Monday, 1 February 2010

Preserves ~ notes both general and particular

Making preserves is almost as simple as stewing fruit and not much more work.  It's a lot less time-consuming than making jam and requires a fraction of the sugar.  Having said that, it is more demanding in terms of timing, and the appearance and texture of preserved fruit is important, a key difference to jam making in which it matters little if at all.  

Many people freeze produce rather than preserving it, but I find preserving simpler: the great advantage is that when you want to use the fruit it's ready immediately, and if the power goes off you have nothing to worry about.
I'll update this article as I do more preserving, so information given here may change from time to time. 

General method:
This should be read in conjunction with the article about pop-top jars.
  • Get your jars washed and have them ready and waiting, preferably more than you expect to need.  I find that a stock pot of fruit usually fills as many jars as I can fit lying down in the sink and then four or five more!  You'll work out your own rule of thumb.
  • You'll need enough water so that your fruit can be moved around gently while cooking without being excessive. The fruit will produce liquid of it's own. It's better to have too much syrup than not enough because each jar needs to be filled to the brim and it you don't have enough you'll have to top up your jars with boiling water.  Excess syrup can be pleasant to drink or added to cereal. 
  • Make sure you've got enough sugar - you probably won't need all that much - see notes below.
  • Prepare your fruit, doing any slicing with care so that fruit is pleasing to look at and easy to eat. 
  • If blanching to loosen the skins, as with peaches and tomatoes, pierce each piece of fruit with the tip of a vegetable knife before placing it in a bowl and pouring boiling water over them.  Leave them there only briefly as fruit will begin to cook and become difficult to handle if left too long.  
  • Once peeled or otherwise prepared you may wish to place fruit directly in water to stop it from browning but be sure to...
  • ...Weigh it first! Write down the amount and the date! 
  • Calculate the amount of sugar needed and have it measured out and ready.  The natural sweetness of fruit varies considerably, so I've recorded the amounts I've used in the notes that follow the method, but tastes vary and it's important to sample it before you fully cook the fruit.  If you need more, that is the time to add it.  Write down all amounts and adjustments! Properly sweetened fruit should leave the palate fresh; too much will leave a cloying after-taste. 
  • Working out ratios for any quantity of fruit: using a five to one ratio as an example, which in this case would represent five parts of fruit to one part of sugar, take the weight of your fruit, divide it by five to get one fifth, and the fifth is the amount of sugar you'll need. If you wanted a five to two ratio, you would multiply the one fifth by two, and so on.
  • Cook your fruit in water until just simmering.
  • Add the sugar and stir gently until it has dissolved.
  • Bottle immediately the fruit is cooked and while it is still boiling.  This is where speed is of the essence as you don't want it to go mushy, with the exception of tomatoes which don't matter. 
  • When filling each jar you may wish to push fruit down with the ladle so that any excessive syrup overflows.  When you come to use your preserves you won't want too much or too little syrup. I'm happy with about a fifth or a quarter of the bottom portion of the jar being syrup only.  You'll work out what suits you. 
  • Make sure you fill jars to the brim, which is why it makes sense to have a heat resistant dish with boiling water poured into the bottom of it just next to your cooking pot to stand each jar in while you're filling it with fruit. 
  • Wash and label your jars as soon as soon as the jar lids have clicked down, and you're done! 
  • Any jars which don't seal properly can be swiftly emptied back into a small pot to re-heat and fruit can be re-bottled as soon as it has returned to boiling point.
Notes from December 2009
The only preparation required is to top and tail the fruit and wash it.  Even well-ripened gooseberries are very sour, so the syrup has much more sugar in it than most other preserved fruit: I use three parts of fruit to one part of sugar, and a minimal amount of water; others may prefer a ratio of two parts of fruit to one part of sugar.  Whatever the case, be sure to get it tasting how you like it before bottling it as sugar added later doesn't produce the same flavour and your valuable fruit won't be as delicious as it should be. This fruit is particularly vulnerable to losing its shape and colour so be vigilant with the cooking process or you'll end up with green or even pink mush!

