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Eat for 40 Cents a Day: Part Seven: Eat in Season Produce

I've had several emails lately asking me about potatoes. Readers have written in to say that they are not seeing potatoes for .10 a pound; they are seeing them for .40 -.50 a pound, and they are wondering how I get them for so little.

The answer is simple: I buy them for that price in season.

It's not potato season right now.

I generally buy several hundred pounds of potatoes on sale in November, when they are on sale for .10 a pound. I watch and wait for that price. I will see them on sale for that price a few more times, and then I'll buy more. In the middle of summer I don't buy potatoes; they're four times as much and the quality is bad, because this is what is left of last year's potato harvest.

Modern day grocery stores tend to offer everything all year long, but that doesn't mean that it is the right season for those items. If they're not in season, they're being shipped from somewhere else, which means the costs go up, and the flavor goes down, because they are picked slightly under ripe in order to get to the stores in time. If you're buying grapes in the middle of winter, they're coming from the other side of the equator. They're going to be mostly tasteless, and they're going to be four times the cost of grapes in season.

Watch your local grocery ads within that season for the lowest price, and when it gets down to that price, stock up! Can, freeze, and dehydrate what is in season. You'll have the tastiest fruits and vegetables to use throughout the year at the lowest prices.

Some things are easy to keep for months if you have the refrigerator space. Apples, oranges , and grapefruit will keep for months in your refrigerator. (Not all varieties of apples last real long off the tree; some can last months and others need to be eaten right away, so watch which apples you have and if they need to be eaten faster than you can eat them, make applesauce with them and can it).

Think long-term when the lowest prices come around. Don't think just about how much produce your family will eat that week. Think about how much of that item your family eats in a month or a year. Then purchase the amount you need for the year. This will yield the largest savings for your family in the long run.

For many years, I have canned peaches and pears in August. I would buy them at the store when they went on sale and can what my family needed. Our trees were tiny, so I was still buying most of our fruit. (This year I planted a second Early Elberta peach tree in the front yard to provide more peaches for our family in the years to come).

Usually peaches and pears are ripe within a few weeks of one another. In August of 2009, however, they were ripe in the same week. Peaches were on sale for .49 a pound, and pears were .59 a pound. (Prices vary by year and the farmer's crops; in later years peaches are more and pears have been as low as .25 a pound).

I went to the store on the first day of the sale, which is a Wednesday where I live. I asked the produce manager to order in more boxes of fruit for me. I go the first day of the sale. The delivery came two days later on Friday. When I went it to pick up my delivery, the produce manager helped me by bringing the boxes of fruit to the register. I bagged a few more pounds of peaches as well to add to my total. The boxes are each a specific weight, so the cashier was able to weigh my bagged peaches and type in the weights for the boxed peaches and pears. (I highly recommend having the produce manager write the amount on the box and coming up to the register with you; some stores will question paying for a whole box of fruit and the cashier will wonder about ringing it up, even though they just have to type in the weight and the code. Leaving it in the box helps you avoid bruising).

That day I bought 324 pounds of peaches and 144 pounds of pears. My total was $243.72 for 468 pounds of in-season produce. The receipt said that my savings (over buying that fruit at regular price) was over $1000! The cashier had to get the manager to override it because the savings was so high.

That week I did a lot of canning.

165 quarts peaches
7 quarts peach nectar
46 quarts pears
1 quart pear sauce
5 pints pear sauce
35 half-pints of pear sauce (for baby food)
8 4 ounce jars of pear sauce (also for baby food)

I don't always can things.

When oranges go on sale, I fill the refrigerator drawers (both of them) and the bottom shelf of the fridge with oranges. (Remember, too, that with 9 people, we eat 9 oranges every time we sit to eat oranges, so a whole bag of oranges doesn't last long. We were blessed with a second refrigerator/freezer (a side by side) for free last year, so I now fill that with oranges in season, too.) Oranges usually go on sale for .99 a pound, but I look for prices around .35 a pound (that happen only once or twice during orange season) and then I buy half a cart full of oranges.

Earlier this year I found a deal on green peppers at Winco. Wincos prices change daily; that day they actually changed by noon (my mom went back to get some two hours later and they had changed the price). They had green bell peppers for .10 each. That is not a normal sale price for here--that is something amazing that I have never seen before! I bought 65--I spent $6.50.

At home, I washed them, and I cut them into slices. I put a silicone baking mat down on a cookie sheet and I put the slices on the top, not touching each other. I then put the sheet into the freezer.

