This year, more than any other, we've had great interest in food preserving. It's one of our most frequently asked questions..."How do I get into preserving?" If you can slice, and have access to quantity of fruit and veg, empty glass jars, and a large pot, then you can get started with preserving.
When I was in my teens living on acreage on Sydney's rural fringe Mum and Dad would pick buckets of produce and bottle it in syrup, jam, pickles, and chutneys. Mum still speaks of the pride and joy she experienced sliding open their pantry door and seeing the bottled bounty produced from the garden.
More than 20 years ago when Duncan and I moved to Nundle, friends were getting rid of preserving gear. We were given a burnt orange 1970s metal Fowlers Vacola preserver and dozens of jars and lids. We added an electric Fowlers preserver to our tool kit, and Mum has since given us their teal green 1940's metal preserver. Some seasons at the peak of the fruit and vegetable harvest they all get a work out. These days food preserving is being revived, with people seeing fruit on trees and vegetables in their garden as an asset not to be wasted.
If you are starting out it's probably best to use what is on hand as much as possible. If you have access to a Fowlers Vacola unit and a legacy of Fowlers jars and metal lids, fabulous. You can top up on rings and whatever you are short of (jars, lids, clips, thermometer, jar tongs, bottle opener). Otherwise start collecting empty glass jars and if you have a large pot, enough to hold half a dozen jars and fill with water half way up the jars, you're set. Once you have your kit together it's a lifelong resource.
Next, look for recipes, at home, in second hand shops or online, that you and your family will enjoy. A good starting point is anything by the CWA, Sally Wise, or websites like Milkwood Permaculture. Sometimes I'll enter whatever I have excess of, beetroot for example, into a search engine and see what recipes turn up. Depending on what you want to make you might need to stock up on vinegar, sugar, herbs and spices. If you are consuming a small quantity of preserves within a week, refrigeration will prevent spoilage. If you want a longer shelf life, that's when heat processing in a hot water bath becomes essential. Before you know it you'll be dolloping homemade pickles onto cooked meats, jam onto toast, and fruit onto porridge.
With purpose built shelving storing pickled eggplant, capsicum, cucumber, passata, plums, pears, apples and fejoa, now it's us enjoying that feeling of satisfaction at the preserved food on hand, reducing waste and cutting down food miles (and fuel usage). We just need to remind ourselves and the children to look for fruit bottled on the shelf instead of in the crisper drawer of the fridge. And it's us giving Mum and Dad food from our garden instead of the other way around.
Our Favourite Bread and Butter Cucumber Pickles, from 'Cornersmith', Alex Elliott-Howery and James Grant
What you need: 2 kg cucumbers, 2 tablespoons salt, 1 litre (4 cups) white wine vinegar, 220 g (1 cup) caster sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric, 2 small brown onions, thinly sliced, 3 teaspoons brown mustard seeds, 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, 2 teaspoons dill seeds, 2 teaspoons chilli flakes, 12-18 black peppercorns.
What you do: Slice cucumbers thinly into rounds. Place in a bowl, sprinkle with salt and leave to sit for a couple of hours or overnight, to draw out excess liquid. Transfer to a large colander and drain.
Sterilise jars, washing in hot soapy water, rinse then place in a cold oven. Heat oven to 110C and leave for 10 minutes before removing carefully. Sterilise lids in a large saucepan of boiling water for five minutes, then leave to dry on wire rack or dry with clean paper towel.
Make a brine by combining vinegar, sugar, turmeric and 500 ml (2 cups) of water into medium non-reactive saucepan over low heat. Stir to dissolve sugar, then increase heat to bring to boil for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.
Use tongs or packing stick to pack cucumbers into jars (a wide mouth funnel helps), adding 2-3 peppercorns to each jar. Carefully fill the jars with hot brine, completely covering cucumbers and removing air bubbles sliding a skewer around inside of jar to release air pockets. Add more brine if needed, leaving 1 cm gap from rim of jar. Wipe rims and seal.
To heat process lay a folded tea towel in the bottom of your largest pan. Sit jars on tea towel, avoiding cramming jars or touching pan sides. Match water temperature to jar temperature to avoid jar breakage, pouring in enough water to cover jars either completely or three-quarters. Bring to boil over medium heat. Heat process for 10 minutes from boiling point. Carefully remove hot jars from water. Jar tongs are a good investment. Let them cool overnight. Remove lid clips if used and store in a cool, dark place for up to 12 months. Once opened, store in refrigerator and use within a week.