cups granulated sugar. 

Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring constantly.

Reduce heat, boil gently and stir frequently until rhubarb is tender.
 Add four cups hulled strawberries and return to a boil. After it boils, remove it from the 
Add hot pie filling into jars, leaving an inch of head space.

Clean the rim of the jar, put the lid on, and screw on the ring (but not 
too tightly).
 Process in a boiling water bath for fifteen minutes. Remove from heat and
 let the jars remain in the bath for an extra five minutes before removing.

Summer Squash Pickles

Instead of the usual cucumbers and white vinegar, Julie Grice of “Savvy Eat” subs in squash and white wine vinegar in this recipe.

Canned Apple Pie Filling

This recipe from Marybeth Hamilton of “Baby Savers” makes it easy to pre-prepare pie filling for later in the season. “It
 offers an alternative to applesauce for preserving the harvest, and it’s
incredibly versatile,” she says.

Sweet Chili Sauce 

Ciancio suggests using this sauce as a flavorful topping to hamburgers and hot dogs, as well as a mix in for meatloaf and other dishes.

Honeyed Peaches

Not all honey is created equal: Grice taste-tested several varieties before finding one that paired well with summer peach preserves.

Strawberry Lavender Jam

Fresh lavender plays a key role in Walkup’s jam. To make, wash, dry and hull a pound of strawberries. Put them in a bowl.

Lay 10 of the lavender stems atop the strawberries. 
Cover with a pound of sugar and let the mix rest in your refrigerator for one day.

When you’re ready to cook, put your canner bath on stove so the water can begin to heat. Discard the lavender from the strawberry and sugar. Sugar will stick to the
lavender but with a simple shake, it should fall right back into the

Place the strawberry and sugar mixture in a large non-reactive pan. 
Take 10 more lavender stems and use one of the stems to tie the 
others together.

Add the lavender to the pan. Add a third-cup of lemon juice. Cook over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil, then continue to 
cook for about 20 minutes, until the gel reaches 220 degrees F.

Skim any foam from the top. Discard the lavender. Ladle
 the jam into hot, sterilized jars, wipe the rim of any excess jam, put 
the lid on, and screw on the ring (but not too tightly). 

Process in a canner bath for 10 minutes.

Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie


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