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Pros and Cons of Small Batch Canning


My first memories of canning involve lots of tears. It wasn’t anything painful or traumatizing (well, maybe a little), it was the onions. You see, my mom only canned two things; strawberry jam and tomato sauce. It was the sauce that did me in. It wasn’t the sort of cheerful 1950’s sitcom experience you’d like it to be. It was an all day exhausting exercise in food preservation. The recipe didn’t call for mere cups  of vegetables, rather the ingredients were measured in bushels. The tomatoes were halved and thrown in a pot to cook until squishy and then run through a hand-crank (my hand thank-you-very-much) food mill to remove the seeds and skin. The same happened with the onions and green peppers. We’d take turns chopping and running outside with tears burning our eyes from cutting pound after pound of onions. The house was hot and steamy and we all emerged limp and lightly coated with a sticky vegetable residue. I remember making the sauce much more than eating it.

Pros and Cons of Small Batch Canning
I’m the only one in my family who cans anymore, my mother only eats lettuce and my sister would rather buy a frozen pizza than chop a tomato. I find myself drawn to smaller batches rather than large ones and my childhood experiences are probably why. The only thing I can in large quantities is applesauce and that’s usually done in 7 pint batches because that’s how many apples I can fit in my cooking pot. If you’re interested in starting or switching to small batches I thought I’d list out some pros and cons from my personal experiences.

In favor of small batch canning:

  • Less Time – You can easily cook up 2 pints of pizza sauce in less than an hour. Larger batches require more peeling, chopping and time to reduce. The 7-pint batch of tomato sauce took almost 2 hours just to cook down, that didn’t include the time I spent running them through the food mill or washing and cutting the onions and peppers. I’ve been doing a little every night, I’ve got a few hours between Marys bedtime and mine so I need to use it to the best of my ability.
  • Less Daunting – Destroying 20 pounds of peaches when you burn the peach butter is an awful experience. I know, I’ve done it. It’s just less scary when you’ve only got 10 peaches on the line.
  • More variety – Would you rather have 20 pints of one type of salsa or 5 pints of 4 types? That’s what I though. We’re a heavily divided household, my husband wants his salsa hot enough to melt the cooking pot while I like to taste my food. So now I make some for him with scotch bonnets and some for me with a few jalapenos
  • Experiment – I have one tomatillo plant, it’s the first time I’ve grown them and I’m not what I’m doing with them. I’ve found a handful of recipes and I’m going to try them all. What ever we like I’ll double or triple the recipe next year.
  • Use up left overs – Chances are you’ve had a few stragglers in the garden. A few tomatoes that waited to ripen, a hidden bell pepper or a handful of beets that just won’t fit in the jars you’re pickling. Small batch recipes are a perfect way to use those up.
  • Specialty produce – Gardeners are an odd bunch, I include myself when I say that. We all have one or two plants that are just more special than the rest. Maybe it’s an apple tree that finally produced or some corn grown from seed you saved. A small batch is perfect for preserving that special produce all on it’s own.
  • Smaller quantities – There are only two of us, Mary doesn’t eat enough to count yet. We don’t need 40 quarts of pasta sauce because we don’t eat that much pasta. And really, how much pickled garlic can one family use?

It’s not all kittens and rainbows – or the Cons

  • Not worth the mess – even though your using smaller quantities you’re still using about the same number of dishes/utensils. There is a limit to how many dishes I’m willing to wash for the sake of 2 pints of pizza sauce. I prefer to use my food strainer that attaches to my mixer over peeling tomatoes but there is no way I’m cleaning it out for that little reward. This is my main issue with small batches.
  • Easy to over-cook – when you aren’t starting out with that much it can go from perfect to overcooked in a flash. But since it generally takes less time you’re less likely to get distracted and wander away (not that I’ve ever done that, see the peach butter example above)
  • Specialty ingredients – I’ve noticed a lot of small batch recipes use a variety of ingredients. You’ll end up buying more  types spices/vinegars/seasonings than if you were just going with one recipe.
  • Running out – I made 6 half-pint jars of peach siracha jam for my husband, he was licking the pan after I finished filling the jars. I already know there won’t be enough to keep him happy. I guess it isn’t much of a con though because I can (haha) always make more.

Are you still canning or have you happily stashed the giant pot away for later? Do you prefer one giant marathon session or breaking it up into smaller batches?




  1. Elizabeth Smith says:

    I hated canning season while I was growing up. Hot sticky messes in a steamy hot kitchen and flies all over. Now I can small amounts ( I love the half pint jars) and have a variety.

  2. My mom never canned anything nut my grandma did. I’ve recently started figuring out the process and made peach jam (because I bought 20# of peaches, most were peeled and frozen) and some apple/plum sauce to clean out the fruit drawer! I just love this! I have a small batch of pickles and strawberry jam planned this weekend.

    • Apple plum sauce sounds amazing! Plums always seem to be expensive around here, we planted 2 plum trees but we still have 2 years or so before we get any fruit. Happy canning!

    • You can pull those frozen peaches out and make another small batch when you have time. Have done it with tomatoes and made broth with frozen bones.

