I was lucky, nay, blessed to be able to stay at home and raise children while writing. Some of the days that gave me most satisfaction were the ones I played Happy Hausfrau and made my own preserves. I was a mad preserver, in the early days even bottling my own fruit, but mostly it was “putting up” the bountiful produce from the country town we lived in, in the form of jams, jellies, marmalades, relishes and chutneys. Preserving is, hands down, my favourite thing to do in the kitchen, and after a busy day simmering and potting I’d line up my jars on the windowsill and admire the light streaming through the jewel tones of this quotidian leadlight. Satisfying.
Those days are gone. Not only do I work outside the home now, I actually have three jobs. Many things have gone out the window - including my youngest child, now a latchkey kid who has forgotten his key on occasion - but preserving isn’t one of them.
Why? After all, making your own jams, jellies, marmalades and chutneys isn't necessary any more, as it was once upon a time. But it isn’t something you do because you NEED to do, it’s something you do because it ISN’T. Because slowing down and taking the time to do something completely unnecessary is a luxury many of us can actually benefit enormously from. You have taken the time to do this, to meditatively chop, weigh, and stir. To make a statement to yourself and the world that your time in the kitchen isn’t just about getting dinner on the table in 10 minutes. It’s about drawing people to the hub of the home with sweet smells and mysterious sounds. It’s about being playful, and yes, showing off. It's about stewardship in a time when it is becoming increasingly important to value and use our resources.
Besides. Homemade preserves taste so damned good.
Commercial brands - even posh commercial brands - may boast chunky bits of fruit or good flavour, but they can in no way compare with the real, homemade thing. (And yes, Maggie Beer, I’m looking at you and your pathetic quince paste.)
Over the next few entries I’m going to take you through the basics of making preserves, jams, marmalades and jellies, as well as making time. Got your wooden spoon? Let’s go!
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
* A preserving pan. This can be your pasta pot, or it can be a specialised preserving pan - it doesn’t matter. What does matter, however, is that if you see a gorgeous copper pot you think can be used for preserving, you be sure it’s meant for preserving purposes. Untreated copper can react with fruit and ruin it.
* A long wooden spoon. Just one will do. But make it long, because some thicker preserves are like molten lava, and the last thing you want is any of it on your skin.
* A saucer. This is to test for setting point (more on this in Tutorial #2).
* A supply of jars with lids, or old glasses and covers. The best jars, I reckon, are the ones with metal lids that have a plastic coating on the inside: non-reactive, and boy do they do an airtight seal. When I run out of jars, I use glasses - usually the odd glasses left over from old sets we’ve slowly gone through - and Vacola Kleerview Jar Covers. No preserver’s home should ever be without at least one packet of Kleerviews. (Before Kleerview covers there was greaseproof paper dipped in eggwhite. You can try this if you like, but it’s just one step too many for me these days.)
STERILISING AND WARMING THE JARS
Your preserves need to go into hot, sterilised jars. No arguments. It is a bane, but absolutely necessary. The best, easiest, and quickest method is in the microwave, but the conventional one is to:
1. Place jars in large pot with cold water to cover, and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 min. Carefully pull jars out of water.
2. Place jars in a low oven to dry out completely, and to keep warm (NEVER put hot preserves into cold jars).
STEP-BY-STEP JAM AND CONSERVE
1. Prepare fruit by cutting away any blemishes. If necessary, peel, pit, or de-seed. Unless you’re using berries, cut into pieces (small for jam, large chunks for conserve).
2. Add lemon juice or citric acid if needed (see Tutorial #2).
3. Add water. You need barely enough to cook the fruit - for example, a couple of tablespoons for a large amount of berries (small amounts of berries may need none) to a cup or two for larger quantities of other fruit. In any case, don’t go overboard!
4. Simmer until fruit is soft and pulpy.
5. Measure fruit pulp, and re-heat to boiling.
6. Add required amount of sugar (see Tutorial #2). Stir until sugar is dissolved. Add any spices or flavourings you may desire.
7. Cook, uncovered, at a fast boil, until setting point is reached (15-20 min).
8. Skim off any scum, and fill warm, sterilized jars to the brim. If preserve has lots of big chunks, allow it to cool for 10-15, give it a stir, and then turn into jars; this will ensure that fruit is evenly distributed through the preserve. Fit lids on IMMEDIATELY. Label, and store in a cool, dark place.
1. Wash fruit, slice thinly. Cover with water, and let stand overnight, or for several hours.
2. Place fruit and water in preserving pan, and simmer until rind is tender (1 hour approx).
3. Measure pulp, then reheat to boiling. (If you’re a wimpy sissy person who would like less rind, strain out as much as you need to before measuring.)
4. Add required amount of sugar. Stir to dissolve.
5. Cook, uncovered, at a fast boil, until setting point is reached (15-20 min).
6. Skim off any scum, and fill warm, sterilized jars to the brim. If preserve has lots of big chunks, allow it to cool for 10-15, give it a stir, and then turn into jars; this will ensure that fruit is evenly distributed through the preserve. Fit lids on IMMEDIATELY. Label, and store in a cool, dark place.
1. Wash fruit and chop roughly, leaving on skins, cores, pips, etc.
2. Place in large preserving pan, and cover with water.
3. Simmer until soft and pulpy (1 hour approx.).
4. Pour into jelly bag, or fine strainer lined with a clean, wet Chux, and let stand overnight (or several hours, at least). Do not press or squeeze fruit, as this will cloud the jelly.
5. Measure liquid.
6. Heat liquid over high heat until boiling, then add 3/4 cup sugar per measured cup of liquid. Stir to dissolve.
7. Cook, uncovered, at a fast boil, until setting point is reached.
8. Skim off any scum, and fill warm, sterilized jars to the brim. Fit lids on IMMEDIATELY. Label, and store in a cool, dark place.