Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Tomatoes - September 1, 2012

The couple brands of commercial canned tomatoes without added citric acid available on the market (Pomi and Bionature) are imported from Italy and therefore exorbitantly expensive, so ever since my corn allergy was diagnosed last summer I have been searching for a cheaper and more environmentally sustainable solution. Growing my own tomatoes and then canning the harvest seemed like an obvious solution, but unfortunately we live in a city townhouse with a postage stamp yard without much sun and likely very nutrient-poor soil. Undeterred, I started a huge number of tomato plants this past winter and transplanted them outside where unfortunately they just never thrived. We did get a decent number of tomatoes off our three container plants to eat fresh, but no where near the quantity I was hoping for and would get us through the winter.

Our local farmer's markets are loaded with gorgeous tomatoes this time of year, but with a going price of $2.50 a pound, I quickly realized that canning those was not going to be any cheaper than continuing to purchase the imported tomatoes.

Finally, I stumbled across some "u-pick" options and found Hollin Farms in Fauquier County, Virginia was offering a "canning special" at $1 a pound as long as you bought more than 20 pounds. Of course, it is about an hour drive from the beltway, but even factoring in the cost of gas I was finally going to get some tomatoes at a price that I could stomach. Plus, it was a pleasant drive to a beautiful location with gorgeous mountain and valley views in all directions and we could bring the dog! Our total haul was 46 pounds, about half roma tomatoes and the other half a variety of other types.

I then spent the bulk of Labor Day weekend peeling, chopping, food mill-ing, cooking, and canning tomatoes! We ended up with 6 quarts of quartered tomatoes, 3 quarts and 3 pints of diced tomatoes, and  4 quarts and 7 pints of sauce.

Converting everything to pints just for math simplicity sake, I managed to put up 36 pints of tomatoes.

Cost of tomatoes - $46
Cost of gas - $30
Cost of jars - $25

Total - $101

Cost per pint, including jars - $2.80
Cost per pint, not including jars - $2.11

Cost per ounce, including jars - $0.18
Cost per ounce, not including jars - $0.13

(I can't decide if it is fair or not to include the cost of the jars. I did have to buy them this year, but expect to use them again and again over the rest of my life like my mother has done. Next year I will only need to buy new lids. I also used up a bottle of organic lemon juice, but that was already in my pantry and I can't remember what it cost. And of course, there is the cost of electricity to run the range and the water, but I don't have an easy way to calculate that.)

So... in terms of cost, how did I do compared to the expensive stuff from Italy?

You can purchase a case of Pomi chopped tomatoes from Amazon for $27.99. This is a pack of 12, with each TetraPak container holding 750 grams or 26.46 ounces. That is a per ounce price of $0.09. Sounds wonderful, until you realize that this offer is not eligible for Amazon Prime and shipping is an astonishing $23.38!

The Bionature crushed tomatoes are also available currently on Amazon and are selling for $60.23 for a pack of 12 cans holding 800 grams or 28.2 ounces. That is a per ounce price of $0.18. There are free shipping offers, so that price is accurate.

The bottom line... This was not an exercise in extreme frugality, however I did not do worse than my only store bought options and I have the satisfaction of knowing exactly what is in those jars and that they didn't have to travel half way around the globe to get to my cupboard. And it was kind of fun!


Jess said...

I just canned tomatoes last week too! And, eerily, they sat out on the counter on a red and white striped towel...plus I used a blue enameled Le Crueset stock pot to boil half the batch, which I think I see peeking out of the corner of your picture. Weird!

We get our tomatoes from our CSA (as a produce plus option, above and beyond our regular delivery of vegetables), and this is the second year I've canned them. I have one quart left from last year's batch, so we came out almost perfectly. I really like doing it and, although I don't have a corn allergy to worry about, I am concerned about the BPA from the plastic lining in the store bought cans.

Yours look like they turned out beautifully, and I am super impressed by your cost analysis!

Jaime said...

Unfortunately for me, that is not a blue Le Crueset pot (I wish it was!!!) but just my canner.

I'm also concerned about BPA... nasty stuff. I wish the Ball lids didn't have any BPA in them, but I figure it is a minor concern since the food doesn't really touch the top anyway. I can't believe they haven't come out with a totally BPA-free lid yet.


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