Good Things in Small Batches

I grew up in a household that did large batch processing of all things. We did 5 gallons of wine, despite the fact that the adults in my family rarely drank. When we processed tomatoes and peaches and green beans we did half bushels at a time. The thought was, why go to the effort for small amounts at a time?

That makes sense when you have a couple of kids to help and plenty of space to store your finished product.

But it stops making sense when you might move in a year or two and you live in small apartments. Few of the apartments I’ve lived in over the years had enough space to store much more than a few weeks worth of food, let alone a bushel of beans and tomatoes processed into jars. Only one had enough space and was set up with a pantry (that I’d kill to have today) that held all of our small appliances and food.

Even moving into my current home, I have less storage space than I had growing up. We focused on affordability and a nice backyard over more square footage in the home. Our house is smaller than many apartments in the area. My kitchen is oddly shaped and lacks storage. Fortunately, we have a full basement with lots of shelving. Even with ample basement storage, it doesn’t sense for me to process a bushel of most veggies- we just don’t consume that much.

So we focus on small batches, a couple of jars of tomatoes or beans, or a few bags into the freezer rather than 5 gallons at a time. With my smaller space and my substantially smaller gardens, I don’t get a half bushel of any one of my veggies at a time. Pears and peaches, yes, bean and tomatoes nope.

Further, I get a lot of my veggies at the farmers’ market and when sales occur at the supermarket. While sales at my local supermarket are usually pretty affordable, the farmers’ market can be pricey. Given that I have a budget, I can’t blow all of my food budget on food that I’m preserving or fermenting. Sure it pays off later, but I also have to think about now.

This is where small-batch processing comes into play. When you change your mindset from go big or go home to good things in small batches you open up a world of opportunity. Instead of 8 jars of one type of tomato sauce, you can have 4 jars of one flavor and 4 of another. Not all of them need to be preserved at the same time.

When I started fermenting I matched the size of my fermenter to the size of the thing I was fermenting. When my Dad said he lost over 2 gallons of sauerkraut because he forgot about it I suggested he switch over to smaller but repeated batches over time. He responded that he’d rather make it once than make several smaller batches. It makes sense to make one large batch if you are feeding a lot of people. But when it’s just a few folks smaller repeated batches of favorites might make more sense, they certainly do in my home.

Another benefit of smaller batches is that they allow you to tweak recipes and play around with seasonings and spices. While I liked my shredded carrots on salads and as a side, someone suggested that I make them into pickle spears. Because I hadn’t made 5 gallons and had access to more carrots I was able to put up a small jar of carrot spears into my fermentation area.

The flexibility of small batches allows me to buy bulk when things are in season and process smaller amounts. It also allows me to grow the amount I need rather than putting up 2 dozen jars of stuff we might not finish in a year.


  1. Do you know about Marissa McClellan’s books on small batch processing? She’s the spouse of a tech writer colleague of mine, and has doing small batch preserving in Philadelphia for years. This is her site: I used her first book Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year Round, a lot.

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