We love making small batch preserves. Read on to find out why small batch is the only way to learn to preserve, the secret of the modern preserver and why I rarely make more than three or four jars at a time!
I’ve been avidly making preserves, jams, jellies and chutneys for nearly 20 years now. My mother always had a well stocked pantry full of jams, jellies and chutneys. I can remember the steam and citrus scent in the kitchen come marmalade time in the first weeks of the year – a welcome freshness in those dark, cold January days.
Then there was the drip, drip, drip of the jelly bag hanging from an upturned stool on the kitchen counter. The glorious result was my grandmother’s intensely fruity blackcurrant jelly on bread and butter at teatime.
It is no wonder that as soon as I had my own home and kitchen, I started preserving. It is fun, makes you feel like a domestic goddess and is frankly addictive.
At the time, I had a busy and stressful job. Most Saturday mornings, I would come home with bags laden from the market and make a massive batch of something or other to preserve.
Preserve-making was my escape!
Preserving – Saving the Harvest
Before ready meals, before chemical preservatives, before freezers there were traditional preserves. Jams, jellies, curds, cordials, chutneys and pickles helped us to hang on to the bright flavours of late summer through the dark winter months.
The traditional way of preserving fruit and vegetables for winter often involves using up a large glut all at once. Maybe one windy night brings down all the fruit from tree at once or the weather changes and everything needs to be picked before the frost destroys it. The result can be a whole pantry stacked with jars.
Of course, this is a wonderful thing in a world without supermarkets, modern supply chains or where food can be in short supply. The Women’s Institute famously stripped a bumper crop of plums, blackberries and rosehips from the hedgerows in 1939.
These formidable cooks used them to stock up on energy-dense jams and vitamin-packed syrups in vast quantities. No small batch preserving for them. Packing the harvest into bottles and jars helped to keep a whole nation going through grim years of war when supplies ran short. I’m so grateful, though, that I don’t have to work like that!
Preserving in the Modern World
A glut of fruit to preserve was a wonderful thing in the past. In modern times, however, our priorities are different. Eight jars of rhubarb jam and nine of blackcurrant can easily eat up too much of the space in modern kitchen cupboards.
I used to make traditional big batches of jam, but one day I realised that the jars were taking over. It got to the point where I had too many jars, and I was in danger of turning something fun into a chore.
I had a whole hall cupboard full of preserves, which was great in a way. However, I live in a city flat with limited storage space and I needed a change of approach.
These days, most of us are not preserving the haul from the nearest tree. Instead we take home a bargain scoop of fruit from the market or the knock-down punnets from an overstocked supermarket. It should be a fun, relaxing activity and not a necessity.
All of this makes it a lot easier to make small batch preserves more frequently. It’s a lot easier on the home cook than boiling up a year’s supply in one great binge.
I firmly believe that in the modern world preserving should be a fun hobby, a leisure activity. It is no longer the necessity it was for our mothers and grandmothers, who had to fill the shelves to feed their family.
Why You Should Embrace Small Batch Preserving
Simply put, practice makes perfect!
The more batches of preserves you make, the better you will get at it!
You will probably mess up the odd batch – I still do, but think of the learning curve.
After two batches you are twice as experienced as after the first batch. After four you are twice as experienced again!
By your 10th batch of jam, you are going to be really very good at it.
You will learn more making 10 batches of 3 jars, rather than 2 batches of 15 jars – it’s still 30 jars in the end but 5 times the experience.
Master that perfect set!
Setting point is crucial for jam making, and is the thing that most beginners worry about.
By sticking to small batches of jam, you get more opportunities to learn when it is at setting point.
You can read all about setting point, but nothing beats the experience of actually making jam!
Once you have a dozen successful batches under your belt, you will be able to judge setting point just by looking at your jam.
You don’t need any special equipment!
Modern homes can be small and short on storage space. Who has the space for a giant preserving pan that you could potentially bath a baby in? Not me!
I use the same saucepan I boil pasta in for 90% of my preserving.
You won’t end up with hundreds of jars of preserves
Hundreds is possibly hyperbole, but if you get bitten by the preserving bug you can potentially make a LOT of jam, jelly and chutney. The photo above was taken in 2010, about a third of the jars in the cupboard at the time!
I’ve not got the space to store that, and although preserves can last for years (and maturing over time can be a magic ingredient), they can also dry out or spoil which is a waste!
It’s fast – jam in 40 minutes!
Who really has hours and hours to spend preparing a massive batch of fruit?
Topping and tailing gooseberries and currants for a large batch of jam can really eat into your weekend. I’ve not got time for that!
Big batches take ages to come to the boil. They fill your kitchens with condensation and you need to watch them for what seems like hours.
Small batch is the way to go. Sometimes you’ll reach setting point before you have had time to drink a mug of tea!
Jam making should be fun and relaxing. Small batch preserving makes it easy to whip up a jam after a stressful day at work to unwind. You can easily make a few jars on Saturday morning between the shopping and lunch.
Less waste when things go wrong!
While you are learning, things will go wrong at least once! If a small batch goes wrong, it’s less of a disaster. If you let the jam catch on the bottom of the pan, you might waste a pound’s worth of fruit and it’s not the end of the world.
Wasting sugar for several kilos of sugar(along with the fruit itself) is expensive.
Experiment with the flavour!
Again, with small batches you can experiment. Got a wild and wacky idea for a flavour combination? With a small batch, it doesn’t matter as much if adding that novel ingredient doesn’t work out quite as you had hoped, so you are free to experiment.
If you want to try pineapple in the piccalilli or chilli in the pineapple jam, why not? If it works, you can easily make another batch of it. I shall not be repeating the kiwi chutney (it looked like frogspawn) but I’m glad I tried it!
Develop your signature jams!
Once your friends and family know you are a jam maker and preserver, I guarantee that they will offer to save jars for you, in the hope that you will return some of them full.
One of my greatest pleasures is cooking for friends and family, and sending them home with just a little something. I know which of my friends prefer chutney, who likes stone fruit and who will only eat rhubarb jam. I love to surprise them with a new twist on their favourite, and of course get their feedback!
The exception to the small batch rule
Marmalade! I don’t generally eat it, but Ed does and I know we need about 20 good sized jars a year for his toast at breakfast and a few spare to give to friends. Seville oranges are seasonal and out of season you simply cannot get hold of them.
For this reason, it makes sense to make two big batches and get it over with as soon as we get our marmalade oranges.
Of course, we’ve overdone it in the past and overstocked the marmalade shelf, but as you can’t get Seville oranges out of season so better too much than no marmalade!
Its also an exception to the no special equipment rule, as we pressure cook the oranges. This makes the process so much faster (and steams up the kitchen less). Click for our marmalade recipe.
Small Batch Preserves to Make and Enjoy
Here are some of my favourite fail-safe small batch recipes for home preserving, yielding just 2–3 jars – even a single jar!