Different Ways to Preserve Home Grown Produce
Preserving Home Grown Produce
Simple and preferable ways of processing – efficiently, ecologically and organically
Although many crops can be stored in their virgin state, some will go off quickly, so are best processed to preserve them longer. There are several ways to achieve success, varying in their complexity, cost in equipment, energy and time. You must weigh these up against the pleasure from having even more of your own. I now enjoy not only my own fresh crops, but almost every pickle, sauce, chutney and confectionery is home made. The time taken is great but freely given — especially the eating bit. The most valuable crops to process have to beand fruits; vegetables take more effort and have generally less cash value — but you can never have too much frozen .
It is important to note that badly bottled fruit and mouldy jam are rarely as harmful as vegetables which have gone off — these can be extremely hazardous. So if you skimp on instructions and detail when preserving, stick to processing fruits!
Juicing is, I find, the best way of storing fruit, other than turning it into wine! Not all crops can be easily juiced. Many can be squeezed to express the juice, or heated and/or frozen to break down the texture, then strained. Harder fruits and vegetables need to be liquidised first. Sugar or salt may be added to taste and may also improve the colour, flavour and keeping qualities. Juices may be drunk as they are, drunk as squashes diluted with water, added to cocktails and used in cooking. Fruit juices take less space in a freezer than the crop they come from and are as good afterwards, until they ferment. I freeze mine in the wax cartons and plastic bottles that milk comes in, leaving a small space for expansion. (Vegetable juices should only be consumed fresh, for safety.)
Grapes are the easiest to press and the most rewarding. You can still ferment the pips and skins afterwards, and the resulting wine tastes no worse than most of my regular brew, though that is slight praise. Grapes are best crushed first to break the skins and most of the currants and berries can be squeezed in the same way.
Apples andmust be crushed first and then squeezed, they will go through the same equipment as the more juicy fruits, but more slowly. Pulpy firm fruits, such as and , are best simmered with water till they soften then the juice strained off. Repeating the process and adding sugar to the combined juices is also the basis for jellies.
, and other fruits have such delicate flavours that they are best frozen, then defrosted and strained — a pure juice unchanged by heating is thus obtained.
If your quantities are too large for kitchen tools, many different presses and crushers are sold and hired for home use and small-scale wine-making. Commercially, juices may be passed through micro-fine filters or flash-pasteurised; at home, they ferment rapidly in the warm, but keep for days in the refrigerator and months or years if frozen. I have two freezers, one for juices and one for everything else, because I want to drink my own apple or grape juice, not the stuff that comes out of my tap.
Jellying and jamming
Jellying and jamming are similar, both preserving the fruit in a sugary jell. The difference is that jelly is made from the juice, while jam contains the seeds, skins and sometimes whole fruits or pieces thereof. A conserve is just an expensive jam usually implying more fruit and less sugar or filler. Freezer jams are conserves made with so little sugar that they go mouldy quickly unless kept frozen and then used from the refrigerator.
Almost any fruit can be jammed or jellied — and there are many that are only palatable once treated in this way. The fruit is cooked to the – point of breaking up the cells so that the juices run. The juice is then turned to a jell with sugar, which acts as preservative as well. Most fruits need to have up to their own weight of sugar added to them to make a setting jell. With jellies the juice is often augmented with the squeezings of the fruit pulp reheated with some water. These juices are thinner and require proportionately more sugar to set.
Jellies are made from the strained juice and set clear and bright. Many people prefer them because of the absence of seeds, skins, etc., though others like the textures of jams simply because of the presence of these things — and don’t forget the nutritional value. Picking fruit to make jelly is easier because the odd sprig, hard or under-ripe fruit or bit of leaf is removed when the liquid is strained. Fruit for jam requires much more careful picking and preparation. My solution for, say, blackcurrants is carefully to pick the very finest berries first, and then more roughly pick the bulk of the fruit to jelly. As the bulk is going to be strained, there is no need to be so careful to keep out the sprigs. The bulk is simmered down to a pulp, strained and then before it is set with the sugar, the finest berries are added and quickly cooked. White sugar, not brown, is traditionally used for jamming and jellying unless a strong caramel flavour is required. Honey is not really successful as the flavour is strong and it goes off when heated. Similarly, concentrated juices can add too much flavour. The amount of fruit can be increased and the sugar decreased according to your expertise at jam-making and the speed at which you eat a jar! Organic sugar is now available, but if not pure white and may add a caramel flavour to delicate preserves.
