Sometimes you’ve got 20 pounds of plums lying around. Sometimes you don’t. For those days when there's no spare bushel of fruit on hand—or, for that matter, no spare day—there’s small-batch canning, a thoroughly modern twist on the age-old process of putting food back for later consumption inhaling. Details below.
Sticking to a modest batch size has a few benefits: For newbies, it can provide an unintimidating introduction to canning, since producing four jars sounds a heckuva lot less scary than 40; it doesn’t require a bunch of special equipment (more on that shortly) or vast quantities of ingredients; and it's a great way to use up that extra pound of tomatoes or apples or blueberries you’d hate to see go bad.
Most importantly? It’s simpler than you think. Since small batches are often meant to be shared and eaten quickly (by nature of their limited yield, they're not pantry fillers designed to see you through the winter), some recipes skip the slightly more advanced water-bath or pressure-canning steps entirely. We've rounded up a few mouth-watering, easy-as-pie recipes from the HOMEGROWN flock, as well as a small batch of handpicked resources from the web.
• Read it and let your taste buds weep: HOMEGROWN member Jenni shares a small-batch recipe for ketchup (pictured at right), "which I always assumed was a magical condiment that was impossible to make at home. Silly me!"
• On the sweeter side, Christine dishes up a small-batch recipe for refrigerated peach jam (pictured below right) that sounds perfect for summer, in more ways than one: "I was drawn to it primarily because it bypasses the hours of stove time that would crank up the temperature in our place to unpleasant levels," she says. "I made some last week while listening to The Be Good Tanyas and drinking a cranberry seltzer cocktail."
• Harriet explains why small-batch jams don't require adding pectin—"It exists naturally in all fruit. If you cook small batches of jam, you do not need to use any, no matter what sort of fruit you start with. Honestly."—and shares a recipe for small-batch jam that’s adaptable for nearly any fruit.
THE BEST OF THE REST FROM THE WEB
• Treehugger delivers nine small-batch recipes, including ginger pear jam and rhubarb apple chutney, adapted from the book Home Canning and Preserving: Putting up Small Batch Jams, Jellies, ..., by Janet Cooper. (Just a note that a couple of Amazon reviewers hazard against Cooper's open-kettle method.)
• The Kitchn shares a small-batch recipe for cherry preserves, as undertaken by a novice canner who learned a few useful lessons in the process; we especially like number 3: "Small-batch canning is totally doable in an afternoon."
• Also on the Kitchn and also offering you-can-do-it advice for first-timers: a post by Marisa McClellan on what you need to get started—namely, a 12-inch stainless skillet and a tall, skinny pot. How’s that for easy? McClellan writes: “When I first started canning, I made huge batches of jam. Between the cleaning, peeling and chopping, I'd be dripping with sweat and every inch of my kitchen would be covered in sticky fruit residue. Despite the fact that each jamming session took hours and hours, I did it that way because that's just how I thought canning was supposed to be.” Nope, it turns out. Thank goodness for it—and for McClellan's words of encouragement.
• McClellan, by the way, is the reigning queen of small batchery. Other Kitchn guests posts in her repertoire include recipes for a choose-your-own-fruit chutney and a strawberry thyme jam. For the full McClellan, visit her ode to glass-encased edibles, the delightful blog Food in Jars. There you’ll find small-batch recipes for holy-cow-we’re-drooling-now blood orange marmalade, red pear lavender jam, and strawberry vanilla jam.
• HOMEGROWN member Magpie Ima recommends the book Canning for a New Generation, by Liana Krisoff. Ima writes: “I read every new preserving book our library gets, but the one I bought last summer is Canning for a New Generation, and I love it for its wide range of seasonal recipes, both fruit and veg. The recipes are a nice combination of familiar classics and more exotic options. The author also makes suggestions about how to use those canned items, which I love.” Another Ima recommendation: The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving, by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard.
• Jennifer recommends The Preservation Kitchen, by Paul Virant with Kate Leahy, published in April 2012. Beer jam, yellow plum and riesling jam, even milk jam (think homemade condensed milk): They’re all in there—usually with a yield of about four half-pints each—along with recipes for polished dishes and cocktails using the preserved goodies.
Have a tip for first timers? Got a small-batch recipe you can't wait to share? Spill it all in the comments box below. If you haven't already, you might consider joining HOMEGROWN groups like the regional Preserving in Los Angeles or the nationwide Food Preservation or even the Newbies, for folks just starting out, where you can learn and celebrate (and occasionally commiserate) with like minds. And don't forget to troll the HOMEGROWN 101 archive for more things to plant, grow, cook, preserve, make, craft, boil, fillet, whisk, and hammer.