The Economics of Canning Peaches

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I have been offering small hands-on classes on canning starting about one month ago: we’ve had 3 on peaches, 2 on pickles, and the first class on canning tomatoes is in 10 days, on August 17. There will be more workshops throughout August & September, and some on canning apple & apple sauce, as well as pears, in the fall.

Many people are intimidating by canning, but there is no reason to be. I teach canning classes using the Boiling Water Bath method, which, when done properly and meticulously, is not only easy but safe for naturally acid food like fruit, most tomatoes and pickles. My students certainly seem to leave appreciative of the tutorial.

Canning is indeed not difficult. Benefits add up:

  • produce processed when they are at peak of flavor are a treat in the winter that no flown-in or trucked-in fruit can beat;
  • you are in control of the ingredients. For me, too many commercially store-bought canned fruit have may too much added sugar. I can adjust that; You like vanilla? in, it goes. You prefer ginger? add it in!
  • you are in control of the process and the safety of your food – not relying on some unknown machine or factory workers who knows where;
  • it’s sooo convenient later in winter to have a pantry full of almost ready meals;
  • and while cost is only one of the reasons I do this, it is not a negligeable one. Canning can add up to significant savings.

In season (i.e. now) a bushel of peaches costs between $22 and $28 in my area depending where I get it, and what kind of peaches they are. It weights between 48 and 56 pounds depending on how it’s packed and the size of the peaches. It yield 16 to 20 quart of canned peaches, depending on whether I peel them or not and how I pack them. Let’s say I get 18 quarts – easily worth $7 a quart, or $126.

Figure in $2 for lemon juice & sugar (I use about 1 cup of sugar for the entire bushel), $5 for the electricity for my stove, $3 for new lids, and you see that I net $91 if the bushel costs $25. That’s – of course – assuming you already have Mason jars, a large stock pot with a rack (or canning basket), a wide mouth funnel, a jar lifter, and some kitchen tongues.

If you don’t have the equipment, and if you buy it new, then expect to spend $30 to $50, not including jars. It’s a lot cheaper if you buy used – and, frankly most of us already own the most expensive piece of equipment: a stock pot big enough to hold the jars without them touching one another or touching the sides, and tall enough to hold 1 to 2 inches of water above the top of the jars when at a rolling boil.

The other essential pieces are the Mason jars; new jars cost about $.75 to $1.00 a piece (you buy them by case of 12) including the lid and the ring. You must buy new lids for each canning batch, but the jars and the rings are reusable for canning as long as they are in good shape. I have picked up many of my jars at yard sale ($0.10 – $0.25 each), always checking that they are not chipped or cracked. I have also been the grateful recipient of many others from friends no longer canning. So, total reusable equipment, new, about $60. Used? could be as little as zero dollars.

So – what does that mean? That mean that if you buy everything new, and if your yield is 18 quart of canned peaches for a bushel of fresh peach, you are netting $31 the first time. With each following batch, you will save $91.

How long is that going to take? Once you know the drill, and you have worked out the work flow in your kitchen – 4 to 6 hours. So let’s say 5 hours, saving = $91. That’s $18.20 per hour.That’s almost 2.5 times the minimum wage. Moreover, if I were to be to try to earn that money at a wage paying job, I would have to earn significantly more to net $18.20: $31.11/h actually assuming 28% marginal federal income tax, 7.5% FICA (if you are self-employed, remember that’s 15%) and 6% Va income tax. And that, people, is equivalent to an annual salary of over $60,000. (and you would likely have had to drive to go to that job, using some of your precious time, gaz, and wear and tear on your car…) I say! Can those peaches, tomatoes & pickles, baby!

If you want to can to save money and only to save money, then you’ll have to do the maths to see how much money it would save indeed save you. If a high-quality commercial quart of peaches costs $5 in your area, then your saving is $55 a bushel. If in addition, a bushel of peaches were to cost $40, then you are down to $40 savings (and after tax equivalent rate of $8.00). Not as significant, but if times are tight, it all adds up. Think of it as a second job. Even if the later case, you would have to earn almost $14/h before tax to net that $8.00 after tax.

