Small Batch Canning and Sour Cherry Jam

June 22, 2010(updated on October 3, 2018)

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Although I’m not as diligent about it as some people, I’ve always been one to steer clear of kitchen tools that offer little in the way of flexibility or range. This is why I’ve avoided things like egg poachers (a simmering pan of water works just fine for me) and yogurt makers (milk* in glass jars + small Playmate cooler + warm water + eight hours = yogurt). However, I recently found myself madly coveting one of those tall, skinny pots that were designed for steaming asparagus.

You see, I had a funny suspicion that the asparagus pot, with it’s slender styling and interior rack, would make a most convenient small batch canner. So, when I encountered one with a mis-matched lid at a thrift store, I determined that I could risk the $4 to see if my hunch was correct.

small batch set-up

Now, at this point in my little tale of asparagus pots, you might be asking yourself why I’d even need a pot to process small batches of jam. And it’s true that my kitchen is well kitted out in just about every pot and pan you could imagine. Thing is, the idea of pulling out the big pots is sometimes enough to deter me from cooking up a batch of jam.

If it’s 9 o’clock at night and the kitchen’s already been put to bed for the evening, the last thing I want to do is stir everything up again and create a whole sink’s worth of dishes. I hate to admit it, but there have been times when I’ve let a pound of berries or a cluster of peaches go bad because I couldn’t summon up the energy to create and then clean the mess necessary to preserve them.

sour cherry jam wreckage

For instances, when I picked up my CSA share last Thursday afternoon, included in the bounty was a quart of glowing sour cherries. There weren’t any additional cherries at the adjacent market, so I couldn’t pick up more in order to have enough for a full batch of jam. What’s more, my charming husband doesn’t eat fruit or the many desserts that are crafted from them, so I couldn’t make a small pie or tart, unless I wanted to eat the whole darn thing (and while my inner seven year old rejoices at the idea of a whole pie for dinner, the 31 year old that I am knows just how sad my belly would feel post-indulgence).

So Sunday night, after a long day errands, gardening and picnicking with friends, I took my little $4 asparagus pot on a test drive with those sour cherries. After pitting, I had approximately 1 1/2 pounds of cherries, which I combined with 3/4 a pound of cane sugar and one packet of liquid pectin (cherries are naturally low in pectin, so even small amounts of jam need a little boost). I cooked them down in a two-quart pan, which proved to be just the right size (although I did need to watch carefully for bubbling over).

two 12-ounce jars

While the jam cooked, I filled that tall little pot with water and brought it a boil. When the jam was ready, I filled my clean jars (I got two 12 ounce jars and one 4 ounce jar out of this batch), applied the lids and rings and processed them in succession (10 minutes per jar). While that’s not a USDA-recommended procedure, the jars sealed firmly and I feel comfortable storing these on the shelf. The final 4 ounce jar got tucked into the fridge.

I’m sure that some of you are wondering why I’d even go to the trouble of processing such a small batch of jam. Here’s the thing. I have limited refrigerator space. (Actually, make that limited kitchen space. I imagine that some of you have pantries that are larger than my entire kitchen.) Any time I can process something to be shelf stable and keep it out of the fridge is a good thing, even when it’s a micro-batch such as this. Also, as you may have noticed, I make quite a lot of sweet preserves and at any given time, have at least half a dozen open jars hanging out on the right-hand door of the fridge. I just don’t need to add to the open jam/butter/curd queue at this time.

So, if you’re like me and want to process even the smallest batches, without hauling out your big old canning pot, consider putting an asparagus steamer to work.

*Milk simmered to 180-190 degrees, cooled to 110-120 and combined with some plain yogurt or powdered yogurt starter.

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69 thoughts on "Small Batch Canning and Sour Cherry Jam"

  • This weekend and last I used our crab pot — one of those flimsy speckled pots you can get at the hardware store or supermarket — to make small batches of preserves. I broke down yesterday and bought a 10-inch cake-cooling rack to put on the bottom, just to be a little closer to spec; it fits perfectly. Now I’ll only have to get out the big canner when making full-size batches.

  • Wow. This is a great idea. I’m going to pick cherries off a neighbour’s tree tonight and I think even I could do this canning procedure. Dumb question – when you “process for 10 minutes” is the water over the lid of the jar (I’m too lazy to look this up right now).

