Garden Produce — To Can, Or Not To Can

This, dear reader, is how I prefer to think of the garden — a beautiful place. Promenade, original and signed limited edition print at Steve Henderson Fine Art; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas

In every relationship, there comes a point to be brutally honest with one another, and you and I, Dear Reader, have reached that point. There is something that you need to know about me.

I don’t preserve produce from my garden. I don’t can peaches; I don’t pressure cook carrots; I don’t blanch and freeze broccoli, but since I don’t grow broccoli in the first place, this isn’t an issue.

Through the years, my distaste of canning has affected my relationship with others, namely because I avoid the kitchens of my canning friends for three months or so, and I have a hard time not grimacing when someone slips a slimy preserved pear onto my plate.

I don’t like canned food — creating it or eating it — and for much of my adult life I slunk about the edges, hoping that no one would ask me what I was doing with all of the bounty from our garden.

But I slink no more, and if you want to know what we’re doing with the copious amount of food coming from our garden these days, I’ll tell you: we’re eating it. Lettuce in salads; potatoes in soup; chard and kale steamed and tossed with pasta — what we don’t eat goes to the goats, chickens, or compost pile. And while it’s true that in December we won’t have access to green beans floating around in whatever liquid green beans float around in, we’ll eat pumpkins and winter squash, which store — neatly, tidily, and without steam — in the workshop.

It’s easy to forget the wonderment of the garden when we’re so focused on preserving everything that comes out of it. Lilac Festival, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

I can assure you that, by the time September rolls around, I will have had my fill of zucchini. But that’s okay, because by that time I’ll have several wheelbarrowfuls of the aforementioned pumpkins and squash which will take me through to March, by which time I will be desperate for spinach. At no time do I wander through the pantry, muttering, “I sure would like some green beans now, on toast.”

This is a brave step for me, admitting to the world that I am so appallingly lazy that I don’t delight in standing over a pulsating stove, in July, sloshing food product around, but I do it for those of you still huddling in the closet, reluctant to admit that you don’t like canned prunes either.

It’s okay not to can. The best way to know that you, personally, shouldn’t is if you find yourself asking, “Do I have to can?” Anytime you preface a question with, “Do I have to . . .?” you know that you might want to find an alternative way of doing things.

And I have. We eat seasonally, which means that we are some of the few people I know who consume pumpkin in any form other than pie. Interestingly, we also eat more vegetative manner than many of the people I know who can, because we create entire meals around what is in our garden, as opposed to plopping a spoonful of mushy peas next to the roast beef and mashed potatoes.

Different things grow all year, and while we can’t eat hay, we can eat other products of autumn. Homeland 3, Original sold; licensed, open edition print available at Great Big Canvas

Ultimately, it comes down to eating cheaply and eating well, and when you use what you’ve got when you’ve got it, you do both. If you can, and eat what you produce, I’m happy for you, because you like what you do and it’s saving you money. But if you don’t, I’m here for you, assuring you that you’re not a profligate spendthrift who doesn’t use what you’ve been given, you just choose to use it in a different way.

Saving money looks different for different people;

Available in paperback and digital format at

the important thing is to find out what works best for you and your family. I can help with this. My book, Live Happily on Less, walks you through the lifestyle changes you can realistically make to live contentedly on what you have. No weird tricks, no extreme coupon clipping, no magic bullets — just a series of 52 easy to digest essays gently leading you to make lasting, impacting changes. $12.99 paperback and $5.99 digital at

The artwork in this article is by Steve Henderson, my Norwegian Artist, and can be found in the following places:

Manufacturers and retailers — license Steve’s work through Art Licensing

This article is linked to Mama’s StoryTough Cookie MomIntentionally Domestic, Growing HomeThe Modernish HomemakerFrugally Sustainable, Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Dude Sustainable, Living Well Spending Less, My Cultured Palate, Natural Living LinkUp, Day2Day Joys, We Are That Family, A Life in Balance, Hope in Every Season, A Peek into My Paradise, Little House in the Suburbs, Our Heritage of Health, Life as We Know It, The Thriftiness Miss, Let This Mind Be in You, Friday Flash Blog, Small Footprint FamilyOh So Amelia, The Chicken Chick, Nourishing Joy, Natural Living Mamma, Butter Believer, A Blossoming Life, The Prairie Homestead, Mamal DianeReal Food Forager, Growing Home Blog, Healthy Roots Happy Soul, A Humble Bumble, Adventures of a DIY Mom

