This is a guest-post from my wife.

Each December, I put together gifts for friends, co-workers, neighbors and family. My list is long, and I don’t want to break the bank. Homemade gifts go the extra mile to express my affection to the people in my life, while also allowing me to save some money. If you’re thinking about making gifts from summer’s bounty, and are willing to put in some elbow grease in a hot kitchen, now is the time to begin.

Last year’s bread ‘n’ butter pickles were a big hit, and I’ll be putting up plenty of those as my cucumber vines start producing. Under the tree this year will be a 7-grain pancake mix (assembled from various Bob’s Red Mill products — a local company I love) with home-canned strawberry syrup. Oregon is in the peak of strawberry season, so last weekend I planned accordingly.

At the end of Saturday I had:

  • 2 batches strawberry freezer jam (6 containers for our own use — J.D. loves this)
  • 2 batches strawberry syrup recipe #1 (5 pints and 7 half-pints)
  • 1 batch strawberry syrup recipe #2 (10 half-pints)
  • 1 batch strawberry-banana topping (1 pint, 7 half-pints)

That’s a total of 27 jars of gift-syrup, plus 9 containers for our own use.

Here’s a cost breakdown:

  • $5 worth of sugar, about 10 pounds
  • $3 worth of lemons, about 6
  • $1 worth of ripe bananas
  • $8 for pectin
  • $5 for canning lids
  • $20 for strawberries: about 25 pints. I bought a $20 flat and picked the rest for free (from our garden and another field belonging to an acquaintance). It worked out to 80 cents/pint. At the farmer’s market today, the price was $2.50 per pint for local berries. Clearly, this project is more affordable if you have a garden or can find a u-pick place for berries. When I go pick blueberries and boysenberries later in the summer, the price at my favorite farm runs 40 cents a pound for u-pick. Oregon’s Willamette Valley is famous for its berries. What grows in your area?
  • $7.50 for canning jars/screwbands. This is difficult to calculate. New, the jars run about 70 cents apiece. But they can be reused for many years. Some of my gift-recipients return jars to me, and I receive many reusable jars of goodies from friends. Used canning jars can also be found at garage sales for cheap.
  • Unknown cost for running the natural gas stovetop for about 4 hours.

With all those costs factored in, the cost per syrup or jam container is about $1.45 — a small price to pay for summer sunshine in a jar. The syrup is a gorgeous ruby color that is pleasing to the eye and will make a nice pairing with the hearty 7-grain mix.

Most people relish gifts of homemade food. While a plate of cookies or seasonal baking is always welcome, there does seem to be a surplus around the holidays. By giving your homemade canned goods, there’s no rush to eat them before they spoil or go stale, so they can be enjoyed anytime. And at prices like these, you can show your appreciation and stick to your gift-giving budget.

Addendum: By popular request, here is the recipe Kris used last weekend. This comes from Blue Ribbon Preserves by Linda J. Amendt (2001).

Strawberry Topping
makes 4-5 half-pint jars

  • 5 cups hulled and sliced fresh strawberries
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice

Using a vegetable masher, gently crush 2 cups of the strawberries. Set the remaining berries aside.

In a 3-quart saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Over low heat, stirring constantly, heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Stir in the crushed strawberries. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Stir in the remaining berries and the lemon juice. Simmer, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat,

Ladle the strawberry topping into hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Using a plastic knife, remove any trapped air bubbles. Wipe the jar rims and threads with a clean, damp, cloth. Cover with hot lids and apply screw rings. Process half-pint jars in a 200F water bath (just under boiling) for 10 minutes.

Tasty stuff!

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