Storing and Preserving Home-Grown Fruit and Veg Successfully
Here are a few important do’s and don’ts to bear in mind so that you can enjoy your produce at the planning, growing, making and eating stages, which can be several months apart:
Clamping and other simple storage:
Do use breathable natural materials as containers.
Do choose a place where moisture doesn’t lurk.
Do store orchard fruits high up in a loft; open the shutters from time to time for a change of air.
Do store roots low down in a cellar: dry, dark and cool.
Do go through your stored produce from time to time and remove any rotten items.
Do work on recognising signs of pests near your stores so that you can eradicate them quickly.
Using sweetness for preserving:
Do make enough time for the whole process.
Do use under-ripe or ‘just ripe’ fruit.
Do add water but only for the first cooking stage (if the recipe says so). Boil until fruit is properly soft, add sugar at a gentle heat and dissolve totally before whizzing up the heat to setting point.
Do check regularly for a preserve’s setting point.
Do pot when warm.
Don’t add sugar until your fruit is soft (sugar hardens fruit skins).
Don’t over-boil your preserve at the sugar stage (it goes hard).
Making good use of vinegar:
Do use the right vinegar for the job; let your recipe guide you.
Do make sure that your vinegar is 5 per cent acid or more.
Do remove moisture, by salting, from ‘wet’ produce before pickling.
Do boil chutneys until they’re thick and pulpy, and dragging a wooden spoon across the base of the pan leaves a clear line.
Don’t worry if your vinegar grows a natural haze; just sieve before using (vinegar is a living product).
Do buy an efficient freezer and defrost it at least once a year.
Do blanch special foods.
Do label frozen food effectively.
Do rotate your produce in your freezer. Open freeze or bag up in useful quantities and wrap produce tightly to eliminate air.
Do check what’s lurking at the bottom of the freezer and use it or chuck it.
Don’t put warm food into the freezer; chill it in the fridge first.
Don’t leave your freezer half empty: fill the space with newspaper or water bottles for energy saving and efficiency.
Drying, salting and vacuum-packing:
Do lay drying produce out in single layers where warm air can circulate and moisture can escape; or use a purpose-made food dehydrator.
Do rinse salted produce well and dry it quickly before it reabsorbs moisture.
Do vacuum pack in useful amounts: you can’t easily reseal a vacuum pouch.
Don’t overlap drying produce.
Don’t use corrosive materials near salt.
Don’t vacuum-pack sharp objects: they make tiny holes in the pouches and admit air.
Making drinks for children and adults:
Do make your own cordials free from unwanted additives.
Do store cordials in the freezer or refrigerate and use up within six weeks (unless you heat-treat).
Do make wines and cider from second-quality vegetables and fruit; it transforms these seconds into something special.
Don’t leave home-made cordial out of the fridge.
Don’t drink all the wine in one go: it’s probably stronger than you think!
Do gather recipes from friends and neighbours.
Do read and understand your recipe, jotting down any personal experiences or successful shortcuts you discover along the way.
Do pot up your still-warm produce into sterile, warm jars: a vacuum forms when it all cools down, creating a safe food environment for months of storage.
Do ensure that lids with pop-up centres stay depressed and cellophane jar closures have a smooth, slightly concave shape.