Once the slices were frozen, I transferred them to freezer bags. Because they were frozen individually, I can get out just how many I need to throw in a stir fry or to use for fajitas.

I did this same thing earlier this year with broccoli crowns. They were at an amazing price, so I bought half a cart full.

I brought it home and cut it up. I rinsed it and then I blanched it. If you have never blanched vegetables, the process is simple: You drop the vegetables in boiling water for 45 seconds, and then you transfer them to an ice bath (I used a dishpan of ice water next to the stove). When they are cooled, drain them. When they are dry, freeze them individually (i.e., not touching) on the silicone baking mat on a cookie sheet.

If you don't garden, eating seasonally can seem like a mystery. What are the seasons for different things?

The answer varies by location. Strawberries are is season in Florida in February, in Southern California in March, and in New York in June.  I have a large number of readers in Australia who are going to have completely different months for everything. Blackberries ripen in my garden in May, but my readers in England won't be picking them until fall. Where you live plays a huge part on when items are ripe.

I found a great list here by season that can give you some ideas. Watch the ads in your area, and you'll come to know when the fruits and vegetables you buy at their peak, which is also when they are at the lowest price.

When it comes time to pack a lunch for your children this winter, you can put in a lidded container with canned peaches that you purchases for .49 a pound. You can put in oranges several times over a few months with oranges that you purchased on sale. You can make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with homemade jam, or send a turkey salad sandwich with apples that you bought in the fall for .79 a pound and kept for several months in the refrigerator and some sprouts that you grew in your own kitchen that week.

What is ripe where you are at right now? What produce do you buy in large quantities to save money for the year?

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Tagged in: 40 Cents a Day


  • The Prudent Homemaker August 28, 2013

    The link I gave you in the article above can give ...

    The link I gave you in the article above can give you some great information, and Susan's information in the comment below is helpful as well.

  • The Prudent Homemaker August 28, 2013

    I have a lot of jars that didn't cost me anyth...

    I have a lot of jars that didn't cost me anything! If you let people know that you are looking for canning jars, you may be blessed with jars from older women whose children are grown who are no longer canning. I have accumulated many jars like that. I have a friend who found several dozen jars at a garage sale for me for a very low price. My mom then found several dozen more at garage sales. I later found a dozen and the others I have bought new, gradually adding to my supply. I have been canning for 10 years now. The cost of jars is only in the beginning, but then it is a cost you don't have to have.Tattler reusable lids are quite expensive, but then you don't have to keep buying them, so it may be something that you want to do for some of your lids.There are usually some coupons online for lids in June (there have been the last couple of years) that you can print and use for lids. Sometimes there are coupons for pectin.Wide-mouth jars are more expensive than regular mouth jars--both to purchase and for the lids, so if you can in regular mouth jars it will cost you less. I have a combination of both, but I reach for the regular mouth jars first.Start with a couple dozen jars the first year and then add to it. But get the word out. It might take a while, but there are jars out there from women who are no longer canning.

  • SlingRings August 28, 2013

    Where do you get all those canning jars? Do you bu...

    Where do you get all those canning jars? Do you buy new lids each time or reusable? I am finding the cost of jars cost-prohibitive.

  • Susan August 28, 2013

    Brandy has a wealth of info on her website as well...

    Brandy has a wealth of info on her website as well as this blog. If you are looking for more info, you can google "USDA What's in season this season." Quite a bit of info there. While you are looking through your sale flyers at any given time during the year, the "in season" fruits and veggies are usually the ones with the best sales.

  • M Conley August 27, 2013

    I know this will show my true ignorance. I am tryi...

    I know this will show my true ignorance. I am trying to get into this frugal lifestyle more than I am especially with the foods "in season." So my question is, How do I know what fruits / vegetables are in season? I know when strawberries and peaches and okra are "in." Is there a link you have that can tell me specifically for my area? We have several church friends who have provided us with Okra this summer. So blessed and appreciative of that.

  • Andrea Q August 27, 2013

    Great idea to color-code things! Thanks.

    Great idea to color-code things! Thanks.

  • Paula August 27, 2013

    Dollar stores are a good source of cheap plastic o...

    Dollar stores are a good source of cheap plastic organizers, some small enough to put two side by side on a shelf in an upright freezer. Or at least one container on a shelf, with other goods stacked beside it.

