Preserving Nature’s Bounty

If you’ve embraced the ‘grow your own’ phenomenon and are anticipating a larder overflowing with home-grown goodies, or if you love foraging in the hedgerows come harvest time but are never sure what to do with the fruits of your labour – we can help.

With a few hours of your time and a little effort, you can transform nature’s bounty into wonderful gifts for friends and loved ones, thoughtful presents with a difference that capture the wholesome flavours of summer and can be enjoyed for months to come.

Garden vegetables from your plot, berries ripened on bushes by the wayside, tangy fruits grown in greenhouses, exotic spices nurtured on the kitchen windowsill… there’s an abundant variety of produce that can be bottled, pickled and preserved to tempt all tastes, from the sweetest tooth to lovers of all things savoury. Even if you aren’t able to gather your own harvest, you can still stock up with a ‘ready picked’ harvest at your local greengrocer’s – the end result will be just as delicious. Read on to find out what to do.

How to preserve: jams, jellies, marmalades and fruit curds

Jams, curds and bottled fruits have come a long way from the days when they were simply used to preserve fruits for the winter months – they’re a great way to add something special to everyday breakfasts, and add flavour, colour and texture to desserts and baking. And making your own preserves at home lets you choose exactly what goes into them and how much sugar you use – and lets you experiment with different ingredients and make up your own tasty flavour combinations. One of the most common ways to preserve fruit uses sugar, as it helps bring out the flavour of fruits while also acting as a preservative. But it’s also very easy to make lower sugar preserves using simple home bottling techniques, which make delicious, healthier alternatives.

Seasonal fruit will always give you the best value for money and the best flavour. By making preserves from just-picked produce, you’ll capture the best of each season – and be able to enjoy the deliciously fresh flavours of seasonal fruits all year round.

What’s in season when

Spring Summer Autumn Winter
Rhubarb All berries Blackberries Tropical fruits
Citrus fruits Apricots Raspberries Citrus fruits
Stored apples Plums Quinces Stored apples
Stored pears  Figs Apples Stored pears
  Peaches Pears Forced rhubarb
  Cherries    
  Currants    

What quantities should I try?

FruitsJam Maker & Apple Peeler

When you’re choosing fruits to preserve, make sure they’re fresh and flavourful. Choose slightly under-ripe fruit in shops – by the time you get it home and make the jam or curd it will probably have softened up. Fruit that’s overripe will often lack acidity, so adjust the recipe with a little additional lemon juice towards the end of cooking to achieve a good flavour.

Sugar

There are many types of sugar available to the home cook, but generally white jam sugar is the best to use for jams as it gives a good set and the best flavour with limited cooking. For curds, caster sugar is recommended as it will dissolve easily. Marmalades are usually made with either granulated sugar or preserving sugar, which give good clarity to the finished preserve.

Pectin

Various types of pectin are available to the home cook, and are usually derived from apples or other fruits that are high in pectin. Liquid pectin is widely available, and an increasing range of powdered pectin is also available. Jam sugar has powdered pectin added to it, and is therefore useful for making jams with low-acidity fruits.

Sterilising equipment

Jam Maker Spoon

It’s important to use scrupulously clean and sterile jars for preserving. If you’re using jars with rubber seals, immerse them in gently simmering water before use – five minutes should do the trick. Leave to drain upside down for a few minutes before filling and then seal immediately with boiled lids. As long as you fill the jar when the contents are hot, they should be fine.

How to store

As soon as you’ve potted up your preserves, it’s a good idea to give the jars a good wash in hot water to remove any spills or dribbles. Dry them thoroughly before storing. Like most foods, preserves are best stored at an even, cool temperature, and to preserve their colour they are best kept in the dark. Box them up and store them in a spare room, shed, cellar or even a spare fridge if you have room. Low or no sugar preserves are best stored as directed in your recipe.

Frequently asked questions

What basic equipment will I need?

A deep, stainless steel preserving pan is ideal for all jams and marmalades. For accurate temperature measurements, a digital temperature probe is essential.

Can I reuse old jam jars?

Yes, although it’s best to only use jars that have clean and rust-free lids. For fruit bottling, it is essential to only use specially designed jars – we stock a wide variety of preserving jars that are ideal.

