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Friday, September 11, 2020

Is it ever economical to make preserves with store-bought ingredients?

Common wisdom is that if you want to save money, you shouldn't buy ingredients to make your own preserves, pickles, or relishes. While in many cases that's certainly true, I've found several instances where it did save me money to make some of my own preserves using store-bought ingredients. 

One of my favorites is tomato salsa. I make my salsa with almost exclusively purchased ingredients, including the tomatoes. I use canned, whole tomatoes that I buy in institutional-sized cans (known as #10 cans). I can get about 7 or 8 pints of salsa using 1 #10 can of tomatoes (cost me $3.10 to $3.50 a #10 can). I also buy the onions in bulk (50-lb sacks, at about 20 cents/lb), and jalapeno peppers (under $1 a pound). The other ingredients include garlic or garlic powder, salt, chili powder, vinegar, oregano (I grow), cilantro (I grow), and red pepper flakes (sometimes use those free packets that you can ask for with a pizza purchase). 7 to 8 pints of salsa cost me about $4 to make, or about 50 cents per pint jar, which is about 1/3 the cost of the cheapest commercial salsa at my local Walmart.

I love, love, love blueberry preserves. Bit I don't like the price so much. Walmart sells Smucker's Blueberry Preserves (18-oz jar) for $2.68. Bonne Maman 13-oz Wild Blueberry Preserves are even pricier at $4.34. I can buy a 10-oz bag of frozen blueberries at Dollar Tree for $1 ($1.60/lb) or a 40-oz bag of frozen, wild blueberries at Walmart for $4.88 ($1.95/lb). A 10-oz bag of frozen blueberries contains about 1  1/2 cups. So, using the Dollar Tree blueberries, I need 2.66 bags of blueberries, about 5  1/4 cups of sugar, 3 oz of pectin, and 2 tablespoons lemon juice (lemon zest in strips is also nice). This makes about 48 ounces of preserves for a cost of about $3.50 to $3.75, or the equivalent of $1.31 to $1.40 for an 18 ounce portion, half the price of Smucker's Blueberry Preserves. A comparable amount of wild blueberries (if I wanted to go the Bonne Maman Wild Blueberry Preserves route) would cost an additional 58 cents per batch, or $1.10 to $1.17 per 13-oz jar. That's almost 1/4 of the cost of Bonne Maman preserves.

You may recall that I make watermelon rind pickles, using the white portion of the watermelon rind. This part of the melon would otherwise be discarded, so I consider it to be free to me. However, I do have to buy sugar, spices, and vinegar to make those sweet and tangy pickles. If you can find watermelon rind pickles in your store, you'll see that they run about $4.75 to $5.00 for a 10-oz jar, or $7.60/16 oz. Even if I compared the price of homemade watermelon pickles to a more ordinary pickle, such as a bread and butter cucumber pickles, the least expensive jar of B & B pickles at my Walmart costs $1.84/24 oz. My homemade watermelon rind pickles cost me about 25 cents/16 oz (or 37 cents/24 oz).

Pickled carrots are another good example of making a pickle frugally with store-bought ingredients. I can buy carrots in 25-lb bags for under 40 cents per pound. The vinegar, spices, and sugar are also pretty inexpensive, so these pickles are a bargain to make and yet so nice to add to winter meals. Most of us likely wouldn't buy pickled carrots. So, a better cost comparison to the homemade pickled carrots is once again, the bread and butter cucumber pickles. Homemade carrot pickles cost me about 65 cents for a 16-oz jar, or 97 cents for a 24-oz comparison (to Walmart's B & B pickles) portion.

The trick to making preserves, pickles, and salsas inexpensively is to look for the main ingredient to be inexpensive to begin with, such as canned tomatoes, fresh carrots, to-be-discarded watermelon rind, or frozen blueberries. Sometimes this means buying in institutional-sized packages, other times on sale or from a discount store, or even buying "seconds" or imperfect produce. There are a couple of bonuses to making preserves and salsas with store-bought ingredients. One, even if it's a bad garden year, I can still make some much-enjoyed extras for our winter table. And two, I can make most of these preserves in the off-season, too, when I'm not overwhelmed with other end-of-summer tasks. 

Do you have any favorite frugal canning recipes that rely mostly on ingredients from the store? Please share!


  1. This is yet another example to not make assumptions. You have to do the math.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      Absolutely. If your goal is to do or make something economically, then you do need to assess the costs for your own circumstances. Like you said -- do the math.

      Enjoy the rest of your weekend, Live and Learn!

  2. My mom used to make homemade strawberry jam with store-bought strawberries when she got to the stage where she didn't want to pick them. Homemade just tastes better! Along those lines, I recall a recipe at for making grape jelly out of store-bought grape juice.

    1. Hi Kris,
      I agree -- homemade strawberry preserves do taste better and fresher. I particularly like freezer strawberry jam, even though the rest of the jam I make I can in jars.
      Thank you for mentioning the grape juice recipe. I recall that from frugal girl's site, too, from several years ago. The recipe looked super simple and a great one for those families with young kids who will only eat grape jelly. Thank you for mentioning this recipe. Here's the web address for anyone interested: Frugal Girl's grape jelly

      Have a great afternoon, Kris!

  3. Lili, I discussed your post with my husband over lunch today. I was trying to convince him that we should make our own salsa instead of paying ridiculous amounts at the store, about $3 for 24 oz. He wondered if you wouldn't mind sharing your recipe for a salsa. He said then he would consider making our own. Lately, we've grown to love bean spread on brown rice, topped with cheese, green onion and salsa. I also wanted to thank you for introducing watermelon rind pickles to us. I have been diligently buying watermelon since it is the cheapest per pound fruit, cutting the flesh into cubes and freezing it, then cutting the rind julienne style, and making a Vietnamese style pickle with ginger, onion, and red chili peppers. I like this style of pickle because it requires considerably less sugar than the Japanese pickle dishes (namasu) that I usually make. We like vinegar/sugar recipe dishes as a side to complement our usual bland main dish.

    1. Hi Laura,
      The cost for your own salsa will depend, of course, on the cost of ingredients in your area. If you have a membership to Sam's Club or Costco, you'll be able to buy institutional-size cans of tomatoes, which I think would be the most variably-priced ingredient of the salsa, in comparison to buying smaller cans of tomatoes in a regular grocery store. (Of course, sometimes store sales beat institutional cans of veggies, too.)
      I agree with you on pickles and sauces/salsas adding just the right zip to plainer foods. Maybe that's why I've always served pickles with a dinner of baked beans and bread. Hmmm, never really thought why I did that before.

      Here's the recipe for the salsa that I make:
      My easy tomato salsa recipe using store-bought ingredients

      Enjoy the rest of your weekend, Laura!

    2. Thank you, Lili!! I read your post from 2012 to my husband and he's eager to try your salsa recipe. We don't know how to can, so we may freeze in tofu containers.

      Have a nice day!!

    3. Good luck with the salsa-making, Laura. Freezing should save some time and a bit of work.


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