The other morning, a friend and I decided to have a little social, and can a bushel of peaches together. Now my kitchen is not that big, so we could not have multiples pots going at once – which would have considerably sped up the whole thing. And we peeled the peaches, which is not necessary per se but added time to the process. We started at 8:30 AM, and got our last jar out of the bath right at noon. After 3.5 hours of chatting and laughing (and keeping busy), I had 17 pints of peaches – or 8.8 quarts – worth $59.50, less $15 worth of supplies and electricity: $44.5 saved, or $12.72 per hour (before taxes). Not as profitable as the example just above, but still profitable. Again, we could not go twice as fast as if I were alone, given the size of my kitchen, but it was a lot more fun than doing it by myself. And there was 2 quarts of peach juice left which I refrigerated for my morning juice for the next week or so. Not bad for a short morning with a friend…

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Interested? Sign up for one of my classes, or find a tutor or a workshop in your area. While there are many books and pamphlet about canning, there is nothing like seeing, trying your hands at it, and getting your questions answered.

Just want to read some more about it? Check here - a nice overview of canning peaches.

Happy canning.

13 comments

  1. Julia says:

    I’m so glad you broke down the costs. Every year, I can tomatoes (and depending on my energy, other things too). I always assume that it’s more expensive because I don’t have the economies of scale. But still do it because I LOVE having tomatoes in the winter that taste DELICIOUS!

  2. Vanille says:

    That’s a really detail post about canning !
    As you can imagine I’m more in the time of the year where you eat it than you make it (it’s only humble home made jams. Not sure they fit under the category canning…)
    Like the vintage illustration too !

  3. Karen says:

    A few years ago, I asked my mom why she had always canned our homegrown tomatoes. Her response was, “because I figured that I wouldn’t poison the family.” It took me a moment to realize that she had answered a different question. I wanted to know why she’d bothered with home canning at all; instead she told me why she’d specifically chosen to can tomatoes – it was a foregone conclusion that she would can *something.*

    I think it’s great that you’re teaching classes. I forget that lots of people didn’t grow up doing this stuff and that it can be kind of mysterious.

  4. veggiebelly says:

    wow, a great write-up! makes so much sense! id love to learn how to can tomatoes :)

  5. sylvie says:

    veggiebelly, hey.. I got several tomato canning classes coming up. Canning is not complicated, one just needs to be methodical and thorough. I teach the how and the whys, and where pit falls are. Many people are intimidated by the idea of canning, but with a little help, realize that they can do it, and do it safely.

  6. rm says:

    My dh loves canned peaches, but I hate all the sugar in the ‘syrup’ – how do you manage to only use 1 cup for a bushel of peaches?

  7. sylvie says:

    Hi rm, there is no need to add sugar except for taste when canning peaches, they may be canned in their own juice. I try to replicate the natural peach juice, by using some lemon juice (which also help to avoid discoloration) and just a tablespoon of sugar per quart – more or less. So that add up to about a cup of sugar per bushel. I don’t like things packed in syrup, but using just a little sugar with lemon juice, as well as the natural peach juice that the peaches give off as they are heated, make for a very versatile product: I can use the peaches to eat as is later to bake, to make sorbet etc. AND I can drink the liquid as fruit juice

  8. Sylvie, great post. If I may add my one tip for canning peaches, I say forget the dip and peel part. It’s one of the biggest time-takers to the process and in my eyes, a total waste of time. When you water bath the canned peaches, the peels fall off anyway, and usually adds a beautiful red tint to the syrup. Ask if I peel tomatoes when I can those, uh, I think you can guess the answer. ;-) Warm regards, Tom

  9. Jill Mann says:

    I love your page. I have been wanting to learn how to can for years. My husband and I are planning to come to your 2010 class if you hold one. We are from Texas and we are going to come visit Washington, VA. next year. I am so excited. I will be in touch with you soon. You are on my favorites web list so I will not lose you information. Thanks for sharing all your information.

  10. [...] you: a steaming bowl of oxtail soup with a fresh just-out-of-the-oven buttermilk biscuit, peaches canned from this summer with a few tablespoons of (homemade) yogurt, a good book, a glass of Wasmund’s [...]

  11. Luther says:

    Could you send me an email so I can ask more about the canning workshops please?

    Thanks!

    luther@preservingcommunity.org

  12. Tess says:

    Great blog site.

    Do you travel within Virginia to teach classes?

  13. sylvie says:

    Tess – Thank you. My apologies for the late response, your comment got caught with spam.
    I would travel within 60-75 miles of Washington Va for a group that’s interested in hosting a class.

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