Small Batch Canning 101

Whether you are new to canning or are already a canning expert, this detailed look at small batch canning (with tons of general canning tips and info) has everything you need to know to make home canning and preserving a breeze!

Small Batch Canning: A How-To Resource

Please do not read any further until you answer this question (either mentally or down in the comments):

Where do you fall on the home canning spectrum?

Small Batch Canning: A How-To Resource

My “number” has changed significantly over the years, moving up and down on a wild path of highs and lows depending on the phase of life I am in.

Ten years ago when I had four children ages four and under, if you would have said “Mel, you should think about canning peaches this year,” I probably would have throat punched you and then lumped myself into a fetal position for the rest of the day (with kids piled on top of me, I’m sure).

As I’ve moved through stages of life with less newborns and less bums needing to be wiped (sorry, but that’s the reality of how I’ve judged the passage of time), I’ve renewed my serious love of canning.

I consider myself a definite NERD on the scale of how much one could love canning.

I love it so much (and seriously, in heaven, I know the air will be filled with the bright pinging sound of jars sealing, I just know it).

Small Batch Canning: A How-To Resource

But…even though canning has been a huge part of my home food storage routine for many years, I’m going to be honest and tell you that spending a whole day (or several days) with my kitchen blown up with jars and sticky floors and fruit and vegetables everywhere in various states of decapitation is not as enticing as it used to be.

The reason? I can mostly by myself now.

Back when I could get a few friends or family members together to can whatever fruit we just picked up in bulk, I didn’t mind the multi-day chaos so much.

You might as well go big or go home, right?

But these days, I don’t have the time to commit hours and hours and hours of canning in one long stretch in order to produce 1,782 quarts of applesauce.

Not only that, but I also don’t have many friends that can anymore…and I’ve found after years of canning large-batch style, that my family wasn’t eating through everything I had canned (particularly jams and jellies).

And so my love of small batch canning was born.

And I haven’t looked back.

There are still times when I somehow find myself in possession of 12 bushels of peaches and after asking the question: who am I and how did I get here, I buckle down and can the living daylights out of the peaches in order to get ’em on the shelf and out of my kitchen.

And then force my children to eat a quart or two of peaches at every meal so they don’t stay on the shelf for a generation.

Small Batch Canning: A How-To Resource

But usually, I find that during the summer and fall months, I tend to make use of small batch canning.

This means different things to different people, but for me, a small batch of canning is any recipe that gives me about 10 jars or less and that I can finish in just a few hours.

It works so much better for my life.

I can whip out a batch of homemade salsa (8-9 pints) in an afternoon and still have the kitchen cleaned up in time for dinner (which will most likely be chips and salsa anyway).

During the last couple weeks, I’ve canned two batches of homemade salsa (on different days because my tomatoes weren’t ready at the same time), two small batches (about 10 jars each) of pickled beets, a small batch of bottled peaches (8 quarts – because a friend dropped off half a box of peaches to me), 8 pints of grape jelly (this included juicing the grapes in my Nutri-steamer/juicer), and two batches of jalapeno jelly, about 12 jars total of that.

The miracle? I’ve canned all that, I don’t hate life AND I actually showered every day (which hasn’t always been the case when I’ve done the long haul huge batches of canning…keeping it real here).

That’s saying something about the benefits of small batch canning.

Small Batch Canning: A How-To Resource

In a Nutshell, Here are a Few Benefits of Small Batch Canning

-Great for canning newbies who are intimidated by canning many, many jars or huge recipes at a time

-Only takes a few hours rather than all day long and late into the night

-I’ve found small batch canning has been a perfect way to test out a new recipe – and we’ve been grateful, a few times, I only canned, say, five jars of weirdly flavored green salsa instead of 32 like I was tempted to do (you definitely don’t want to get stuck with jars and jars and jars of food you’ll never eat because of the flavor)

-Good for those canning food for just themselves or for smaller families – or for families who won’t eat through huge batches of canned food

Small Batch Canning: A How-To Resource

I still have some plans for lingering garden produce – and chances are, I’ll have to do some larger batches in there (because, you know, someone thought it would be awesome to start over 15 tomato plants this year), but overall, small batch canning is awesome.

