Canning · DIY · Food · Frugal · Gardening · Preserving · Summer

When in doubt…pickle.

The bees are busy and buzzing in our backyard this time of year! We have a full garden with lots of blooms for them to visit. Not to mention we have a yard of clover that we purposely do not spray with chemicals just for their well being. I try to take care of them and they take good care of our garden plants and fruit trees. In particular this time of year we rely on them to pollinate our cucumber plants. There’s nothing quite like the smell and taste of a cucumber straight out of the garden. Those waxy specimens you get at the grocery wane in comparison. When the cucumber bounty is coming in, we are using them every way we can think of; in salads, as crackers and of course we make pickles! In our house we love little jerkin pickles. The beginning of the growing season is the best time to get the most “little”cucumbers all at once. You can do whatever size you like, spears, slices or whole pickles. The process for all of them is the same. If you’re a beginner canner I highly recommend trying pickles first. They’re so easy to make and they help you understand the process you need to do in order to can.

Canning can be done using a water bath canner or a pressure cooker. When canning pickles, jams, jellies, fruit butters, tomatoes, salsa, pretty much any fruit or vegetable that is acidic a water bath canner is safe to use, but for meat and starchy vegetables like green beans and corn you need to use a pressure cooker to ensure the temperature gets hot enough to eliminate any harmful bacteria that can spoil your food. However, tomatoes of any kind can be canned in both a water bath or a pressure cooker, a pressure cooker just shortens your processing time from about 45 minutes to about 15 to 20 minutes. For pickles you will always use a water bath canner, a pressure cooker would cook the cucumbers and they’d be very soft and soggy. Because of the vinegar used in pickling, making them acidic, a water bath canner is the preferred method to canning pickles. The same is also true for jellies, jams, and fruit butters in that a water bath canner is the easiest and generally preferred method of canning. In the pictures below is my water bath canner on the left and a pressure cooker on the right. I do have one, but they’re super heavy and I didn’t feel like digging it out for a photo shoot.

Ok, so first things first, you pick your cucumbers and give them a good cleaning in the sink. You’ll also want to make sure you have plenty of clean jars. Go ahead and halfway fill your canner with water and put your jars in to have them sanitizing in hot water. A canner holds 7 jars so I usually try to have at least 8 jars ready. Now, back to the cucumbers, start slicing or preparing them based on what kind of pickles you want (slices, spears, whole, etc…). Remove your sanitized jars from the canner using a jar lifter and carefully place them on a kitchen towel. Hint: hot glass is temperamental and can crack and break easily. You can then begin stuffing the jars as tight as possible with your cleaned and cut cucumbers. Try to get the jars as full as possible so you don’t have to use as much pickle brine and also so there is less air in the jars which can lead to shorter shelf life.

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Now, once jars are full of cucumbers, you start getting your pickle juice cooking on the stove. I use a pickle mix, Mrs.Wages kosher dill mix. You do not have to do this, I just love the quality, convenience and consistency of the mix. There is directions on the back for the measurements of water, vinegar and pickle mix. It’s pretty straight forward you combine all the ingredients and bring it to a boil. Once your brine is boiling, remove from the stove and place near your stuffed jars. One by one using a ladle and canning funnel fill your jars within a half inch from the top rim. Once all jars are filled, wipe the rims to remove any spilled liquid and then cap the jars with your heated ring and lids. Put them on together and just hand tighten, don’t over tighten or your jar can bust in the canning process.

Alrighty, jars are filled with cucumbers and hot brine and they’ve also have lids. The next thing to do is get your jars into the water bath canner. Using your jar lifters, one by one carefully place the jars into the rack inside the canner. When all 7 jars are in canner, put the lid on canner and double check the heat is on high. You want to get the canner up to boiling as quick as possible so that you have good and crunchy pickles. Once you see steam coming from the lid you can begin counting your processing time, which for pickles in pint size jars is 10 minutes. Once your 10 minutes is up remove your jars using jar lifters again and place the jars one by one onto a kitchen towel. You do this because placing them on a cool countertop can bust a jar. Always, always use towels on the counters when canning. The pic below is a typical jar lifter used in canning.

Before long, probably within a few minutes you should hear the magnificent sound of your jars “popping” and therefore sealing. Woo-how you did it! Easy-Peasy!! Just repeat this process until you run out of cucumbers and brine. Your pickle loving self/family should have tasty pickles for the year to come. This whole process only takes about 2 hours. It’s a great way to get your feet wet in canning. If I can do it, you can do it. Good luck on your canning adventures. Here’s batch 1 of 2 for me from last Saturday!

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ALDI · Budgeting · Frugal · Grocery shopping · Keto · Wellness

Waste Not, Want Not

Ok, so I realize there’s a thousand different books, apps and guru’s out there for budgeting. That’s not where I’m going with this exactly. I just want to focus on how to stretch your grocery budget while eating whole, healthy food, how to use what you have and in the process have a healthy family.

