When I started canning, I made huge batches. Between cleaning, peeling and chopping, I’d be dripping with sweat and every inch of my kitchen would be sticky. That’s how I thought canning was supposed to be. Every traditional recipe I found yielded five, seven or nine pints. At the end of the first year, even after eating jam daily and giving away many, many jars, I was still swimming in preserves. I needed to find a way for it to take less time and yield smaller amounts.
Easy Home Canning Recipes
So I started tearing down recipes and finding cookware that worked best with small batches. I also developed techniques for breaking up the work so I could do it when it was most convenient without sacrificing freshness.
These days, I do a lot of small batches that yield just two or three half-pint jars. Preserving on this scale means I get to explore different flavor combinations without committing massive amounts of produce to an idea that might not work. It also allows me to have dozens of different options in my pantry.
Details of Small-Batch Canning
Technique: There are a number of handy things about preserving in small batches. Preparation goes fast. When a recipe calls for you to let fruit sit and rest for a time with sweetener, you can cover your bowl and pop it into the fridge for 12 to 24 hours. Small batches also cook quickly, particularly if you use wide pans. Best of all, these preserves tend to be lower in added sugar because you don’t need as much sugar to support the set.
Cookware: I recommend a few pieces of cookware specifically for tiny batches. The first is a basic, 12-inch skillet (stainless steel, anodized aluminum or enameled cast iron), which provides a lot of surface area for cooking and encourages evaporation. For slightly larger batches, a 5-quart Dutch oven (enameled or not) is a good pot for the job. A tall, skinny pot, preferably fitted with a rack, works well as either a processing pot (you can fit two wide-mouth or three Ball Collection Elite half-pint jars in it) or as a pot for heating pickling liquid. Asparagus pots do the job well, but my favorite is what Swiss cookware manufacturer Kuhn Rikon calls a “4th-burner pot.” For processing larger batches, an 8-quart nonreactive stockpot fitted with a stainless-steel rack on the bottom does the job. You’ll also want to have a small saucepan on hand for simmering canning lids to soften the sealing compound.
About processing: The recipes here are designed for boiling water-bath canning. This is the process in which filled jars are submerged in boiling water and simmered for a prescribed amount of time. Boiling the filled jars kills any contaminants that might have landed in your jars. (Keep in mind that this processing method only works with recipes that include high-acid foods such as fruit, lemon juice and vinegar.) Also, the oxygen in the headspace is heated to make it expand and push its way out of the jar. Once you remove the jar from the hot water, the jar cools, the space contracts, and the lid pulls down and forms a vacuum because there’s no oxygen left to hold that space. This is what keeps your jams, jellies and pickles fresh. Water-bath canning is a simple process, but it’s important to follow specific instructions and do it right; otherwise you can run the risk of serious contamination. To learn the basic steps of water-bath canning (it’s easier than you think), follow the guidelines in Home Canning: How to Can Using the Boiling Water Bath Method.
Marisa McClellan is a writer, teacher and blogger at Food in Jars (three times nominated by Saveur magazine for a Best Food Blog award, and winner of Best of Philly from Philadelphia magazine). Her writing appears on The Food Network blog FN Dish, Saveur and Food52. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband. Her book Preserving by the Pint, from which this article is excerpted, is available at our store.