17 Responses

  1. Milla

    Your essay/article/post today exterminated the last of my guilt. That little guilt obscured the fact that I don’t like canned vegetables and haven’t eaten them in years. I don’t even know how to can, having had the good fortune of living in southern California most of my adult life. I miss San Diego, the city of farmers markets and exotic-to-the-midwest fruit and vegetables. I even had a beautiful garden there each year, in order to enjoy watermelon in January and roses in February. I always felt guilty that I didn’t can the produce and some went directly into the compost heap.

    I live in northeast Ohio now, where the baffling weather and ravaging deer make gardening risky. The growing season here is very short, in my opinion, and all the work and the expense of water made me feel even more guilty for not canning the produce. I bought a small freezer and filled it with home grown tomatoes. That assuaged my conscience a bit. Organically grown frozen fruit and vegetables bought on sale are just as good as non-nutritious canned foods. (This is just my experience and I know I’m lucky to be able to buy food.)

    I enjoyed your words. They made me smile first thing in the morning.

    1. Milla — it gives me joy to the be the reason behind someone smiling first thing in the morning, and I am glad that we have put to rest the last vestiges of that guilt.

      You use what you have, as you are able, and you cook and eat fresh. There is much to be said for this — I have always looked at canned products — from home or store — and wondered, just how much nutritive value is left in you after being boiled for so long?

      I hear you. We are fortunate to be able to purchase food, any food. That being said, many of us in this country have lots of options on what kind of food to buy, and those people who learn to cook (this is an oft repeated statement in my book, Live Happily on Less — have options to effectively use good, organic produce and stretch their food dollars to make and eat better food. It is possible to eat well, on a budget, purchasing quality ingredients — you just have to take the time to learn how to use them, and to use them.

      I wish you a delightful Friday, and encourage you to make some salsa with those tomatoes — it’s a simple, delicious meal wrapped in a tortilla with cheese, and if you can’t find a good recipe, I’ve got one (which uses canned tomatoes, by the way, the one and only decent canned product I’ve found, but you can replace your fresh ones) — –Carolyn

      1. Milla

        Next time I pass a Latino grocery, I’ll buy some cilantro to make your salsa. You made me smile again, because I am just learning how to cook. Unwillingly retired and on a very interesting budget, I still refuse to buy the cardboard tasting vegetables in the supermarkets. Meat is sometimes cheaper than In order to buy the tastier organically-grown produce, I had to quit using the organic and minimally processed packaged foods I used for convenience. Last winter I baked my first chicken and meatloaf.

      2. Milla

        I pressed send inadvertently. I’ll probably get your book, too, when I can afford it. Will it be useful to a 67-year-old person without a job? I’m always willing to learn something new. And the change in my finances are contributing to my education (learning to cook meat) and my health! Have a great weekend.

        1. Milla — I wrote my book with families of all sizes — from one on up — and backgrounds to learn from, because saving money is a lifestyle. Because everyone’s base lifestyle is different, they learn to make the changes unique to their way of doing things.

          So yes, there is much in the book for a 67-year-old, vibrant learner and excited life liver to grasp. It’s exciting about your foray into cooking — it’s a journey that takes us great places!

          How did you like the salsa? The cilantro is key — one of those herbs that you love or you hate, but oh, when you love it, how lucky you are! (it’s easy to grow, incidentally, inside or out).

          It’s difficult to buy all organic, all the time, so you make the decisions that are best — leafy greens, in organic form, are more important than organic bananas, because bananas have the protective outer peel that the leafy greens don’t. For a long time, we didn’t buy organic butter, because it was so expensive and we used a lot of butter, but I found the product at Costco for a better price, and we drastically reduced the amount of butter we use (I don’t bake as much), so we’ve incorporated it into our buying schedule.

          If you have a Costco in your area, they’re getting very good about offering organic produce and grain products for a reasonable price. — Carolyn

    1. You are welcome, Jacqueline — thank you as well for stopping by and reading my article.

      I am always struck by how Christ interacted with people, one on one — He didn’t Tweet, FB, or worry about SEO optimization, which, understandably, weren’t options back then, but as He could have chosen any time to come down to earth, He chose the time when He did.

