Tuesday, July 29, 2008

WHEN IS HOMEMADE NOT BETTER?The produce stand had cooking tomatoes (tomatoes with some blemishes). 25 pounds for $5. Quite the deal. I bought 50 pounds. I immediately came home and began chopping the tomatoes, and throwing them in a big pot with fresh basil from my yard, whole cloves of garlic, olive oil, and a sprinkling of sea salt and pepper. I LOVE homemade pasta sauce. I spent most of the afternoon on Saturday making it. Sunday night was spent with Mom, pouring it into jars, then placing them in the hot water bath.

35 pounds of tomatoes (I didn't do them all the same day) translated into only 10 quarts of sauce. For six hours of work. That comes out to just over 30 minutes of my time per jar.
I can often find this pasta sauce at the discount food store for $1 a jar. Exact same ingredients. Nearly the same taste.

So, I wonder...when does the pleasure and satisfaction of making something yourself, with your own ingredients, become over shadowed by the cost and time factor? I don't know the answer, but I will say, when I look at my jars of sauce in the pantry, my feelings are bittersweet.

*Creative commons image from jacki-dee on flickr.com


  1. I was thinking the same thing the other day as I finished up canning for the first time. On some of the things I canned, I think it's fine, but I'm not planning to can tomatoes again. It was a good experience I'm sure and I have enough pickles for all of blogdom!

  2. store bought is definately easier on the knees than canning!! :)

  3. But it might have been time-well-spent with your Mom...could be a nice memory one day.
    But as for me, I'd buy the $1 sauce :)

  4. Well, like I said when we were canning the sauce, "It may be more expensive to can these tomatoes, but we know there aren't any roaches or rats in them!" That's the main reason I can; quality control. Plus I like the way it makes me feel. I love seeing the jars lined up on the shelf and to be so tired from standing up for so long that I fall into bed at night and go to sleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. Your Mama

  5. I haven't ever "canned" before, but like your mom said I admire your pantry when you open it and there are jars and jars of green beans and now sauce lined up. But on the other hand $1.00 a jar is unbeatable!


  6. I bet the ones you did yourself are healthier--does the jarred sauce have additives and preservatives in it?

    And it seems like the experience of canning would be good practice for canning other things in the future. I've never canned before so it's pretty intimidating to me.

    I definitely think this one is an individual decision, not cut and dry.

  7. I think it depends on why you're doing it. If it's sheerly a monetary issue, sure, you go for the discount jar. And if this little project would be the "straw that broke the camel's back," you go for the discount jar.

    But some other things to consider are: You learned something, you had fun with your mom, there's something therapeutic about chopping, and you will likely remember this day for a long time! Also, why were those $6 jars of sauce available for $1? Might there be some hidden costs? All things to consider.

    Good question, though, and I'm not at all convinced that there's one answer. Everybody has their own priorities. And I haven't made sauce from fresh tomatoes yet, only from canned.

  8. Well, Laurel, I can certainly understand what you're saying! This can get kind of tricky.

    (I just wrote the following comment and almost deleted it because I am no expert on this, and I don't want to seem preachy. But I think you know I'm just thinking "out loud" here... I appreciate your very honest remarks and questions on this!)

    I just think that anytime you are supporting a local farmer (and coming up with some home-canned, extra-healthy, extra-yummy tomato sauce in the process), you are making a difference. I'm a big supporter of buying local, even if it costs more and is less efficient. In our changing world, I think it's important to make things as locally sustainable as possible.

    (And, of course, part of this is what can we really afford?! There might certainly be a time to buy the canned sauce...)

    And there's something wonderful about knowing *exactly* where your food came from. If you wanted to, you could have gone to meet the grower of those tomatoes and talked to him about his farm and life and practices. There's a face to the food. A real body. An *individual*.

    Maybe our Christian-homemaker culture so highly praises frugality and efficiency as responsible traits that we might be losing sight of other just as important things. Like what is a responsible way to live? What is a compassionate way to live? What has the most positive impact on the economy? The environment? The way the future will need to be?

