Making Preserves

Preserving is one of the most important skills in self sufficient living. It has been used since people first learned to cook. Today it is a way of keeping flavours at their best, but in earlier centuries it was a method of survival.

All food is subject to decay from micro-organisms, bacteria, yeasts and moulds. Some are harmless; others, not. The object of preserving food is to inhibit all decay. Sugar, salt, vinegar and alcohol are agents of preservation. Heat treatment can preserve fruit, a traditional method of preserving being drying, and freezing is a new one. Canning is greatly used commercially.

You do not have to be a self-sufficiency enthusiast to enjoy making preserves at home: in fact, more and more people are turning to it. If you have a glut of fruit in your garden, make it into jams, jellies and chutneys, to last through the winter and beyond. Even if you don’t have a garden, you can buy red cabbage to make a crisp pickle, which will have a far better flavour than any you can buy in shops. If you visit a pick-it-yourself strawberry farm, pick some extra berries for jam.

One of the greatest pleasures in making preserves is to give them as presents. Add a few drops of liqueur to bottled fruits; present crystalized fruit in pretty, ornamented., gift-wrapped boxes. Home-made gifts are always really appreciated.

Equipment needed A good-quality preserving pan is a worthwhile investment if you intend to make preserves from year to year. Never use a copper pan for pickles or chutneys: the copper reacts with the vinegar and spoils the flavour. If you do not own a preserving pan, use a wide, heavy-based pan made from stainless steel or aluminium. Don’t leave fruit to stand in an aluminium pan: the acid may pit the surface of the metal.

You may re-use jars that have been carefully sterilized. Buy commercially produced waxed paper and cellophane seals to cover them. You can use screw-top lids with chutneys and pickles, provided they have plastic linings.

When you make jellies, you can buy a jelly bag, but it is quite easy to strain the juice through some six layers of butter muslin, first scalded; or even use a clean, scalded tea towel.

Choosing fruit and vegetables Choose slightly under-ripe, acid fruit for jams and jellies; even-sized fruit for bottling; crisp, young vegetables for making chutneys and pickles.

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