Today’s post isn’t necessarily a look at HOW TO can. It’s more a look at WHY small batch canning is still very productive and WHAT tools make small batch canning effective and, dare I say, fun.

But first, a few disclaimers.

1) When canning food for home storage, always, always use a research-tested recipe that has been developed for that particular type of canning (water bath, steam, pressure). Making up your own recipes for canning food is generally not encouraged since food safety plays a huge role in home canning and without prolonged testing, it’s difficult to know the pH levels in that experimental batch of spaghetti sauce, for instance.

I have Ball’s Blue Book of Preserving, and it is my first stop when I want to see if there’s a recipe “out there” for canning A, B, or C (there’s also this newer, intriguing-looking Ball book of canning and preserving – not sure if there are the same recipes in each or not).

Small Batch Canning: A How-To Resource

2) Because your grandma/great grandma/aunt marge did it a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s the best/safest way to do it. Sorry. I know that may be hard to hear. My sweet grandma would many times, fill the jars (with fruit in them already) with boiling water, add the lid and ring, and then tip them upside down and let them seal that way without processing them in a canner. That’s not really such a good idea anymore (I found that out first hand when a jar of cherries she gave me exploded in my pantry from what I can only guess was a botulism revolt).

3) When in doubt about canning in general, consult a trusted home canning resource. There are many county extension resources available throughout the country; my go-to resource for food safety questions in regards to canning is the National Center for Home Preservation.

Small Batch Canning: A How-To Resource

Now, let’s talk canning!

*FYI: there are Amazon affiliate links included below for the products I’ve purchased there.

As a quick reminder, low-acid foods (like green beans and meat) must be processed in a pressure canner so that the temperature gets above boiling.

High-acid foods (like salsa, most fruits, jams, jellies, etc) can be processed in water bath or steam bath canners (here’s a quick link about a recent change to the recommendations on steam canning).

The majority of canning I do is high-acid foods. Every couple years, I’ll pressure can chicken and green beans or spaghetti sauce with meat in it, but mostly, I’m canning fruits, jams, jellies, salsa, etc.

And I only use a steam bath canner these days.

–>This is the steam bath canner I have, use, and love.

Small Batch Canning: A How-To Resource

I used to pull out my enormous, bulky water bath canner for processing, but because I’ve always had an electric flat top stove in every house we’ve ever lived in, the water bath canner didn’t fit well on top (and was too heavy, anyway).

So I’d also drag out my outdoor portable propane stove and lug the water bath canner out there and then cart out buckets and buckets of water until the hunormous (Cam’s word for extra big) thing was filled.

You can probably tell I hated the process.

The minute my Aunt Marilyn clued me into the joys and benefits of a steam canner, I was hooked.

I haven’t used my water bath canner in years (although if you’re curious about the process, you can see it in action in this post about canning jalapeno jelly).

This is obviously a personal decision; steam canning is how I choose to live my canning life.

Small Batch Canning: A How-To Resource

Using a steam canner is a huge part of why small batch canning works for me.

Instead of filling up a one million gallon pot of water, a steam canner relies on a few inches of water in the base, a rack for the jars, and then a domed lid.

These jars of jalapeno jelly in the picture below just finished processing (I took the lid off the steam canner).

Small Batch Canning: A How-To Resource

On another note, I’ve mentioned this a few times before (slight understatement, I guess), but when canning jams and jellies, the only pectin I use anymore is Pomona’s Pectin.

–>My Favorite Pectin: Pomona’s<–

It is amazing stuff and makes low-sugar jams and jellies without any preservatives or fillers.

