Preserving the harvest
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Date: 18 October, 2007
'Some vegetables, such as parsnips and carrots, can over-winter in the ground.'
Suzanne Elvidge looks at alternative ways of saving food to cut down on trips to the supermarket
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John Keats talked of autumn as ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’. It’s the time of the year to preserve all those blackberries and sloes you’ve picked, and all those vegetables and fruit you’ve grown. Just think of all the trips to the supermarket you will save.
With many homes having a fridge freezer, freezing has become the most common way of preserving food. Keeping your freezer full helps it to run more efficiently.
Open freeze whole small fruit and vegetables or chopped larger ones, or freeze raw or cooked fruit and vegetables as a puree for sauces, soups and stews. Blanching vegetables before freezing helps them keep longer.
Freezing fruit in sugar syrup or dry sugar can help preserve the colour. You can freeze chopped herbs in ice cube trays or dry-freeze whole leaves.
You can dry herbs, tomatoes and other fruit in the microwave. You could also try oven drying or sun drying fruit and vegetables, or make fruit roll-ups or fruit ‘leather’ (you can even do this in the microwave).
If you are feeling handy, you can build a low-cost solar dehydrator (sorry, we can promise the sun that you’ll need though). However, if you want to keep it simple, you can just hang herbs up to dry.
Some vegetables, such as parsnips and carrots, can over-winter in the ground. Leeks can be ‘heeled in’ and potatoes stored in straw heaps called ‘clamps’.
I have childhood memories of our pantry full of Kilner jars of tomatoes, runner beans, blackcurrants, rhubarb (not the cartoon dog) and apples.
In bottling (‘canning’ in the USA), raw or cooked vegetables or fruit are packed tightly into hot, sterilised jars, covered in hot brine or sugar syrup and then sealed immediately. For fruit, adding some alcohol to the sugar syrup helps preservation and gives the result a bit of something extra.
Pickles and chutneys
Pickling food is generally thought of as preserving it in vinegar but it also includes fermenting food in brine, such as sauerkraut (pickled cabbage).
Chutneys (originally an Indian dish) tend to combine both sugar and vinegar to preserve the fruit and vegetables, and are used as an ‘extra’, especially with cheese. You can make chutney out of almost any fruit or vegetable, including green or red tomatoes, marrow, pears and apples and courgettes.
Traditional pickled vegetables include onions (I put dried chillies in mine), beetroot (I’ve even been known to put dried chillies in these), and piccalilli. You can even pickle eggs.
Jams, jellies and all the rest…
Jam is a fruit preserve, usually made with whole or chopped fruit. Jellies are jams without the bits, made by straining the fruit after cooking.
Jellies are good for very ‘seedy’ fruits – bramble jelly saves you spending all day picking the pips out of your teeth. Jams and jellies use soft fruit but some recipes, such as strawberry jam, may need added pectin to help them set. You can buy sugar with added pectin or include high pectin fruit in the jam.
Fruit butters and cheeses are made from fruit purees and sugar, and can even use the pulp left after making fruit jellies. Fruit butters are softer and last only a few weeks; fruit cheese will keep for around four months.
Damson cheese goes well with meat and pear cheese goes well with Manchego cheese. Fruit curds are richer because they include eggs and may include butter, and are commonly made with lemons, but can be made with other fruits, including apples, gooseberries or blackcurrants.
Fruit cordials are another way of preserving soft fruit through the winter, and can be diluted as a drink, or used in desserts or poured over ice cream. Blackcurrant cordial is full of antioxidants and vitamin C.
You can also make cordials out of blackberries, elderberries, redcurrants and raspberries, and even rhubarb. Alcoholic versions, such as sloe gin and rowan vodka, are a wonderful way to remember summer in the depths of the cold.
Preserving in sugar
As in the jams and jellies, sugar is a great way to preserve fruit. You can make your own glace fruit by steeping fruit in stronger and stronger solutions of sugar (this recipe uses corn syrup as well, but according to this message board you can use golden syrup instead).
If you get serious about this, you’ll need a good supply of jars and bottles – you could save used ones from anything from fish paste to sweets, get them through Freecycle, or buy them in bulk on eBay.