Give your dinner guests a bottle of homemade tomato & chilli sauce to enjoy. Or surprise a friend with a gift basket with a selection of your homemade jams. Little will they know how simple preserving really is.
Bottle slices of pears, apples and peaches in syrup to top your winter porridge with a blast of summery flavor. Jams are so easy to make with just equal quantities of fruit and sugar. Sauces are forgiving, boil up a mixture of plums, onions, garlic, chillis, capsicums, brown sugar and vinegar for a tasty spicy Asian-style condiment. The good old Edmond’s Cook Book has a great section on preserving, jams and sauces or check out Annabel Langbein’s recipes.
Stonefruit is the pick of the bunch for bottling, with apricots and peaches being top choices. Choose free-stone varieties Dixired, Red Haven or Springcrest to make the preparation easier. Clingstone varieties like Blackboy, Golden Haze (an earlier ripening form of Golden Queen) and the traditional Golden Queen are great for bottling with firm flesh but are a bit of work to separate the flesh from the stone. Well worth the effort! Try to handle the fruit as little as possible. Boil in a sugar syrup and pour into hot jars using the over-flow method.
Williams bon Cretien (aka Bartlett) pears are the best variety for bottling, as the flesh is firm enough to stay intact, but is still flavoursome. Choose fruit which is almost ripe, as very ripe fruit will not hold together well in the cooking and bottling process.
Apricot jam is just delicious – use varieties like Moorpark and Cluthagold for their intense flavour and colour. Another favourite is Plum jam – Satsuma is considered the best variety for jams and sauces with it’s rich, dark red flesh and strong flavour. Autumn raspberries like Waiau make a great jam (harvest the fruit then cut the canes down to ground level).
Proper Agee or Mason preserving jars are becoming hard to find now, as bottling is increasing in popularity. I bought several cartons of jars for just a few dollars from a recycling centre about 5 years ago to use as candle holders for our wedding. These are now getting well used for bottling pears and peaches. I find these too big for jams and chutneys so I just collect smaller jars and bottles through the year (a great excuse to drink Phoenix Cola – the bottles are a nice size and shape, and most importantly the label is easy to peel off). Removing some labels can be tricky, but putting the jars through the dishwasher gets most of them off (just clean out the drain cover afterwards!), then using an oil (like lavender or eucalyptus) will lift off any remaining sticky adhesive. If you don’t have a dishwasher, leave the jars to soak in a sink of very hot soapy water, peel off the easy labels, then get scrubbing with green dish pad for the really stubborn labels.
And make sure to label the bottles and jars immediately after they cool. I have often thought that I will remember or be able to tell the contents by the look of them, but have regularly ended up with ‘mystery jars’.