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!

15 Replies to “Christmas in June: Save Money with Homemade Gifts”

  1. English Major says:

    This is totally brilliant. I’ve been looking for an excuse to gather friends to go to a pick-your-own strawberry farm, and this is it! (I do miss going to Sauvie Island for this, though.)

  2. Anonymous says:

    These are great suggestions, but it would be even better if you would share some recipes:-) (strawberry syrup in particular).

  3. Melissa A. says:

    I would love to do stuff like this, but I live in a small apartment, in the middle of the city, so you know…:P I only have my immediate family to gift to anyway. Some day when I have a real garden I will do this.

  4. A Tentative Personal Finance Blog says:

    JD and wife… that looks delicious. I can practically taste the berries in my mouth.

  5. Don says:

    So…when do you get your own blog Mrs. JD so we can get some of these recipes? 🙂 I’m hoping to start a square foot garden (thanks to this blog, of course) in by back yard in the next year or two and strawberries are definitely on the menu.

    It’d be nice to have a good place to learn more about gardening and canning.

  6. Joshua Jackson says:

    I’d like to actually get a hold of the recipe’s for the syrup…as they sound delicious.

  7. RAquita says:

    apparently I am not the first to think – where are teh recipies?!?!? hook a girl up please!

  8. Christy says:

    Just to throw a wrench in the works: You left out the cost of the canner, which would have to be a pressure canner to be completely safe (especially with the pickles). Sure, it’ll amortize over the years, but for people just starting out, it can be the biggest expense.

  9. Kris says:

    Thanks for the comments! I’m not sure about the copyright rules regarding the recipes, but I’ll have Jd post one from Blue Ribbon Preserves by Linda Amendt. She has great instuctions for a wide variety of home-canned goods. Your library may carry a copy of her book. And when I make freezer jam, I use the recipes included with the pouches of liquid pectin.

    @#8 You’re right that a nice home canner can be an expense. I asked for one for my birthday several years ago; it was about $100. I’ve also seen them at garage sales for $15. Fortunately, high acid foods such as most jams, salsas and pickled foods (all that vinegar) do not need a pressure canner. All you need is a large soup pot of boiling water. The bigger your pot, the more jars you can fit in at once. Look for recipes that have you use a “boiling water canner”.

  10. Zachary says:

    mmmm. I love homemade jam. I used to make it with my grandmother.

  11. Serena says:

    thanks for the great post- while large scale canning is not in the cards for me right now, you reminded me to make plans to go strawberry picking next week – it will be a lot of fun for all of us and I’ll probably make some freezer jam with the ones we don’t eat right away!

  12. annab says:

    I love strawberry freezer jam! Wish I were on your Christmas list!

  13. Rob Garrett says:

    For those of you who aren’t cooks there are other types of homemade gifts. I’ve done quilts, knitting (hats/gloves/scarves)& scrapbooks. Quilting is obviously the most expensive of the group & I’ve only done this a few times for people I’m especially close to. Scrapbooks can be the easiest/cheapest if you’re frugal/creative in your page embellishments. I went on a trip with friends to Washington DC recently and used a DC Metro Subway map as an embellishment on the page I created. Saving things like ticket stubs, pamphlets, maps, scraps of wrapping paper are great ways to jazz up a scrap book for very little money. Sorry I’m rambling but I love doing this stuff

  14. wendy herdman says:

    Quilting and other fabric crafts can actually be very inexpensive, at least once you get past the funds to get a sewing machine. I use old denim for everything from quilts to curtains to pillows to pic-nic clothes and totes. Save your worn-out jeans and ask friends and family to donate ’em to you. I’ll also get fabric for projects from thrift store clothes bulk sales when they have $1 a piece sales or $5 a bag sales. I made my mom a 100% silk pieced skirt for only $30 thanks to thrift store shirts cut apart for material. AND I used the buttons from those shirts to make a button necklace for my neice.

  15. Coleen says:

    I made a batch of this strawberry syrup today and it is absolutely delicious and super easy!!!!!!!!!! What a great addition to my Christmas baskets!!

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