  • Another question – could I use Stevia (or Truvia convenience packs) in place of sugar?

  • I did a small batch of sorts last night, canning in a medium-sized pot instead of my massive canner.

    Sarah – yes, water level has to be over the top of the jar by at least an inch. You could use Stevia or other sweeteners but check that the flavor doesn’t change if subjected to heat for a long time. You’ll probably get a thinner jam because sugar, once heated to 220, actually helps the jam thicken. I’ve gotten better results with my jams since treating them like making candy and watch temps really closely.

  • Good idea! I’m with you about the mess of dishes. The thought of cleaning them up is a mental obstacle I often succumb to.

  • I tweeted the other day about how much I adored your sour cherry jam recipe from last year– so yummy! It was my first time canning EVER and it turned out great.

    Although I only had 12 oz jars, and even following the your directions and measurements exactly, I only got 3 full jars and one half jar. (Don’t worry, as soon as the half jar cooled I opened it and popped it in the fridge). Did I do something wrong? I did use 6 cups of crushed cherries, just as your recipe called for.

    Thanks again– the flavor is simply amazing! You’ve definitely gotten me hooked on canning…

  • Actually, you CANNOT substitute stevia for sugar in canning and produce stable, long storing canned jams. They also may not gel, depending on your fruit/other ingrediants and which gelling method that you are using. Stevia contains compounds that are MUCH sweeter than sugar (but occur in much lower numbers in the powder/liquid), but they are *not* sugar, and are not in the slightest bit related to sugar chemically, thus do not behave the same way at all. If you want Stevia jams, I’d try the buttering or longer cooking method (check temp and do cold plate gel test), then store in the fridge or freezer only. Also, as I discovered just last week, be very careful then you introduce stevia products to people. I had a stevia drink for the first time last week (Vitamin Water Zero), and not only thought it tasted awful, but it made me very, very ill (GI symptoms) for several days. Rebaudioside A (stevia as truVia) allergy is not uncommon, even in people that have never eaten it. There are also some questions about the safety of rebaudioside A and it’s breakdown products, particularly in people with high blood pressure.

    And as for micro-batching, I LOVE it! I like to do no more than 4 jars at a time, so that way I can try new combinations, spicings, flavorants, sugars, etc. ellie topps’s The Complete Small Batch Preserving provides great examples of this type of canning to use a guidleines for your own micro-canning projects.

  • Oooh. Sorry, I forgot to add: the USDA does say that you CAN substitute Spenda for sugar in most cases (Guideline update #531). This is because Splenda is chemically regular sugar with a single chloride for hydroxyl substitution, and it serves all of the roles of regular sugar in most chemical interactions (identially, or close enough)important in canning. πŸ˜€

  • I’ve been waiting for a small-batch canning post from you! I didn’t know if you thought it was a ridiculous idea, so I didn’t ask πŸ™‚ Glad you don’t!

  • I love doing things with sour cherries! First, they are so cheap at least at my farmers’ market. And sour cherry jam is exactly the kind of thing you can’t buy in stores, not even for ready money.

    What’s up with BlankBaby not eating fruit desserts?

  • I love small batch canning. I have a canning rack that fits in my 8qt stockpot that I can process up to 4 pints or 5 half-pints in. The smallest batch I have ever processed was 1 half-pint of cranberry sauce for my mom. She’s the only one who eats it so when I made the batch for Thanksgiving I put some into a half-pint jar, processed it and sent it home with her. It worked great. πŸ™‚ Thanks for the cherry jam recipe, I can’t wait to try it.

  • I too would love to see a post on how your make yoghurt!

    Small batch canning sounds great! I might be doing that soon because I really want to make apple butter to take to my boyfriend’s parents as a host gift, but I’d rather make a small batch now and then a bigger batch in the fall.

  • I’m so glad you posted this, as the “small batch canning” is something I’ve been trying to get a hold of. Often the big batches are just so daunting/time consuming, and there are fruits that need to be handled asap. As you say, any (safe) way to keep things shelf-stable is worth looking into.