First things first, I can’t express how much I LOVE ALDI. This is not a commercial for ALDI, but there’s no way to post this without going into detail about this great store. ALDI is a discount grocery store that offers organic, non-gmo, no artificial dyes, gluten free and no added msg products for the same price of “normal” products in a regular grocery store. The main way this store is able to offer all these “specialty” foods is by using their own brand of foods. They do not have to outsource brands, they set their prices and are not dictated by major food company’s price limits. 90 to 95% of the products offered in ALDI stores are their brand with limited items that are name brands. Now, I know all you brand loyal folks out there are about to stop reading and give up on this post, but wait don’t do it! I, like many of you have had my brands and products I am loyal to. Some things just cannot be duplicated or replaced. I completely get it. I’ve tried 20 kinds of steak sauce and there is only one for my family, A1 sauce has no rival in this house. However, almost everything else you can think of I have found at ALDI and it’s just as good if not better. I’m not kidding some of it is better than the national brands.

A few other ways ALDI is able to pass some price savings onto the customers are; they do not bag your groceries for you as well as they don’t have bags for your items either. You can purchase bags for $.06-.10 each depending on if you want paper or plastic bags. Most people though just bring reusable cloth bags from home and they have a bagging counter where you can bag up your groceries after checking out. Another way they are able to offer lower prices is the way the stock their shelves, it’s sort of like Sam’s club I guess, with products on the shelves still in boxes. Oh and the other big thing they do is, you have to have a quarter to get a cart. When you return your cart to the corral after shopping, you then get your quarter back! (I always have an ALDI quarter hidden in my console where my kids can’t find it.


Now, I didn’t jump in with both feet, into this ALDI place. The first two times I went, I was leery of their brand so I kinda just dabbled some and tried a few items to see how I liked them. Low and behold by week 3 of shopping there, 85% of my groceries were coming from ALDI. We are a larger family (not huge), I cook about 6 dinners a week not including breakfasts and lunches. Before switching to ALDI our monthly grocery spending had reached an all time high of $750-800 per month. GASP!!!! When I realized this from my check register I about had a cow! I currently work very part-time in order to care for our children and ensure the quality of family life we desire. So, this large monthly expense was my motivation for change. After going to ALDI for the last year, my new average per month on groceries is $400-$450 per month. That’s $350-400 each month that I’m saving!! Ya’ll that’s a part-time job in itself!! ┬áNot to mention I have a ton of healthy food in my fridge and pantry, that meets all the special needs of our diets.

Food price was not my only reason for trying ALDI, I had read about all the other great features as mentioned earlier that ALDI offers. In our family we have one child extremely sensitive to red dye, another who is very sensitive to gluten, another family member allergic to msg and I myself have to be gluten and gain-free as well as low carb. Guys, I tell ya being able to buy “cheetos”, cereal and even yogurt without having to constantly check for red dye is a brain saver, not to mention I have a happy child for sure. There is also a very tasty and affordable gluten free line of products for my gluten free kiddo, who is happy to be able to eat pizza, crackers and bread again. None of ALDI’s brands have added msg either. I’m starting to think this store was made for us! As for me and my gf, grain-free low carb way of eating, the very affordable produce, dairy, nuts and meat make it a no brainer as to why they are great for me.

Alright, now that my ALDI plug is done I need to spend some time on the importance of regular consistent cooking. What it costs on average for one to one and a half kids meals you can feed your entire family. For our family to eat at Chick-fil-A and Wendy’s it generally costs about $25. That’s being as frugal as possible while trying to meet our diet needs. Now, for our family to eat a home cooked meal, which I know is better tasting and more nutritious, it only cost our family $5.59. This meal was grilled Chicken wings ($3.74), green beans($.65) and seasoned veggies ($1.20) on the grill. On average our meals cost about $4.50-7.50 per meal. Whether you shop at ALDI or not this price difference between eating out and home cooked is still going to be significant. Let’s also not forget about leftovers. I can feel some of you cringing…..yes I said it….LEFTOVERS. Leftovers can be used for lunches, late night snacks and even another dinner. Some weeks we have a night of leftover smorgasbord. Other options are to use leftover chicken and beef to make soups, chicken and dumplings or to use as sandwich meat. Another habit in our house is we do not throw away fruit. If it seems as though all the bananas aren’t going to get eaten before getting overly ripe, we pop them suckers in the freezer. Most of our frozen fruit goes into making fresh cool smoothies that my kiddos freak over. One of the household favorites that I do is make homemade croutons from our leftover buns, heels and bread. They’re super simple and fast, not to mention delish. Plus, my gluten free kiddo gets croutons made from the heels of his gf bread. There are so many ways to be frugal, you just have to get creative sometimes. For instance, if there is a week or two in the summer and ice cream or popsicles are a little on the expensive side, I will check the price of the yogurt tubes (they’re generally cheaper). I freeze these for yogurt pops for the kids. I do realize that some of these ideas may seem time consuming, but so is having to pickup another day of work each week to make up for these money saving ideas. There are numerous other things you can do, but the main thing to do is to sit back and analyze your family’s needs and habits and look to see where you can be less wasteful and “recycle” so to speak the foods you all are eating.

I hope this information and these ideas help to spur even more money saving ideas for you and your family! So, don’t turn away from a new store just because it’s different or weird at first. I promise, the savings and quality are worth it. Before you know it, you’ll be walking around your old grocery store mumbling to yourself “How did I ever pay this much for these?”