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.
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?