If you are interested, I demonstrate how to use Pomona’s pectin for low-sugar strawberry jam in this post.

It’s a little different than other pectins – you mix up a calcium water solution (that activates the pectin) and this calcium water is added to the fruit and simmered before adding the pectin (which is mixed with the sweetener – even honey works!).

Anyway, I love it, and highly recommend it (totally not sponsored).

Small Batch Canning: A How-To Resource

One little tool that I’ve come to rely on over the last year (recommended to me by Liz, who comments regularly here) is this:

–>Canning Funnel with Headspace Measurements <–

Small Batch Canning: A How-To Resource

You see those handy dandy marks on the outside? It allows you to easily see how full you are filling the canning jars without taking the funnel off every couple pours to peer inside.

It’s been lifechanging, really. Now I can easily see when I’ve filled adequately to leave enough headspace in the jar.

I actually use it every morning to strain my homemade kefir, too, so it’s getting a lot of use in my kitchen (pretty awesome for a $5 or under tool).

As for jars, I don’t have a preference on brand, but if I’m buying new jars these days (not very often since I have such an enormous stockpile from canning over the years), I always go for wide-mouth. It’s worth the extra couple of bucks.

And as a sidenote, I’m completely obsessed with these adorable, tiny 2-ounce canning jars.

Granted, I have only used them for canning once or twice (such great, mini gifts for jams or jellies!), but they come in very handy around the house.

Small Batch Canning: A How-To Resource

I run my jars through a dishwashing cycle before canning to sterilize and heat (and I leave them in there to stay warm prior to filling).

Also, you home canners out there probably know this already, but canning lids made by Jarden, who produces all the lids for Ball (these things), don’t need to be heated anymore prior to using.

There’s a little timesaver for you.

Also, I use these white flour sack towels like crazy when I can.

I set the empty jars on a half-folded towel when filling (to minimize sticky messes on my counter) and set the processed jars on a clean towel to cool.

I also frequently use one to wipe down the top of the jar before adding a lid.

A Few Other Organizational Tips

Please meet my canning journal.

Small Batch Canning: A How-To Resource

It’s so high tech and fancy, I know (we’re talking a 39 cent composition notebook).

But this journal is indispensable to my canning happiness and health.

Even amid all the instant access to recipes and canning info online, this journal is my bible for all things canning.

I keep updated (albeit messy) notes in here year after year about different recipes – like, how many quarts of grape juice I can get from so many pounds of concord grapes.

That kind of thing.

The notes inside probably only make sense to me. And many pages are at risk of being completely wiped out by beet juice or strawberry jam remnants, but hey, it’s still a working system that works for me.

Small Batch Canning: A How-To Resource

The other thing that contains the chaos (although it may not look like it) is this trusty catch-all bin.

Small Batch Canning: A How-To Resource

As we eat through the jars on the shelves, I toss the lids and rings into this tub. I also store leftover, unopened boxes of pectin and the simple canning tools I need.

And as for those used and washed lids I store in this bin? Please don’t ask me if I reuse them. Just don’t ask me that, ok?

Because I think I’ll have to plead the fifth on this one. I don’t want anyone to get upset over the issue of reusing canning lids or not. It’s a very personal thing.

So whatever you do, do not ask me if I reuse my lids. K, thanks.

Small Batch Canning: A How-To Resource

Overall, I hope this {ahem, lengthy} post gives you a good look at why small batch canning is approachable and the various tools that make it super easy!

If you have any questions or comments, as always, check in below on the comment thread! I learn so much from you, so don’t hesitate to share OR ask questions.

Here’s a Recap of All the Small Batch Canning Essentials:

Victorinox Steam Canner

-Simple Canning Toolset

White Flour Sack Towels

Pomona’s Pectin

-Prepworks Canning Funnel (comes in a set with other canning tools here)

Ball Blue Book of Canning

Happy Canning!

Small Batch Canning: A How-To Resource