Is Homemade Jam a Bargain?

There is no doubt that organic homemade jam can be exponentially better than store-bought jam. But is it cheaper to make? I decided to do the math.

Since I’m currently gardenless, I had to buy my berries. Without even getting out the calculator, I’m going to guess that this is the deal-breaker for my batch of jam. If I were still in White Salmon picking berries from my own established beds, the only expense for them would be water and my time (and lord knows how much that is valued in today’s economy!). Anyway, the flat of organic berries (approximately 12 pounds) cost $27 from my friend Nellie, who sourced them from a farm that pays its workers a fair wage yada yada.

Thanks, Garcia Farm!

Thanks, Garcia Farm!

Oregon strawberries are spectacularly flavorful and tender. They are also, not coincidentally, fragile. They begin to deteriorate immediately once off the plant. Since I was unable to pick my flat up for a couple of days, I lost at least a quarter of them to rot and bruising. That left approximately 9 pounds to work with.

IMG_1822I went to one of Portland’s dozens of “natural” groceries and bought pectin, made from citrus peel and requiring half the sugar of conventional pectin, and organic cane sugar. The pectin cost $5, and the sugar (4 pounds, of which I used about half) cost $6.

I already own canning equipment, but let’s say I had to buy new lids: $2. And let’s say about $10 in water, electricity and gas to cook and process the jars. I have amortized the original cost of my equipment to the point of not including it. And then there’s my time again … about two hours.

My yield was 7 pints in 8-ounce (half-pint) jars, so:

Strawberries     $27
Pectin                  $5
Sugar                   $3
Lids                      $2
Power                 $10
Total                $47

That’s $3.36 per jar. A quick internet search produced Ikea lingonberry preserves on a discount website at $8.47 for 14 ounces. My jam actually came out all right! If I had access to a free berry patch, it would be even cheaper, just $1.43 per jar.

But I guess Ikea jam could be considered kind of fancy, so I kept looking. I found Smucker’s strawberry (conventionally grown, high-fructose corn syrup, chemicals aplenty) on sale at a corporate grocery store at $2.50 for 32 ounces! I guess organic can’t compete with that. On price, anyway.

My family would rather go for quality, not quantity. So, now I will enjoy my jam—not only for the satisfaction of making something and its high-quality ingredients and delicious taste, but also for its relative cost-effectiveness!

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5 thoughts on “Is Homemade Jam a Bargain?

  1. You make me feel better about all the money I spend at the fruit stand near us — thank you, Tim, the berry man!

  2. Rita says:

    I’m feeling better about the jam we made this week, too. I just assumed it was more expensive, and used the higher quality as justification for spending the money. Now I can feel all-around happy about it. Thanks!

  3. Sybilla Cook says:

    Back in the 1950s when I was growing things and making jam for the family, I decided to make and sell some at the antique store in town, just to prove I could do it. I think I sold them to the owner for 50 cents and she charged a dollar for one jar. I got my jars free from a beautician friend who had lots of 8 ounce jars left over from her business. I think I figured I made about 20 cents an hour when I figured in the time I spent, and I know I figured my time shelling peas was worth 10 cents an hour. If course, women’s work then was counted as nada–

  4. […] and tried to estimate how many jars I would need. I put them and the lids (which I still had from making jam last year, happily) in the dishwasher to get them going, and started washing and cutting apricots. I didn’t […]

  5. […] Is Homemade Jam a Bargain? A cost-benefit analysis. […]

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