  • man, i should have read this yesterday! i just preserved some sweet cherries in small-batch form and i did the same sorta thing: i stared up at the top of my pot rack at the large pot i use for processing and wondered how badly i wanted to do this?? then i realized last night was my only shot, so i grabbed the ladder and gave it a go. i do have an asparagus pot that was a gift that i rarely use – great idea!!!

  • Oh happy day! I’ve been decidedly not in the mood to make jam for whatever reason, so of course this is the time that the wild blackberries on my property are in bloom. I’ve made tarts for every relative, co-worker and neighbor and still have weeks of berry-picking ahead of me. I think I will try my hand at making a small batch of preserves this weekend – I can’t believe it never occurred to me before. Thank you for this post, it is just what I needed!

    Oh,and I would also love to see a post about how you make yoghurt.

  • I love the idea of ‘small batch’ — very much my style. Thanks for your play-by-play. That helps my immensely, since I often find myself overwhelmed in the kitchen with the coordination and timing aspect.

  • Sara, you can use stevia, truvia, or splenda for jam and jelly making with great results if you use a low/no sugar pectin. I use Sure Jell brand. I do use sugar because I prefer the taste (I have used splenda) but in very small amounts so the ingredients are the stars and not the sugar. This pectin is highly flexible and allows me lots of play with ingredients. I water bath it as usual and it is very shelf stable. Just follow the instructions in the pectin until you’re comfortable with how it works.

  • Rebecca – great point. I usually only use low-sugar pectin for pate du fruit, but I’m sure it works great for stevia jam. But just as butters have a shorter recommended shelf life than full sugar jams, no sugar jams will not have any of the preservative power of sugar. I doubt the USDA will ever be recommending no-sugar jams for room temp storage for home canners because it doesn’t provide the potent anti-bacterial and anti-fungal power sof concentrated sugar solutions (but refrigeration will work for open jars, or freezer jam will eliminate the problem). Using Splenda eliminates these issues, if that is an option, and it’s USDA approved for room temp storage home canning.

  • Loved this article! I’ve never heard of an asparagus steamer but I love the idea. As a single person with a small kitchen micro-batch anything sounds great.
    I read your blog faithfully – can’t wait for zucchini season!

  • What I loved most about this post was the link to your kitchen photo! Sweet kitchen! I’ve never seen a stove in my favorite color before.
    I’d love to hear more about how you manage as someone with a small kitchen who likes to cook. Plenty of city folks in tiny apartments would like to hear that too. My kitchen is not very big, but certainly bigger than yours. But I adore hearing space saving solutions, especially when preserving is involved.

  • marisa, this is great, but I just want to make a plea for the promised yogurt post!!! I know the basic concept but am feeling scared, silly as it is, about trying to make it without specific instructions and how to’s. When you have a moment will you please share your wisdom with us? Thanks so much!!!

  • Anita, smaller pots just make a world of difference, don’t they!
    Sarah, the water does need to be up and over the jar lids. As far as alternate sweeteners go, I’m no expert. Tarc’s said it better than I could.
    Jenn A, that’s exactly right. Jam making is essentially candy making.
    Lindsay, isn’t it amazing how much of a deterrent the thought of dirty dishes can be!
    Sara, there are a number of reasons why final yield can vary. I’m planning a post on just that topic, so check back soon.
    Dessert for Two, small batch canning is most definitely not a ridiculous idea. Often, it’s the only way to go!
    NMPatricia, I’ve been meaning to do a post on how to make yogurt for some time. I will try to hop to it soon!
    Emily, I’ve never understood why Scott doesn’t like fruit or any of the wonderful things that can be made from them. It’s a question for the ages.
    Margo, that’s a great idea and one I’ll try to get to soon. My quick answer is that to make my kitchen work, I always have to think vertically (a folding step stool is never far away).
    Rachel, yogurt will be soon!

  • I never even thought of small batch canning- if I only make a little, I just pop it in the fridge. Of course, I have boys and co-workers who make quick work of anything home-made. This is a good idea to try new recipes or make use of the last of the fruit. I just bought 4 pints of blueberries, so I may do a small batch! Philosophical question- is it really small batch if I make 20 pints but of 4-5 different things all at the same time?

