It took me a while to figure out how to come up with a good system that would mean I could preserve a lot in a day, without being too utterly exhausted at the end of it. This was my first summer of working to create our homemade pantry, so I knew I’d have a bit of a learning curve while I started preserving food in much bigger quantities than I’d ever done before.
I was also pregnant with baby Abigail, so my energy and stamina weren’t all up to normal, depending on the day. I was even working on preserving the last of our garden produce after she was born, in between nursing sessions, diaper changes, and times when she just wanted to be snuggled by momma. If you’re looking to start preserving food, I hope these tips are helpful for you, just like they were for me! I’d also love to hear your tips and thoughts in the comments if you have experience preserving and have something else to share!
1. Have separate picking and processing days
While not everyone may need to do this, picking mulberries out in the heat was exhausting, and so was making jam. I decided early on that I’d pick one day and process the next day. That meant I had time and energy to do everything I needed to do, and do it well.
2. Don’t be afraid to make small batches
There’s a lot to be said for making things in small batches. Most of the tomatoes I canned this year when I was working on my homemade pantry were made in small batches, sometimes I made just one quart jar or pint jar at a time, because that’s what I had to set aside. This blog post from Chicken Scratch NY was what encouraged me to get into the habit of making small batches of preserved food.
When you have a big goal, and you’re a bit of a perfectionist who tends to be all-or-nothing, canning a jar or two hardly seems worth the effort. Whenever I would slip into this mindset, I’d remind myself of my favorite anti-procrastination mantra, Progress is perfection. Making progress toward my goals is literally the best action I can take, therefore it is perfect, even if it isn’t what I want.
3. Have recipes posted somewhere easily accessible
When I found a recipe I liked, I wrote it on the white board I have in my dining room, so anywhere in the kitchen I could easily reference the recipe. That meant no pulling up the recipe over and over again on the computer. I also saved the recipe I used in my Preserving Log Spreadsheet, so it was there for easy reference if I needed it later.
I tend to focus on making one type of recipe each day when we’re processing produce, but if you’re making multiple recipes, you can do what my mom always did – use a piece of scotch tape and tape a recipe on the cabinet above your work space, so you can see what you’re doing.
4. Buy ingredients in bulk
Sugar and lemon juice were the big ones I used this month for the jam and syrups, so rather than buying lots of small bags, we got 25 pound bags of sugar and the biggest containers of lemon juice we could find. That saved us a lot of trouble, and trips to the store.
When we’re out of berries to preserve, I’ll switch to buying things like salt and spices for our other garden produce-based recipes in bulk, so things like salt and basic spices aren’t running out in the middle of canning day.
5. Learn what fruit can be preserved in it’s own juices
I learned that pineapple and pears can be processed in plain water, with no other additives. That was nice for a few reasons: it meant that I could just add the pineapples to the water, boil them for 10 minutes to release the excess air trapped in the fruit and then process them in the steam canner.
I liked doing this because it meant I wouldn’t be feeding my family so much sugar and we could really learn to savor and appreciate the flavor of the fruit. It also meant that we saved a lot of money by not having to use up more sugar to preserve the fruits safely.
6. Choose the easiest recipes possible
One of my family’s favorite recipes I made this year was pear sauce (think applesauce, but made with pears!) which was fine by me because it was one of the easiest things to make in my big 8-quart Instant Pot. After making jams with mulberries, making the pear sauce was so easy it felt almost like cheating.
When you’re preserving a lot of produce, believe me, anything you can do to safely cheat your way to an easier day is something you can, and should, do!
7. Prep and label containers beforehand
When I had tomatoes that were going into freezer bag to become a meal, I always label them beforehand and stick the bags in my bag holders. For $10 I got a set of 4 on Amazon, and I swear I don’t know how I ever did without them! No more spilled bags, and they hold everything open for me when I’m making my freezer meals.
8. Avoid unnecessary steps in your preserving process
There’s lots of old advice out there when it comes to preserving food, especially when it comes to canning! Things like preheating your jar lids and pre-sterilizing your jars is completely unnecessary. Healthy Canning. has a great summary here on what the experts are saying about pre-sterilization of your jars before you can.
When you’re freezing food, know exactly what you need to do, and what you can skip in, order to save yourself time and energy. For example, berries don’t need to be washed before you freeze them – it can actually make them mushy and weird in the freezer. I know this because I froze 8 gallon sized bags of mulberries that I washed prior to freezing, and they were a mushy, weird mess. I used them for baking, so it turned out just fine.