Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Blueberry Jam: Worth the Time?

I love to make jam.  One of the great pleasures of the summer for me is going to the farmers' market or the u-pick (because we don't grow enough fruit to preserve) and picking up enough ripe fruit to preserve in those little glass jars.  It is no wonder that most writers will tell you that jars of jam look like jewels; just put one in your kitchen window and let the light sparkle through it to see why it is so fascinating.

Lately, however, I have read blog posts that suggest that making jam just doesn't make sense financially.  True, I would probably make it even if it didn't make financial sense -- hey, a hobby is a hobby --but let's put it to the FC&G test.

(Note:  This is not a jam-making tutorial, as there are plenty out there.  My "secret" recipe can be found in the box of Certo pectin.)

I purchased a quart of fresh, farmers' market blueberries for $4.75 a pint or $9.50 total.  This seems pretty expensive on the face of it, especially when you are accustomed to seeing those little cup sized jewel boxes of berries in the store on sale, but these were perfect, picked that morning, and uniformly blue.  And they didn't travel hundreds or thousands of miles to get to my table.

The berries were the most expensive part of the project.  I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation that the remaining ingredients (3.5 cups of sugar, a pouch of pectin, and a splash of lemon juice, plus new canning lids) brought my total ingredients to $15.50.

The batch gave me five full half pints of jam, plus a half a jar that got devoured on fresh bread in a few days.  Let's call that 44 ounces of jam.  That means my batch cost $0.35 an ounce, or $2.80 for a half pint jar.

So how does this compare with purchased analogs?  Well, typically I see those half pint jars at the farmers' market for $4.50 or $5.00, or $0.56-$0.62 an ounce.  Now, granted, you are paying in that case for the jar, ring, lid, and label, because you aren't going to give any of those things back for reuse (and you can't reuse the lid and label anyway).  So, that price you see is probably pretty fair; if you are going that route, be happy to purchase a good, locally made product.  I will be happy that I could save money with my own canning supplies.

How does this compare to the store varieties?   I checked out a few brands at the store, and true blueberry jam is relatively hard to find.  However, the brands I did find came in at between $0.50 and $0.56 an ounce.  You get a jar in this case too, but it is not one that is easily reused and you definitely can't use it for canning.

So there you go.  I saved an average of $0.20 cents per ounce or more, for a total savings on my jam production of $8.80.  Given that I can put up a batch of jam pretty quickly (figure on an hour from start to finish, and part of that is sitting on my duff waiting for the canner to do its work), I've made that much money per hour after taxes.  So, in a way, this is much like landing an hour of paid work at $12 or so an hour and then letting the government take their share.  While its not the hourly rate I charge in my "day" job, I wouldn't turn it down.  And I have the blueberry jam for my winter biscuits and bread to prove it.

The Analysis

Fast:  Once you get your canning mojo going, you can make it through the jam-making process pretty efficiently.  An hour for five jars in your pantry and a partial on your table is not bad.

Cheap:  Thanks to using my own jars and my own time, I've saved a respectable $8.80 and potentially kept a jar from a commercial producer out of the landfill.  I've also not contributed to making blueberries take a long, lonely flight from Chile in a refrigerated airplane.

Good:  I do believe the homemade product tastes much better, as the jam is made within hours of picking the berries.

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