Saturday, June 6, 2015

Small Batch Canning- Let's Investigate

Time is short and harvests are unpredictable... I hear this all the time- which is why I love my flex-recipes (my recipes that offer ratio based cooking and preserving). When I saw books coming out offering small batch preserving recipes and information I was thrilled!

When asking a class full of newbie canners what their biggest hesitation is about canning, the most common responses are 1. Fear- the process scares them, 2. Time- canning takes all day! Small batch canning offers a small taste of preserving without the labor intensive canning days. The fact you only preserved a few small jars also helps those afraid of bacteria/illness that can come from long term storage.

Last summer I purchased two books: Preserving by the Pint and Food in Jars both by Marissa McClellan (who also has a blog titled Food in Jars). I have read, studied, compared, and compiled several traditional to small batch recipes from time tested sights/books and the new small batch books. It has been a great deal of fun and furious work to see how the smaller batches stack up with traditional preserving.
Here are a few of my notes:
1. All small batch is water bath canned. This is important because, while it is less labor intensive, it is also limiting. Water bath preserved foods must be high acid foods (picked/tomato sauces or jams/jellies.
2. Conventional canner not required. Small batches simply need a heavy bottom pot with a tight fitting lid. The catch is- you need a wire basket/rack or a dish towel in the bottom to prevent jars from direct contact/rattling with the bottom of the pot.
3. First timers love it. Many novice canners like the low commitment level and the ability to test run the recipes before diving into large canning recipes. Yes, I have actually tested this with newbies.
4. It fits perfect with square foot garden methods. Since I teach gardening, and square foot is the new backyard/school yard favorite garden method, small batch preserving is perfect.
5. It's limiting. Many new canners are interested because they want canned green beans and carrots like grandma had sitting on the pantry shelves. You can only pickle or brine pack them in small batch, water bath canned recipes. Low acid veggies must be pressure canned- currently there is no easy way to do that- and no small batch method.

So, after a year of small batch investigation do I recommend it? Yes, especially if you are hesitant or new to canning. Small space gardeners, farmers market shoppers and hand made gifters will enjoy the low pressure, time friendly method.
Is it expensive? No. Many canning class students get disheartened by the 'start up expense' involved in canning. While you will need to buy jars and lids, only a few are needed. Since you do not need a canner, the only expense will be if you do not already have a pot to use.
What about shelf life/bacteria? Follow directions and you should be fine. Canning times are important to follow because that is the 'safe zone' for killing bacteria and sealing the lids. Shelf life is also included in the recipes (generally 6 months to a year), but with only a few jars you most likely won't have them on the shelf that long.
Can I adjust to my taste? Tricky question. Recipes that are water bath canned require a high acidity/PH so, example, if you add more garlic or onion to your salsa you have lowered the PH of the recipe making it compromised as a water bath recipe.

Your turn. Share your experience, questions, fears and successes. That is how we encourage and inspire others!

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