Christmas in May

11 05 2009

IMG_1694It’s May. And in North Carolina, that means it’s strawberry season. And in my house, for the last decade, that means it’s time to make jar upon jar of strawberry jam.

Granted, it’s a lot of work — the picking, washing, cutting, crushing, cooking, sterilizing and cleaning up. But when those Ball jars are filled and I hear that satisfying “ping” as the jars seal shut, I can’t help but feel just a tad smug.

All of that labor in the month of May translates to more leisure in the month December when I attach homemade gift tags to these crimson-filled jars and give them as Christmas gifts. And who doesn’t need a break in December?

IMG_1734So this past week, with temperatures in the 80s and my AC cranking to combat the heat emanating from the stove top, I was humming Christmas carols as I stirred juicy crushed berries picked from a farm less than five miles from my house.

Not only do I have my neighbor and teacher gifts taken care of seven months early, but I’m giving them something I made.  I’m giving them something affordable and I’m giving them something that is consumable in a container that is reusable.

In my quest to save some green, be green and lead a simpler life, I’ve got all my bases covered. I’m no Martha Stewart, but I would have to say my jam is a very good thing. 

The recipients of my jam are typically friends, family members, neighbors, my daughter’s teachers. I have a feeling that if I broke with tradition and delivered something different to my neighbors, there might be rioting on my tidy suburban street. OK, that’s a bit of an overstatement. But they would be sorely disappointed.

Throughout the year, my neighbors will make not-so-subtle references to my strawberry jam in casual conversation. Often, I will find empty jars left at my front door. A silent plea for more.

For a frugal girl, such as myself, making jam for gifts is an affordable way to let folks know how much I care about them. Here’s a breakdown on costs:

*at the strawberry farm nearest my home, pick-your-own berries are $1.50 per pound. It takes three pounds to make eight jars of jam. 

*at Harris Teeter, my grocery of choice, sugar is $2.27 for a five-pound bag; Sure Jell fruit pectin is $3.15 a box;  and a 12-pack of Ball jars is $7.99. Twelve replacement seals are $1.79. That’s roughly $14 to make eight jars of jam.

Of course, I’m always on the hunt to save even more money. This year, thanks to some nicely timed bargain shopping throughout the year, my jam is costing me only about $4 to make eight jars. That’s just 50 cents per gift. OMG. That’s the first time I’ve ever done the math. I can’t think of a nicer gift at such an affordable price.

If you’re interested in giving jam-making a try, here are a few tips:

*shop year-round for bargains on sugar, pectin and jars and seals. I have had great luck finding these on clearance. Last fall, for instance, I found boxes of pectin on clearance at Walmart for 75 cents a box. That was a great price, but I ended up paying just 25 cents a box after using the 50-cent coupon inside each box. Since the boxes were all dated 2010 and 2011, I bought enough boxes to last the next three years. This year’s sugar supply was free, thanks to a great coupon that tripled at Harris Teeter. The seals were also purchased on clearance for less than half the regular price.

*check yard sales for canning jars. Two or three years ago, I hit the jackpot, buying six boxes of canning jars that were still sealed in the boxes for $2 each. Someone’s jam-making plans that went bust turned into my bargain.

*encourage your jam recipients to return the jars and rims, which can be used over and over again. Only the seals must be replaced.

*ask your farmer if he has bruised fruit for sale at a lower price. In the height of the season, farmers at the farmer’s market are often willing to sell their culls at a lower price.

*finally, don’t be intimidated. Jam is not that difficult to make. I simply use the recipe chart included in every box of fruit pectin.

Later in the summer, I will make blueberry, peach and fig jam, depending on the availability of local fruit and the price. Last summer, I was fortunate enough to be given fresh figs from a friend’s tree, which I turned into jam. 

There’s something almost magical about giving homemade jam as a gift, particularly at Christmastime. It’s reminiscent of simpler times. And reminiscent of spring.

As I often write on my homemade tags: “Bringing you warm thoughts of springtime on a cold winter morning.”


A new life for old Christmas cards

26 02 2009

We’re closing in on the end of February and I’m wondering how many folks still have their stacks of Christmas cards. Maybe they’re on the bottom of a pile on the kitchen counter. Or in the bottom of a junk drawer. No need to confess. You know who you are!

img_1529For many Christmases past, I have had good intentions regarding the recycling of my holiday cards. Once or twice, I even gave them to charitable organizations or my kids’ schools for projects. But most years, they would sit in a neat stack in a forgotten spot in my house. Periodically, I would run across the stack, mutter to myself that I should really do something with them, then move on. By summer, I would give up and guiltily throw them out. Sound familiar?

This year, following through on a promise I’ve made to myself to reduce, reuse and recycle, I spent one evening turning last year’s Christmas greetings into this December’s Christmas gift tags.

Using a tag punch, I placed it over the coolest part of the card and pressed down firmly. I ended up punching out about 30 tags in an evening.

img_1525Some cards yielded just one tag, on other cards I was able to punch out several, depending on the size of the card and the location of the designs. If a card had handwriting on it, I simply glued another hand-punched tag to it. I handknotted leftover yarns and embroidery thread for the string.

On the crafty scale, I would rate this a 1 or 2. Even the severely craft-challenged can do this. All you need is a little hand strenth to operate the punch.

I happend to borrow my tag punch from a Creative Memories scrapbooking consultant. But you can also buy tag punches inexpensively at any craft store that sells scrapbooking supplies. Michael’s and A.C. Moore come to mind, and, of course, they both offer 40 percent off coupons on a weekly basis.

And you don’t have to be limited to Christmas cards. Recyle all your old greeting cards into gift tags for birthdays, graduations, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or any occasion. You’ll never have to buy another gift tag again. Or feel guilty pitching your cards in the trash.