Margaret Fulton's expert guide to preserves

By
Margaret Fulton
Added
27 February, 2014

Jams, pickles, chutneys, sauces, compotes and conserves are the best way to preserve abundant produce so you can enjoy your fruit and veg all year round. Margaret Fulton shares her guide to the art of preserving.

Pickles

The word ‘pickles’ usually describes coarsely chopped fruits and vegetables which are preserved in brine or vinegar. Home-made pickles add flavour and variety to all sorts of foods and, with chutneys, belong to the tradition of the English kitchen; the art of making them should not be allowed to die out.

They are, in a way, a legacy from the days of the British Raj in India, when they were a very welcome addition to English food, especially to simple cold meats. The British welcomed these exotic spicy products with open arms, and there was hardly a cookery book of the 19th century which didn’t include recipes for relishes, pickles, chutneys and sauces. At the same time, silver cruet sets filled with glass sauce bottles were introduced and became a standard utensil on every table.

  • There is no special equipment needed for making pickles, but because of their acidity, be sure to use stoneware, pottery, glass or plastic bowls for brining. Saucepans used for pickling should be unchipped enamel or stainless steel. Use clean, wooden spoons for stirring.
  • Store pickles in sterilised glass jars, preferably with glass lids. Plastic-plated metal lids can be used but never use metal ones. Glass coffee jars with plastic seals are also good.
  • You can chop the vegetables for relishes coarsely or finely, according to your preference. Use a food processor, if you have one, to save time and effort.

Try Pickled cherries, Preserved lemons or limes, and Tarragon-pickled cucumbers.

Jam

Jam is made by boiling fruit with sugar (firm fruits are first cooked without sugar until tender) until the mixture is pulpy and will set, when cool, to a soft jelly-like consistency. It is perfectly practical to make a small quantity and does not take long providing you understand a few basic points.

  • Pectin: The substance in fruit which, with the right balance of acid and sugar, causes jam to set. The fruit used should be firm-ripe as it contains more pectin than when fully ripe. When making jam with fruits that are low in pectin, such as cherries, apricots and strawberries, the setting can be helped by adding some high-pectin fruit (apple, plum, quince, black or red currants) or some lemon peel, including the high-pectin white pith. Commercial pectin is also available.
  • Setting point: The fruit is usually simmered until soft, then sugar is added and the jam is boiled vigorously until setting point is reached. Test for setting point by using the spoon method or the saucer method below.
  • The spoon method: Dip a clean wooden spoon into the jam and remove a spoonful. Allow to cool for a few moments, then turn spoon over gently. If jam breaks distinctly from the spoon in heavy, jelly-like drops or flakes, it is ready.
  • The saucer method: Place a small teaspoon of jam on a cold saucer, cool for 20 seconds, then run a finger through it. If it wrinkles at the edges and stays in two separate sections, it is ready.
  • Sterilising jars: Wash glass jars in detergent and water, then rinse in fresh water. Boil jars in water for 10 minutes or dry them upside-down in a warm oven for 15 minutes just before filling.
  • Potting and sealing: Remove jam from the heat, cool slightly and stir gently to distribute the fruit evenly. Use a clean, hot jug or cup and fill to within 3 mm of the top of a sterilised jar. Cover the surface of the hot jam with a greaseproof disc, and seal with screwtop lids or cellophane covers with rubber bands (moisten outside of cellophane first to ensure a tight fit). Label the jars and store.
  • Storing: Store in a cool, dark place. Once opened, store in the refrigerator. Most jams and preserves can be kept for at least 1 year. However, it is wise to use them before the next season’s replacement for optimum flavour.

Try Raspberry jam, Apple and vanilla bean jam and Quick strawberry jam.

Discover more cooking wisdom from Margaret Fulton's Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery.

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