By Otehila Cassidy
I would not consider myself a math lover. On the contrary, the only time I get excited about math is when I am counting my savings after making food from ingredients I have grown or bought directly from a farmer.
Recently my kids and I picked strawberries at Beth Kazmar and Steve Pincus's farm, Tipi Produce, near Evansville, Wisconsin. Beth and Steve have been farming for many years and bought their current farm—forty-five acres of organically grown fruits and vegetables—in 2001. They offer CSA shares and supply many area grocery stores with their produce.
The twenty-three pounds of berries we collected yielded about fifteen pints of jam, one pie and two quarts of frozen berries. And that doesn't include the pound or three we ate straight off the plants and out of the box. After filling and sealing jars of preserves, I turned to my kids and said, "Guess how much each of these jars of jam would cost if we got them at a store?" Demonstrating far less enthusiasm than they had while picking the berries, they shrugged their shoulders and said, "I don't know."
The value of the preserves I made is not really in the savings I reaped by putting in a little labor; it's in the hard work and nurturing that Steve and Beth put into their farm everyday to make sure we have access to quality organic produce. Family farms, such as Tipi Produce, are important to our communities in that they ensure access to good food and are vital to health of our environment and local economy. Family farmers work their own land and even offer a chance for us city-dwellers to get our hands dirty and learn where our food comes from. Kids especially benefit from hands-on farming experiences; they are more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables when they participate in growing and harvesting them.
By now you might be wondering what became of our strawberry jam savings discussion.
After posing the question about the cost of a pint of homemade organic strawberry jam and getting shoulder shrugs, I forged ahead, answering my own question.
"Each pint of jam would cost about nine dollars. And I made 15 pints of jam. Sooo....how much would that be?" I asked.
A moment passed.
"Uh, mom, that's one hundred and thirty-five dollars," my son replied with a roll of his eyes.
Quickly, his little sister interjected, "Wait!!!! Let me guess. He didn't let me guess. No fair!"
"You can still guess. What's your guess?"
"Thirty-five dollars," she said, throwing a challenging glance at her brother.
"Yep, one hundred and thirty-five dollars! Good job guys. Now how much did we spend on the berries? We used about 15 pounds of berries, and they cost $2.20 per pound."
"Thirty-three dollars," My son answered after a minute.
I pretended I knew that already.
"Pretty good return on our investment, isn't it?"
I can't stress enough that supporting locally grown food and our family farmers enriches our lives—and our pocketbooks. But the real lesson here is that being a jam lover can quickly convert you into a math lover.
RECIPE: Strawberry Jam
6 cups mashed organic strawberries
1-1/2–3 cups sugar (according to your taste)
3 tsp calcium water
3 tsp Pomona's Pectin (best for low sugar recipes)
2 tbsp apple brandy (I used Madison-made Yahara Bay Apple Brandy) or a whole vanilla bean, split lengthwise.
Place strawberries into stock pot with 1/2 of the sugar, the brandy or vanilla bean if desired and calcium water (Found in Pomona's Pectin box) over medium heat.
Meanwhile mix rest of sugar with dry pectin, and set aside.
Bring fruit in pan to a slow boil. Simmer, partially covered until soupy and mushy. Use immersion blender if desired to puree.
Add remaining sugar with pectin and stir until mixed. Bring to rolling boil for 1-2 minutes and remove from heat. Remove vanilla bean.
Pour jelly into sterilized, warm jars. Process in water bath for 10 minutes, or according to FDA instructions.
Yields about four pints.
There is also a great recipe here, with lots of detail about canning equipment.