  • Anne in the kitchen August 27, 2013

    Formerly I had a chest freezer and used plastic mi...

    Formerly I had a chest freezer and used plastic milk crates as organizers. All the blue ones were fruits and veggies and the red ones were meat, fish and poultry. Everything else was in pink crates I found at the dollar store. I am one of those flat pack freezer type people so the bottoms of the crates were filled with flat packages of frozen veggies or fruits. On top of them i packed the bags vertically so I could just flip through them to find what I wanted.I could fit 2 layers of milk crates and 1 layer of the smaller pink crates deep. Any empty space was filled with loaves of bread or frozen water bottles It worked pretty well. Now I have an upright freezer and still have not figured out exactly how to organize it best.

  • Athanasia August 27, 2013

    and keep a list of contents. cross off and add to...

    and keep a list of contents. cross off and add to list as things used and replenished.

  • Athanasia August 27, 2013

    Skipped my mother also. Said she did enough growi...

    Skipped my mother also. Said she did enough growing up for a lifetime. My father was a city boy, they moved a lot due to their mission. Often we were in an apartment. But she always had at least a tomato plant and a pepper. She still does at her retirement apartment. When she canned jam back then we still just put the paraffin on to seal the hot jars.

  • Paula August 27, 2013

    Even in my large top-of-fridge freezer, I use orga...

    Even in my large top-of-fridge freezer, I use organizer baskets. Just two wire freezer baskets from Lowe's, but they help a lot. In a chest freezer, you might try a couple of those wire coated "shelf" organizers, with baskets under them, or plastic milk crates that stack, etc. I use lots of these in my closets, too.

  • Susan in Canada August 26, 2013

    Do any of you ladies have suggestions of how to ke...

    Do any of you ladies have suggestions of how to keep your deep freeze (chest style) organized? ACK! Mine is so unorganized that I can't find things I know are in there, and it just seems like a black hole of food .

  • Anne in the kitchen August 26, 2013

    Thank you very much Paula! I will be trying this ...

    Thank you very much Paula! I will be trying this soon.

  • Marija August 26, 2013

    Thanks, Anne. I just moved from Maine (the potato...

    Thanks, Anne. I just moved from Maine (the potato capital - I grew 200 pounds of them each year and they kept all year) to South Carolina, where I can't keep a 5-lb. bag without them sprouting or going bad. (Let's not even discuss the fact that I can't get them to grow here yet!) I dehydrated a bunch last year - it worked out well. I'm going to try your twice-baked & frozen idea.

  • Athanasia August 26, 2013

    Paula, it kind of sounds similar. I use poultry se...

    Paula, it kind of sounds similar. I use poultry seasoning. Maybe mine is a WI version what with the wild rice.

  • Paula August 26, 2013

    My parents used both the water bath and pressure c...

    My parents used both the water bath and pressure canning methods. Mother was fearless with the pressure cooker and never had an accident, but I heard of others who had. It always gave me the creeps when the pressure cooker was going in the kitchen and I stayed well clear of it. Plus, the gardening and canning desire gene absolutely skipped a generation with me.

  • Paula August 26, 2013

    Athanasia, it is creamy. It will seem just milky u...

    Athanasia, it is creamy. It will seem just milky until you add the sauerkraut. It causes a chemical reaction that does the thickening. See my reply to Anne.

  • Paula August 26, 2013

    Anne, the sauerkraut soup recipe: In large pa...

    Anne, the sauerkraut soup recipe: In large pan, saute 1 LB. chopped smoked sausage and one chopped large onion, until sausage is browned, about eight minutes. Combine 1/4 c. flour, 1/2 t. dried thyme leaves, and 1/2 t. black pepper. Add to the sausage/onion mixture and brown until mixture bubbles up. Add all at once 3 c. milk and 1 c. half and half, and cook, stirring, until the mixture bubbles up. Add 1, 10 oz. can of sauerkraut, including juice, and bring to a boil. This will thicken. If not tart enough for you, add 1 1/2 T. lemon juice. Add 2 T. finely chopped fresh parsley.

  • Susan August 26, 2013

    Hi Anne, Thanks for sharing the links. I love the...

    Hi Anne, Thanks for sharing the links. I love the twice baked potato idea! I dehydrate potatoes but haven't thought to make twice baked and freeze. What a time saver that would be!!

  • Athanasia August 26, 2013

    I will try this too. We like the "more with ...

    I will try this too. We like the "more with less" thought of cooking so often replace meat with something else.

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