  • Wow – an asparagus pot, never thought of that. I’ve got my big canning kettle and last year, I picked up a smaller enameled pot with lid at the thrift store. It fits a 8-inch cake pan rack perfectly, although before I bought the rack, I twist-tied a bunch of canning jar lids together to keep the jars from touching the bottom of the pot. If I remember correctly, I can fit 5 half-pint jars or 4 pint jars in the pot, which is great for small-batch preserving. Particularly great for making chutney and apple butter. I also use this pot when sterilizing jars for pickled eggs and for yogurt.

    Also, regarding sugar substitutes for jams and jellies, Ball and Mrs. Wages brands both sell pectin packets specially formulated to work with reduced sugar, Splenda, or fruit juice.

  • Althoguh we have fresh produce all year round, I’m intrigued by the idea of canning. Especially pickling. I’m so glad I found your blog. I recently bought some gorgeous Italian canning jars and I have pickled beets on my mind.

  • I finally found someone with a cherry tree this year! I was super excited. So far I have frozen most of them. My air conditioner is very barely functioning and my landlord is very unsympathetic-and I have not been in the mood to stand in a super hot kitchen making jam. So I pitted the cherries and stuck them in the freezer for later use and/or jamming. I did, however, make some jam for the fridge because I wanted to eat it now! πŸ™‚ I used no recipe what so ever, just cherries and sugar, boiled it for a while, then let it cool. So yummy! I feel like summer is here now. πŸ™‚

  • I’ve been on the look out for an asparagus pot for just this reason! My best friend’s mom often does dill pickles one jar at a time as the cucumbers from her garden ripen. I haven’t tried it but here’s how she does it:

    For 1 Quart:
    2 heads dill
    1 clove garlic
    1 tbsp coarse salt
    Β½ tbsp sugar
    pinch of alum
    2 cups water
    ΒΌ cup white vinegar

    Process 5 minutes

    Wash freshly picked cucumbers. (Optional: soak overnight in cold water.)Fill sterilized jars with cucumbers, putting one head of dill and half the garlic in bottom and the rest about halfway up the jar. Add the sugar, salt and alum on top. Boil the vinegar and water 2 or 3 minutes. Pour while hot over the cucumbers and seal with sterilized lids. Process in boiling water.

  • I love this idea! I have to admit, I’m still totally intimidated by the idea of making preserves, especially in a big batch, and the idea of being able to easily make and process just one or two sounds to me like a really great way to start out. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Last year’s sour cherry jam was DELICIOUS, Marisa (and I’ve still got your jar). Scott doesn’t know what he’s missing….

    Though I’m reluctant to get involved with a sugar/sweetener debate, I do want to point out the Ball Blue Book says that you can reduce, eliminate, or substitute sweeteners. It’s important to distinguish between preservation and safety. If you’re processed your jam properly in a water bath canner, it won’t go bad anytime soon so long as it’s sealed no matter what you do with the sugar. Taste, texture, and looks are another matter, though, and reduced/substituted sugar jams certainly won’t last as long in the refrigerator. So, yes, it’s OK to use stevia to create a shelf-stable jam, but don’t expect it to perform exactly like a full-sugar jam, even if you use low-sugar pectin.

  • I am new to the website, but I LOVE IT!!! Also, I’m new to canning. Did you use a rack in the asparagus pot? I don’t understand the deal with keeping it off the bottom of the pan. I’ve been using a stockpot, with another pan’s smaller lid in the bottom as a “rack”, but it prevents me from using pint jars (too tall). I guess I should just break down and buy a proper pot and rack. Also, with the sugar/sugar substitute debate, do I have to use any sugar or sugar substitute, like when canning whole fruits, or can I just use water? What about when making jams with no-sugar pectin?

  • I love the idea of using the asparagus pot! I’ve used mine for other things (boiling small amts. of pasta and eggs). I’ll answer Tori’s question about the rack: It’s to keep the glass from rattling and breaking. In a pinch, I use a stockpot with an old dishtowel at the bottom.

  • I love reading everyone’s comments, they’re quite helpful and well, just great ideas… using a smaller asparagus pot; a dish towel at the bottom and this “micro-batching” is the way to go for me right now…Bree,thanks for sharing the dill recipe. I love the idea of using up the ripest/freshest seasonal produce and would love to see more small batch recipes. I going to give it a try.