    Maybe, in doing things like making your own tomato sauce and canning it, the time and money investment is more at first, but it *is* an investment that matters. It's not always about obvious and immediate returns (even though you're looking at some jars of fine sauce!).

    I read something once about fair trade and how America's new focus on local economies hurts fair trade and poor farmers in other countries, but, in spite of my support of local economies, I'm also a supporter of fair trade. I buy fair trade coffees and chocolate and any other thing I can that I can't buy locally.

    Some things aren't fair trade (because I haven't seen them offered this way, like limes and lemons and some spices), but I can't get them locally, so I buy them where and how I can. I have no problem with that. I buy locally if I can, and if I can't, I stick as close to home and "small" as possible. And then I'm just thankful for the abundance that is available to me! :-) Some day I may not be able to buy the spices or the lemons, but for now it's possible, and for that I'm grateful.

    Sorry to go on like this. If I had this settled better in my own mind, I could have written this much more clearly and concisely.

    I know you've read about these issues before...

    Susan :-)

  9. Okay, Susan's comments win :) Keep on canning, friend!!! :)

  10. I have to say the exact same thing happened to us last week. My parents are visiting and wanted to go blackberry picking and make jelly. So we did. 4 hours round trip in the car for enough blackberries (and raspberries) to make only 9 jars of jelly. Yes for all that time and $50 of our money, not counting gas, we got 9 jars of jelly to split between our 2 families. To say it was a big flop is an understatement, but I guess we will enjoy our pricey jelly this winter. I know how you feel!

  11. Pat yourself on the back, Laurel, and enjoy a sense of accomplishment. I am presently reading through the Little House books with my girls, and this work would have been something to be very pleased with - vital for survival. We are all quite spoiled. I am truly amazed reading these books now as an adult. I'm glad I am able to consider the canning and preserving I am able to partake in a fun past time and luxury. Besides, surely this will taste better than the expense $1 jar.

  12. hm... I don't know. I always look at it like this... If I were stranded in the mountains or had to live in the middle of nowhere to escape something horrible, then I would know what to do to make the pasta sauce I love and I wouldn't starve. right now, I am not marooned in the mountains with a iron pot and a wooden spoon; so...I can buy the stuff for a dollar. :)

  13. I'm somewhere inbetween Charlotte and Susan. :) I think that time is also love. Imagine our grandmothers preparing good in such a simple and good way and then giving that gift to their children. Wendell Berry-style, offering of ourselves to our family. But then again, would the time be better spent reading a book to the kids on the couch. I've had the same questions and thoughts that you posted here.

  14. I agree with Susan's remarks. But if I saw a jar for $1 I'd buy that, too. The one nice thing about home grown/prepared food is that you don't have to run to your pantry shelves in a panic every time a product has been recalled for salmonella, etc.

  15. I ask these same questions all of the time. I spend countless hours making salsas, marinades, dips and sauces from scratch when cooking for home, entertaining or going to a gathering. It is almost always cheaper and more time efficient to just buy the bottled versions of these products, and I'm a frugal person so I like that. My husband loves the taste of the homemade versions though, and now that I've spoiled him with those the processed varities just don't taste as good. In the end, I cut corners wherever I can, but know what areas we splurge on, and then budget them in (time wise and financially).

    Love you blog by the way!


  16. Those look very good. Suddenly I'm hungry for a tomato and I just ate. I like those cherry tomatoes, the kind you find at the salad bar.

  17. I agree with what your mom said.... it really is about quality control! (that and less perservatives) :)

  18. Laurel,

    I don't know whether you get your comments this much later, but I just read a really interesting post on the subject of motives for putting up your own food and though you might get something out of it, too. It's from a blog I've enjoyed reading for years:


    I hope this helps. I might do a blog post on it myself, if I can ever find the time to write down all my thoughts. Enjoy!