Can I use a brass preserving pan?

It’s not a good idea to use any metal other than stainless steel for preserving. The acids in fruits can react with other metals and taint your jams.

How long can I store home-made preserves?

Generally speaking, jams and marmalades with a high sugar content (i.e. where the ratio of sugar to fruit is 1:1) will keep for several months. Fruit curds will keep for up to one month in a cool place, but all curds and low-sugar jams should be stored in the fridge once opened and consumed within one or two weeks.

Are home-made preserves more economical than shop bought?

Yes, much more – and you can use your imagination to create lots of wonderful flavour combinations too.

Can I use any fruits to make jam?

Yes, although you’ll find that sharp – or lightly acidic – fruits make the best jams. Very sweet fruits, such as ripe peaches, don’t make good jam unless you like it particularly sweet.

Why does my jam or marmalade weep?

Sometimes a light syrup can seep from a preserve. This is known as weeping and is caused by an excess of acid, and is commonly seen in marmalades. It’s not harmful and the syrup can simply be stirred into the preserve.

What is pectin and do I need it to make good preserves?

Pectin is a naturally occurring setting agent found in plant cell walls. When fruit is cooked, as in the early stage of jam-making, pectin is released into the juices. As sugar is added and water evaporates from the juices, the strands of pectin form a gel that helps jam to set. Acidic fruits such as blackcurrants will usually set quickly, while less acidic ones such as strawberries will take much longer and require additional acid – usually lemon juice – to help achieve a good set.

Can I use honey or sugar substitutes to make jam?

Yes, you can. Honey was the most widely used sweetener for preserves until the 19th century, when sugar became cheaper and more widely available. Honey will add its own flavour and additional moisture to the preserve, meaning that you’ll have to cook it for longer to achieve a good set.

Artificial sweeteners can also be used to make preserves, but in general they will not keep as well and are best frozen in small containers or bottled.

Why do some recipes require a knob of butter?

Some cooks do suggest using a knob of butter to help reduce the amount of froth or foam that occurs with particularly fibrous fruits such as strawberries. Although it’s wise to continually skim foam from the surface of the jam as it cooks, a little knob of butter added at the end of cooking will help distribute any remaining foam throughout the jam.

How do home bottling techniques differ from traditional preserving?

Bottling involves putting the cooked preserve or heated fruit in syrup into special jars which are then immersed into a bath of simmering water for a period of time. The hot water sterilises the contents by superheating the air space left in the top of the jar, killing any microbes. By using this technique you can effectively sterilise lower sugar jams that would normally only keep for a few days.

Equipment

The key thing when preserving is to have all your ingredients ready, your jars washed and clean… and to remove any distractions. It is also worthwhile investing in some simple equipment to help you make your preserves – and then store them safely.

Jam Jars

Pans

It’s useful to have one or two large pans when you’re making preserves. This is particularly the case when you’re using a water bath to sterilise your jams. A stainless steel pan is by far the best option – other metals will react with the acidity in the fruits you use and your jam will be tainted. Lakeland’s maslin pan is ideal as it comes with volume measurements on the inside, making it especially useful when measuring mixtures.

Spoons

A stainless steel spoon that can be hung on the side of your pan is very useful for making preserves, particularly as the metal does not absorb flavours. If you do prefer wooden cooking implements, keep the ones you use for preserving separate to avoid contamination by strong flavours. A slotted spoon is also really useful for skimming foam from the surface of jam and marmalade as they cook.

Thermometers

A digital probe is essential for any recipe that requires heating your mix to an exact temperature.

Strainers and funnels

Strainers are invaluable for sieving cooked fruits before making jellies, and funnels will help you fill your jars easily and cleanly.

Jars and bottles

We stock a wide variety of jam and preserving jars, including a range of Ball preserving jars that are ideal for long-keeping preserves and spare lids so you can reuse the same jars again and again.

From tools to help you whizz through preparation to a whole host of presentation ideas that will lend a professional finish to your creations, we’ve got everything you need to get preserving. To help inspire, we think these recipes sound delicious – we hope you do too.

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