  • My mother always made cherry jam and froze cherries. She would save the seeds, put them in cheesecloth and boil in water for an hour. This juice she would cook down, strain and sweeten. Add pectin and it was the prettiest and best tasting cherry jelly ever. Wish I had some now!

  • When you are cooking / preserving for just one or two people, the ‘micro processing’ is the only way to go. When my kids were little, the ‘hands on help’ I could get out of them was great and lended a hand to using the large equipment. But now they are on their own, and grandma has only her and grandpa to contend with…this is the way to go! Small pressure cooker is also on my ‘Santa list’ for veggies and things that can’t be done in the hot water bath.


    1. The paraffin wax sealing method isn’t at all recommended. You can probably process the jars in a boiling water bath, however I’d recommend searching for other similar recipes to find out the suggested processing time (as well as to make sure it’s a safe recipe for canning – since it calls for sealing the jars with paraffin wax, I look at the whole recipe as suspect).

  • Thanks for the asparagus pot tip. I was thinking about it but I’m trying to can green beans and tomatoes, one quart at a time. I had a neighbor (in her 80’s) that used to do only one at a time because that’s how her tomatoes came in. I asked her about it and she said she was doing that way for years. She is long gone now and I’am in the same situation with the beans and tomatoes. Any large canning pots that I’ve used in the past had a metal basket in it to lift out but it also kept the jars from touching the bottom. I was wondering if I could can without the lifter.

  • Hi – I was wondering. With the asparagus pot being so tall, can you stack half-pint jars in it? I’m new to canning and am starting with Ball’s low-sugar pectin recipes that make only 2 half-pints. Thanks so much.

  • So this is a beginner’s dumb question but what is the necessity to keeping the jars from touching the bottom of the pot during the canning process?

    1. You want to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot for two reason. The first is that the intense heat of being right next to the burner can (in some cases and this does depend on the strength of your stove) can potentially break your jars. The second is that we process our jars in a boiling water bath in order to heat the contents up high enough so that any bacteria, yeast or other harmful things are killed. You’ve got to ensure that the heat of the boiling water penetrates to the center of the jar. By elevating the jars off the bottom of the pot, you make it easier for the boiling water to circulate around the entire surface of the jars and get that heat all the way to the center.

  • Unbelievable. I was googling how to make a small batch of sour cherry preserves today (because I have two cherry trees that I was only able to harvest a small amount from) and I happened upon this post. Even though I have been following your website for a while, I had no idea you had this post. The asparagus pot is ingenius!! I have a huge pressure canner that I used to get out even to can only 3 was bulky and a huge energy waster! Thanks so much for posting this!

  • I totally butchered your recipe and it came out amazing so I thought I’d share:

    -1 apple, in 2 c water cooked down to a pulp and then reserved the water/juice after squeezing through a cheesecloth in a colander (I had no pectin on hand and didn’t want to put on a bra and go to the store)
    -1 pt sour cherries, pitted
    -1 pt sweet black cherries, 1/2ed and pitted
    -1 Tbl lime juice (1/2 lime, squeezed)
    -1/2 c sugar
    -just enough water to cover the cherries in a small pot

    then I followed your directions and came up with two 1 c jars of amazing smelling, garnet colored gloop. I was good and didn’t lick the spoon until my jars were processing in the pasta pot of water. I wish I hadn’t! Now I want to crack open a jar and eat it over ice cream, or pound cake, or even just with a spoon out of the jar. SO GOOD!

    Thanks for inspiring me!

  • Love the asparagus pot idea! I’m growing pickling cukes for pickles the first time this year and I knew to do them right I’d need to pick often and do a jar or two at a time. I remembered seeing your asparagus pot tip on here and picked one up and have been using it happily to process a jar or two of pickles at a time without having to lug up the giant canner from the basement and boil massive amounts of water every couple of days. Working wonderfully so far! Just need to be more careful about maintaining the 1″ of water over the jars since it boils away faster.

  • Thanks for all the tips. I just made some sour cherry jam in my pasta pot – using the pasta strainer as the rack. (Yes, there was more than an inch of water above the jars.) I made 5 4oz jars of jam as 2pounds of sour cherries was all that was left when we got back from our roadtrip. I ended up with about 3 cups of chopped cherries, to which I added about a cup of agave nectar and the packet of no-sugar pectin. The little bit of leftover jam that didn’t fit in the jars went into a small plastic container and straight into the fridge. I just had a bit on my toast and it’s heavenly!