      And He interacted, regularly, with people one on one. It causes me much reflection, and impels me to look at my own behavior and adjust it to be in line with His, in so much as I can. I love the world of the Internet, but I also see how easily we can be drawn by the stressful, uncaring side of it, so I do try to connect, and I am delighted to connect with people who connect with me –as you so graciously do! — Carolyn

  2. That is too fun! While I do can, I can because I love to. If I didn’t love it, I would probably stop. Too hot and too much work to do it when you hate it. 🙂 I’ll have to pass this along to other mamas I know who don’t get out a pressure or water bath canner everyday during summer. 🙂

    1. Betsy — I am happy to meet a canine person who does it because she loves it — that’s the right reason!!! And I know that, when you bring down a can of something that you have produced, you feel a sense of pride and joy incorporating it into your meal. That pride and joy, the one we get when we create something, is beautiful indeed.

      I would be so very very grateful if you pass me on to your non-canning friends. I would love to hear from them. — Carolyn

    1. Thank you, Cathy. I’m looking forward to seeing my guest blog on your site next week, and thank you again for inviting me to write one.

      I love your TGIF party and will participate this week with a post on finances and saving money. — Carolyn

  3. eema.gray

    I despise canning. I live in a high desert, above 6,000 ft altitutde. If you’ve ever taken a wander through the front pages of a canning book, you know that canning times go up with altitude. Add in hundred degree heat some weeks of summer and and small children and yes, it’s a pain up the back.

    However, I still like to have greens in mid winter and I don’t want to buy pretty much the cheapest vegetable known to man so my solutions are dehydrating, freezing, and fermenting. Fermenting and dehydrating are pretty much the simplest methods of preservation known to mankind. While I agree with eating seasonal and continually lecture my husband about the reasons why we are not eating tomato salads in January, I do not live in a place where produce grows ten months out of the year (you lot in SoCal are so incredibly lucky!). If I want vegetables between December and June (May, if I forage), I need to preserve in some way. I can assure you that I do not serve slimy anything. 😉

    1. Eema — I love this, and I love your attitude. The thought of the high altitude, the heat, and the extra processing time makes me shudder. As I write this, it is a sweltering 100-plus degrees in the Pacific Northwest, an area generally thought to be bracingly cool. Not in July, and not on the east side of the Cascades! No desire, at all, to seek out a box of peaches and plunge them into hot water.

      I like your blanching and freezing — I freeze raspberries, especially, which don’t need anything but being tossed on a cookie sheet until they freeze, then tucked into a bag. I also like your fermenting concept — I’m still dancing around the thought of doing this, although I have forayed into Kombucha, yogurt, and cheese. Never done the sauerkraut yet — my mother grew up on a small farm, and every time I mention the term sauerkraut, she turns green.

      I wonder — how many of our grandmothers would have walked away from the canning pot if they had had the option of freezers? Or dehydrators?

      Can you grow greens in the winter? Or does it get too cold? — Carolyn

  4. I think it is fine to not can or freeze your produce– we personally adore canned green beans here in our family so I can many, many, many jars. But it would be a waste of time and money to can something that you wouldn’t use….and that is the bottom line when trying to save money– never ever spend your money on something you won’t use– right??

    Thank you for sharing on A Humble Bumble’s Healthy Tuesdays Blog Hop- I hope you will join us again next week!
    Kerry from Country Living On A Hill

    1. Kerry — You nailed it — never ever spend your money on something you don’t use. I think of someone we knew years ago who had two freezers; they pretty much ate out of the top of the chest freezer and the front of the upright freezer, and everything else slowly turned to ancient frozen food product in the nether regions. Not only was the food wasted (it would have been better to get a dog and feed the leftovers to it), but extra energy was put into two appliances that weren’t being put to their best use.

      I am so glad that you and your family like green beans; and I am glad that you get enjoyment and joy out of preserving them. I do admire the kitchens and pantries with their lovely shelves of proudly, and beautifully, preserved food.

      Thank you for having me on the Humble Bumble Blog Hop, and I do plan to be back next week! — Carolyn

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