Five Easy things to grow or preserve that save you money
1. Fruit Butters. Even if you are afraid of making jellies and jams, fruit butters are very, very easy to make. The easiest way to make them is in a crock pot, but you can make them on the stovetop, too. Here is a good recipe for apple butter; you can substitute pears for the apples. We got free apples from a relative, and picked two bushels of pears at the family farm. Since we do not add sugar, our only expenses were for spices (cinnamon, ginger) and the cost of the energy to cook it.
2. Certain spices. Some of the specialty spices in the supermarket are downright pricey. Thyme, sage, fennel seed, and dill are good examples of very easy things to grow that cost quite a bit in the store.
Dried basil, garlic, and parsley are usually fairly cheap in a store (for now) but it's a good idea to learn how to grow them, too, because fresh varieties are fairly expensive . Tip: try growing celeriac. In some climates, it's a perennial celery root that makes broadleaf parsley greens. I mince my fresh parsley and preserve it in ice cubes for the winter – just pop a parsley-cube into a nearly finished pot of soup for summer-fresh parsley color and flavor. The root is, of course edible, too, but I value it for perennial parsley.
3. Green bell (and frying) peppers. Green bell peppers were up to $1.59 each in my supermarket last year. Very easy to grow, and while they save you money during the growing season, they really shine as a frugal choice if you preserve some for winter. If you want to cook with them later, you can merely dice them and freeze what you need for the winter in small batches. Peppers are one of the few foods that do not benefit from "blanching"–dipping in boiling water–before freezing. Just chop, label, date and freeze them. And feel all frugal when you get them out in January to cook with. Tip: if you let them turn orange a bit at maturity, you double the vitamin C in green peppers.
4. Cut flowers. How can these save you money? As gifts. Say you need a gift when visiting the hospital for a sick person or a new baby, or a housewarming of hostess gift. I have had great success giving pint mason jars full of zinnias or whatever is in bloom. Just tie a ribbon or twine bow around it and add a homemade gift tag. I seem to get bonus points for including fresh herbs like basil flowers or lavender in the arrangement.
5. Sun-dried tomatoes. These are incredibly easy to make! Slice them and put them on drying racks in you solar or electric dehydrator, and when they are very dry but still a little flexible, they are done. I put them in canning jars with silica dehydrator packs, and they last for years. Oven dehydration is not recommended – they burn. In a solar dehydrator, I recommend you lay them on squares of old bed sheets so they won't stick. Note: the same process works for drying figs, but cut them in half first for best results.