Ideally, simmer down the fruit with a minimal amount of water, strain if it is for jelly, add the sugar, bring to a boil, skim off any scum and then pot in sterile conditions. Hot jars and clean lids put on immediately improve results. Store once cold in a dark, cool place. Some fruits are difficult to set, particularly strawberries in a wet year. Adding chopped apples to the jelly fruits or their purée to the jams will supply the pectin needed to make any fruit set. Extra, for a pleasing tartness which brings out the piquant flavour of some jams, is often achieved using lemon juice. However, juice is a good substitute and even better — especially where their colour is also an advantage. White or redcurrant juice is also an aid to setting difficult jams. Their flavour is so tart yet mild that their jellies make good carriers for more strongly flavoured fruits in shorter supply, especially for and .
It is far quicker and easier to make four five-pound batches of jam than one twelve-pound one. And the result is always better — large batches have a low heating and evaporating surface compared to their volume and take much longer to process, so the fruit degrades more.
Remember: quickly simmer down to pulp, add the right amount of sugar, bring back to boil, skim, pot and seal. No standing around watching some great cauldron bubble all day!
Chutneys, sauces and pickles
Chutneys, sauces and pickles are just like jam-making with vegetables! But because these are prone to go off, we add vinegar and salt to the sugar, or even to replace it entirely. Many vegetables, such as, , and , are combined with fruits, such as apples, raisins and , in chutneys and these are truly a feast of goodness if well made. Tomato sauce is ripe tomato jam with vinegar and spices; many other sauces are based on this with more or less chilli/tamarind/pepper. The vegetables may be salted first, but otherwise are often almost raw in pickles such as piccalilli (small bits in a sauce). What healthier food could there be?
Drying is a traditional way of preserving. It loses some flavour but concentrates the food in a much smaller volume — so use dried herbs sparingly. Many foods can be dried if they are simply sliced thinly and exposed to warm dry air. Sealed in dark containers, kept cool and dry, they will last for long periods to be eaten dried or reconstituted when required. However, in the humid air of the UK and much of maritime Europe and North America, drying is not quick enough, nor is it helped by the low temperatures in the same regions. Making solar-powered dryers — simply wire trays under glass with good— allows fruit to be dried to a larger extent, but in the regions with the highest humidity the food may still go mouldy before it dries. And of course flies etc. must be excluded!
I find that slicing the food thinly and hanging the pieces separated by at least their own thickness on long strings over my cooking range provides the dry warmth and ventilation needed to desiccate most within a day or two. The easiest kinds, such as apples, will dry overnight. Oven drying with artificial heat is risky because it can cook the food, destroying the value, texture and keeping properties. It is possible if the temperature is kept down and the door kept partly open. Oven-drying is convenient, though, for finishing off partly dried samples after you have done other baking — the decaying heat desiccates well with little risk of caramelising or burning.
for drying are usually best gathered once the dew has dried off them. Hang them in small bunches, upside down, in a dark, very airy place. Bright light bleaches out the colour, so some shading may be necessary. Once they are completely dry, they can be crushed to go in jars or sealed in paper bags in a tin.
Freezing captures flavours lost by drying. It is especially good for herbs which can be frozen and need almost no time to defrost — especiallyand . These can even be conveniently frozen as portion-controlled ice cubes in water or oil. Most fruits freeze easily with little preparation, unlike vegetables which need blanching first. Blanching is merely chopping the vegetables up and immersing them in boiling water for a minute or more and then chilling them again before freezing. It is extra work and uses fuel but then you can eat your own produce throughout the year.
Obviously only the very best is worth freezing, few things are improved by the process! Most fruits turn to soggy lumps in a pool of juice when defrosted which is not as appetising as the well-textured fresh product. However, they are still packed full of sweetness, flavour and vitamins, so are well worth having for culinary use especially in tarts, pies, sauces and compotes. A mixture of frozen fruits is marvellous if they are de-chilled, but not totally defrosted, so they retain their frozen texture like pieces of sorbet, and served with cream.
For most fruits and blanched vegetables, merely putting them in sealed freezer bags or boxes is sufficient. However, they do tend to freeze in a block, making later piecemeal usage difficult. You can avoid this by freezing them loose on open wire drying trays or greased baking trays before packing them. Fruits that are cut or damaged need to be drained first or, if you have a sweet tooth, they can be dredged in sugar which absorbs the juice before freezing them. Stone fruits are best destoned before freezing, as the stone can give antaint. The tough-skinned fruits such as tomatoes or plums should have their skins removed after freezing and before use. The easiest way to do this is carefully to squeeze the frozen fruit after immersion in very hot water when the skin will slip off easily. Foods lose nutritional value slowly in the freezer, although fruits do not deteriorate as badly or as quickly as vegetables, meats or fatty products.