Do you remember making jam with your mother as a child? Picking the fruit from backyard trees, the sweet smell pervading the house?
Preserving fresh fruit and vegetables was once a thrifty necessity for most families, and many people no doubt remember their grandparents or parents ladling homemade jam into sterilised jars, or drying fruits in the kitchen.
And it wasn’t just a cost-saver, it was smart! Local produce is filled with nutrients, as well as being a great way to keep family recipes alive. While at-home food preservation may seem old-fashioned now, the skill doesn’t have to die out, because there are several new ways to preserve fresh fruit and vegetables.
Here’s a mix of traditional and modern methods to give a try.
It’s no secret that fruit and veggies taste better in season, and drying is a fantastic method to preserve flavour all year round. For drying, it’s best to use homegrown produce, because that bought in stores isn’t usually fresh enough to give the best results.
Drying is the process of dehydrating produce to stop bacteria developing in the food. The most common dried fruits and veggies include apricots, bananas, apples, figs, tomatoes, cherries, grapes, herbs and chillies, but others, such as corn and beans, can also be dried.
To dry out produce the old-fashioned way, all you need to do is blanch (briefly immerse in boiling water) and cool the produce, then hang it on a thread, using a large needle to push the thread through the produce, then put them in a cupboard (or outside, if the temperature is high and the humidity low). It’s important that the food stays at the same heat until it’s thoroughly dried, as becoming cool or damp could cause it to develop bacteria that’ll cause it to spoil.
The modern version uses a dehydrator appliance, which uses a fan to dry out the food. If you don’t want food hanging in your cupboard or if you don’t want to fork out for a new gadget, you can also dry slices of fruit, by leaving them on low in the oven all day.
If you have the space, you can keep produce in the freezer for months. Freezing also maintains high levels of vitamin C in fruits and vegetables. Before freezing, majority of fruits and veggies need to be blanched, except for a few, such as raspberries. Ginger, turmeric, herbs, berries and bananas are all OK to freeze.
You can read more about freezing meats here, and get some tips and tricks for optimum use of your freezer here.
There is nothing more satisfying than spreading a thick layer of homemade jam on toast.
Canning requires a few specific ingredients, such as pectin and sugar, as well as a big cooking pot, and the ability to thoroughly sterilise your preserving jars. If you have a dishwasher with a sterilise function, that can be used to get your jars ready for canning.
Cooking instructions differ, depending on the produce, with plenty of advice available online, but it’s important to handle all fruit and veggies carefully to avoid bruising. Canning works best with peaches, pears and plums, as well as berries such as strawberries and raspberries, and in this case, store-bought produce and even frozen berries (without added syrup) are fine to use.
The process for making chutney is the same, but sugar and vinegar are usually used in the cooking solution, rather than the pectin that makes jam set. Some cooks recommend leaving chutney to mature for about three months before eating, though, because fresh chutneys can still have a strong vinegar taste.
Pickling requires the produce to be submerged into a solution containing salt or vinegar and lemon juice or alcohol, and can be done with a variety of foods. It’s a lot faster than canning, plus the taste will be a lot different too!
Fermenting is similar, but uses salt and lactic acid to preserve the food, rather than vinegar. You can read a good explanation of the difference between pickling and fermenting here, but in short, the salt acts as a bacteria killer until enough lactic acid is produced to preserve the produce for months. The best veggies to use are radishes, cabbage, garlic, ginger and cauliflower.
Pickling and fermenting lets you get adventurous with some international styles of food too. If you’re bored with pickled onions, try making some Korean-style kimchi with cabbage and radishes, Japanese pickled ginger, European-style sauerkraut, or Indian achar, which often uses turnips, cauliflower and carrot as well as loads of lovely spices.
Plus, fermented foods are recommended as a great treatment for anyone with stomach and digestive problems.