I've always loved that old-fashioned ritual of creating homemade preserves. Not only does it feel incredibly resourceful to make the most of a crop when it is cheap and abundant, it preserves for year round enjoyment the taste of summer.
Having a store of your own chutneys, jams, pickles and sauces on hand allows you to give food a very personal touch. You can assemble a platter of store-bought cold meats, cheeses and bread for a simple lunch and then add a dish of homemade chutney or pickle to really put your stamp on it. You’ll also have a ready supply of handmade gifts. When I'm heading out the door to a friend's house for dinner, I'll often slip a little jar of something into my bag as a thank you present for the hosts. It's always so appreciated.
If your garden is not big enough to provide you with sufficient fruit or vegetables to preserve, head out of town for a day and tour pick-your-own places or roadside stalls. If you time it right, you'll be able to buy cases of fruit at a fraction of the supermarket price. You'll also find this tree-ripened fruit is blessed with so much more flavour.
Second-grade fruit, which may be slightly bruised or a little over-ripe, is perfect for making jams and chutneys - and you'll often pick up a box for just a few dollars. The key thing when preserving is not to use under-ripe produce or you’ll end up with a tasteless result.
Making your own preserves is much simpler than it may seem. Glass jars with reusable metal lids, such as those used for commercial pasta sauces and jams, are ideal for preserving, as long as they are clean and have been sterilised. To do this, wash jars thoroughly and place them in a 100°C oven for 10 minutes. Remove with an oven mitt to fill with hot preserves. Alternatively, microwave wet jars one at a time for 1 minute. Fill jars with boiling preserves and their liquids, using boiling water or syrup to overflow the jars for the last 1cm so that a clean seal can be made.
Store preserves in a cool dark place and, as long as the seal holds, they will keep for at least a year and even longer without any loss of flavour or quality. If the seal goes, however, you know that bacteria may be at work and these jars should be discarded.
Annabel Langbein is the star of the new TV ONE series Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook (7pm Saturdays).
Get Annabel Langbein's Harvest Tomato Sauce recipe .
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Get all Annabel Langbein's cooking tips here.
See the cookbook Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook for all the recipes from the TV show.