Red currants:
Notes from December 2009
I have made 'fool', a dessert of fruit purée and whipped cream, from both gooseberries and red currants, as noted in my earlier article.  I liked it so much I preserved some fruit purée so that I could make some in winter as a special treat.  I used three parts of fruit to one part of sugar and again an absolute minimum of water.
I haven't made preserves of currants in any other form, but have enjoyed those made by others.  

Notes from February 2009
Spent $18 at the Farmers Market on an 8.5 kilo box of Ettrick Gold. Purchased on 21st February and bottled on 25th February. I left it sitting in the box too long so some was wasted - once it begins to go off it rots very fast!  In the normal scheme of things wastage from the removal of stones and blemishes is about a sixth of the original weight.
     Once the fruit was fully prepared for cooking there was still about six kilos.  
    When cooking it helps to keep the size of batches small so that fruit doesn't overcook and go mushy while decanting it into jars.  I use my 6 litre stockpot which takes 2.5 kilos of prepared fruit comfortably.  I use two cups of sugar (450 grams) per 2.5 kilos of fruit, and about ten cups of water.  The ratio of fruit to sugar I have found suits my taste works out at about five parts of prepared fruit to one part of sugar which gave it an excellent flavour.  The Edmonds Cookbook suggests much more.
    The amount of water used was just enough so that I could stir the fruit without bruising it as I wanted the pieces to keep their shape.  Do be careful not to overcook the fruit, which makes it mushy. 
    To give you an idea of the yield I got 11 large jars and five medium ones from this lot! 

Notes from February 2009.
This fruit had been sun-ripened to perfection inland at Ettrick Gardens and was meltingly superb in the way one hardly ever finds in shop-bought fruit.  I didn't record the weight, only the number of nectarines which was reduced to 40 after we'd eaten a few; cost $19.45. This orchard sells from its own gate in Ettrick as well as at the Farmers Market in Dunedin on Saturdays.
    Fruit was purchased on the 5th and bottled on the 8th.  The season was a fortnight late that year, with the main harvest expected to be in mid February.
    I blanched the fruit so that the skins would peel off easily - very briefly so as not to soften the fruit more than was necessary; even so the fruit was very slippery and the stones tended to split when cutting. 
    For the 40 nectarines I used 2 cups of sugar. The syrup was just right, retaining the delicate flavour of the fresh fruit and leaving the palate refreshed.
    Yield: seven good-sized jars.

Black Boy Peaches:
These seem to fruit later than ordinary peaches and I don't think I've ever seen them in the shops.  Once ripened they spoil extremely rapidly which could well be the reason, particularly deceptively as they commonly go brown from around the stone; even with careful handling wastage may be anything from a third to half of the initial weight.  However, they are delicious if prepared properly, so if you know anyone with a tree make sure you're nice to them! 
    Last year I had a lovely lot from my mother, which after preparation weighed about four kilos. I used about a cup and a half of sugar (about 330 grams) in the syrup.  From this I got twelve medium jars, of the sort which would have been labelled as holding 400 to 500 grams originally.


Rather to my astonishment I got ten kilos of tomatoes from my rather neglected and late-ripening vines. Much of the fruit finished ripening on our long sitting room window sill after the weather got too wet and cold to leave them on the vines any longer.  I preserved them by blanching them by pouring boiling water over them and then pealing them, cutting out the fibrous bit where the stalk joins, chopping them up and then cooking them in their own juice - no water, no salt, no sugar, no nothing - just pure and unadulterated tomato - it was scrumptious and beats anything you can get in a tin hollow. By that time I was suffering from jam and preserves fatigue or I would have done heaps more of bought ones. 

More of my articles about jam and preserves as well as other food articles can be found listed together via the link below:

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