  3. Alisha Kostiuk says:

    Growing up my grandmother canned everything. She used to tell us she refused to live off of potatoes again. We can small amounts of certain things like salsa. I like that we can switch it up because not everyone likes the same things.

  4. I really need to do this and stock up. Is it easy to make these?

  5. I still can, mostly small batches. There are some items that I prefer to freeze, but canning is so very satisfying. It seems to be mostly sauces and preserves (jams, jellies, etc.). I will continue to can, as long as I am able.

  6. I love canning in small batches because I can play with the recipes more than doing it in large batches. I last batch of jellies were all different soda flavors each recipe make 3 half pints, so now I have Dr. Pepper, Rootbeer, Big Red and Mountain Dew yummy

  7. Jane Doe says:

    I remember staying on my grandparent’s farm in the fall and helping with the canning. This was an all day all night affair that involved every kin within 60 miles. All of us kids would be outside shucking corn or shelling peas while my grandmother, aunts, and older female cousins were inside processing it all for the freezer or the canner. They’d put up hundreds of pounds of every different thing, but having upwards of 20 people on hand to do the work made it almost fun. Fast forward to now, and I’m the only one in my garden and kitchen picking, prepping, and packing. It’s small batches for me, because if I dare to make a big one I’m too exhausted at the end to clean up the mess!

  8. no one in my family canned anything that I was ever aware of. I love making homemade Christmas gifts though and one year I found a recipe for candied jalapeños. It was crazy easy and I haven’t stopped. I prefer large batch canning though. I like to have plenty on hand. And if I had tons of tomatoes then I was making spaghetti sauce, salsa and stewed tomatoes. Recently canned about 25 lbs of beets. I don’t have space for a garden though, so my canning is limited to things I can buy in bulk for inexpensive (food co-ops or people giving me stuff)
    I might occasionally do a small batch but prefer large batch.

  9. I prefer large batches. I just can’t get around the mess for just a couple jars. My favorite thing to can lately has been pinto beans and back beans.

  10. Carmen Cuevas says:

    I also grew up helping the family with large batch canning. I now do small batches of pretty much everything and anything that can be canned. I invested in a pressure canner about 20 years ago and it has served me faithfully throughout all these years. I now process 10 lbs f apples to get 7 pints of applesauce instead of 7 bushels but it’s the process of canning that I love. I have taught my grandchildren how to can as well and it is a time they actually look forward to. They get to take home a jar of whatever we canned together. I know it would be more convenient to buy a metal can of vegetables from the supermarket but they just don’t have that freshly grown flavor you get from canning your own

  11. I prefer small batch canning and preserving, too. First I enjoy doing it, but there’s only two of us…and only one of us is interested in participating in the process, hahaha. Second, I have limited storage space so small batches allow for more variety. Finally, the same techniques can be used anytime of year so I’m not limited to the hottest part of the summer.

  12. Loretta Roe says:

    First I would like to thank you for the story, it really made me smile reading it, I grew up helping make pickles, green bean and apple pie filling until it felt like that were coming out my ears. My Mom’s bean are the only ones I eat. I really want to start small batch canning. Thanks for the push.

  13. Rick Black says:

    I’m a guy. So I am also self taught. Two or three seasons ago. I began canning my pole beans in pint jars and tomatoes of every variety in quart jars.. So I like chili in winter. Canned both cherry tomatoes and beef eaters together. Sweet! This year I have decided to can some half pint beans. As a pint is a bit too much to eat at one setting most time. Even though there is a roommate. That is what brought me here. I too remember grandma’s kitchen and home canned goods in the basement cellar. Most I remember at the ripe old age of three. Is beating some handmade braided wool rug hung on the clothesline or whipping cream. My grandmother would slice cream from the tops of whole milk in bottles brought in from the cold. The milkman left before dawn. Grandma would save the cream in a bowl in the fridge or icebox till there was enough to whip for a homemade pie. That was my job with a hand operated eggbeater. I loved that whip cream and my grandmother too. Beating the rug not so much. That was a real workout for a three year old and grandma was fair but strict and only unconditional love I have ever known. Grandma was gone much to soon. Looking forward to seeing her again. Thanks for listening.

  14. When the kids were little I had a huge garden – canning and freezing was a necessity to cut down on grocery bills. Now it’s just hubby and me so I have learned to small batch can in half pints and pints so the fruits of my labor don’t spoil. I just put up low sugar peaches in raspberry sauce, onion glaze for meats, tomatoes and salsa. I left out the cilantro in the salsa so I can dump it into the chili or stew pot, but add it in fresh when we want salsa. I froze my cherries this year as we were camping in door county,WI and they were very ripe. Had to get them out up fast in the rv – no jars with me. Next up – applesauce! Oh yeah – that will be in pint to quart jars as we can eat it up fast!!!

  15. I also have self taught – always loved cooking so I turned my passion into a small home based business after an accident. I enjoy pure all natural ingredients compared to the chemical laced store brands. My pure raspberry jam is a #1 seller followed by Baby dill pickles.