    Thanks for reassuring me that it can be done.

  • I just stumbled upon Ball “RealFruit” pectin this year that is an instant pectin with no cooking. I made some strawberry jam using fantastic Oregon strawberries. It is BY FAR the very best jam I have ever had in my life!!! I highly recommend it…and it is so EASY!
    Essentially, you mash up whatever fruit you want to use, add the sugar and pectin, stir for three minutes and VOILA! It is intended as a freezer jam, (but I hate to admit, none of it made it to the freezer yet!!)
    Last night after 9 pm I made some more strawberry and also some raspberry jam from berries I picked. I made a batch with Splenda and another with a Xylitol blend sweetener. They have all set up just great…and taste wonderful!
    Check it out sometime!!!

  • I’m excited to try small batch- resolves many similar issues I have with canning, which I love to do. Maybe my 5-7 hour projects will become 2-4 hours, looking forward to it. Also, on another note, when making jam as you describe the fruit seems to dissolve with more time and heat. Even if I start with large chunks (or whole cherries). How do you preserve the junks of fruit, which I think make it a better jam?

    1. One way to maintain those chunks is to macerate the fruit in sugar overnight. Pour off all the liquid and cook it on its own until it thickens. Then add the fruit and cook just a bit more. This gives you the thickness of a jam, but with more whole fruit.

      1. I can see where that process would subject the fruit to less heat while still achieving the desired result- awsome! Thanks for your advice..

  • I have to say, long after I first saw this post, my mom gave me her asparagus pot (she is allergic to asparagus anyway) and I have been canning more than ever. I quite enjoy making single jars of things. I have had success scaling down the small batch recipes in your book even further to make single jars. It takes much less time to prepare for and I don’t have to buy any extra beyond what I already get from my CSA. A few weeks ago I made a single pint of pickled garlic scapes and a few days ago made a single pint of pickled okra. I would much rather do a pint each evening than break out the huge canning pot and heat the kitchen to desert temperatures. I plan to do this with tomatoes later in the season. I used to spend whole days canning tomatoes and now I will be able to manage the process much better. Thanks for the suggestion and also for your gorgeous and inspiring book!

  • Why is it not a USDA approved procedure? Because you boiled in a smaller pot? I did many batches in my big ole sauce pot well before I finally bought a “canner” (big ole pot)!!
    Wish I could find some sour cherries around here!

  • I love this idea, I have the same problem with space and would only be using a few of the new 1/4 pint or 1/2 pint jars from Ball to make juice-jelly gifts. I am going to find an asparagus pot which i’ve never seen b4 today,thank you for sharing. Also, can i cook the jelly/jam in an aluminum pot? I also have pyrex dishes, can jam be cooked in those? i have no space for a big pressure canner-do you know if there are little ones for micro batches? Thanks so much <3

  • Tried your idea with the aspergus pot for my small batch canning..and as a water bath it worked just fine..Sadly I gave away my canning pot, because I was alone now and couldn’t use everything and couldn’t afford to do big lots of food to give away..but I now discover I need to preserve food for healthier eating and not to waste left overs..this small batch preserving is a good solution. shall continue to follow the trend.

  • Okay – it is now 2019, and I went to your site as I am familiar with you from your books and blog, looking for ‘Cherry Jam’ and found this recipe from 2010. So Thank you, I will be trying it. However, I have to share with you some things I found amusing. I became aware of your recipes from your 2014 book ‘Preserving by the Pint’, since I had wanted small batches. LOVE the book and have made many of the recipes. So that must have come around after or because of the need for small batches for you. Then I had to laugh at the description of your use of the Asparagus pot, because that is exactly what I used when making your small batch recipes from that book. Feels like cheating and not making as big of a mess.

    So Thank you…9 years later for bringing us all you do. I am currently reading ‘The Food in Jars Kitchen’.

    1. Thank you for this lovely comment! I’m so glad to hear that my blogs and site have been so useful! And the asparagus pot really is the best for those small batches!