Want to get the most bang for your buck? Try canning your food. Simple, fun, and with the national unemployment rate at 10.2 percent—the highest since 1983—canning can be the answer to anyone’s dwindling holiday budget. Ask the folks at the Mission’s La Cocina, a kitchen and small business incubator on Folsom street, and they’ll say the same thing. “I’ve given plenty of canned gifts,” said Chef Jason Rose, who, for his wedding made apricot jam as a remembrance gift. “They all spoiled,” however, he laughed, “some gift!” These days Rose pays extra attention when sterilizing and sealing his jars. On a recent Wednesday night, he was at it again, this time teaching his mother’s recipe for cranberry chutney. “Smells like Thanksgiving!” exclaimed one student, as cranberries boiled and thickened over a gas range. Homemade meals are on the rise, according to the Neilsen Wire’s November 2nd report, “Frugal Consumer’s Return to The Home Base.” By mid 2009 more than 4,000 restaurant operators closed their doors, and those that have survived have seen the average check decline by 8 percent. According to Neilsen, 46 percent of Americans are dining out less and returning to the supermarket. Even there, they are sticking to the basics, including potatoes, tomatoes, and corn. At La Cocina, Rose and a handful of chefs and volunteers are teaching some of the frugal how to preserve and pickle food. “How many minutes do we heat the jars at 200 before we start?”  Rose drilled his group. “Twenty,” they answered in a unison reminiscent of the second grade. This process, he explained, will sterilize the jars, and rid them of bacteria that could spoil and turn the canned delights. Canning got its the start long before the 1950s, when housewives perfected orange marmalade and extended summers with canned peaches. The practice first began at the turn of the 19th century when Napoleon offered a reward to who ever could develop a practical way to preserve food for his troops, according to the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors. Nicolas Appert took the prize in 1810, after he developed a way of cooking food in glass jar—in which he once canned an entire sheep. These jars became the precursor to tin-canned food, and later, in 1858, the Mason jar. Later, World Wars I and II encouraged canning around the globe, again offering cheap, high-calorie foodstuffs to soldiers on the move. On U.S. soil, victory gardens added to the craze, offering some households enough food to overwhelm even the most industrious canner. At La Cocina, students aren’t feeding an army, but they are looking for “cheap gifts,” and “a way to preserve the taste of the farmer’s market all winter long.” Alec Ditonto, a 24 year-old flash developer with thick-rimmed glasses, will be gifting his jars of canned goodies, while Rhonda Abrams, a gregarious woman of a certain age, was excited to learn the tricks of the trade, and make some of her own. If you’d like to make your own preserves, you’ll need a few tools:

  1. An oven for sterilizing jars and lids before you start
  2. One large pot for boiling and sterilizing filled jars
  3. A wooden spoon
  4. A ladel
  5. Canning jars
  6. A wide mouth funnel for filling jars
  7. Tongs
  8. Dish towels

To begin, place your jars in a deep-dish baking pan, and bake at 200 F for at least twenty minutes. Meanwhile start boiling a large pot of water—you’ll need this to sterilize the jars once they are full of preserves. Follow the directions for your favorite preserves, ladling it into the sterilized jars, and leaving a half-inch of space from the top of the jar. Then, if you are using a brine, pour the it over the vegetables—preserving the half-inch buffer. Once filled, screw on the tops, and place a towel inside your boiling pot of water. Now, use your tongs to drop the jars into the water, making sure they sit on the towel and do not directly touch the bottom of the pot. After ten minutes of boiling, remove the jars, allow to cool, and store or gift to your friends.