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Cheat Sheet

Storing & Preserving Garden Produce For Dummies (UK Edition)

Storing and preserving food isn’t rocket science; with a bit of confidence and practice, you can fill your store cupboards with your own home-made jams and chutneys. You need only the desire to experience your own home-grown food for as long as possible around the year to make a start. This Cheat Sheet gives you some of the essential, need-to-know info.

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).

  • Freezing:

    • 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!

  • Recipes:

    • 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.

  • Potting:

    • 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.

Heeding Food Safety Warnings

Most food safety is common sense: for example, if you drop a jar on the floor and it shatters, don’t scrape up the preserve and tuck in! But some dangers are less obvious, so err on the side of caution (especially when feeding children, the elderly or vulnerable people):

  • Do clean your work surfaces and tools before you start a task and shoo dogs and cats well out of the way. Raw meat, pets and mud can cause cross-contamination and subsequent food hazards.

  • Don’t use corrosive materials for any part of your preserving: no aluminium, enamel or ferrous pans (especially dangerous with vinegar or salt).

  • Don’t use the contents of jars of preserve when the seal is already broken, the lid indent has ‘popped’ or the produce is dried out, mouldy, smelly or discoloured. If you’re suspicious about the quality in any way, throw it away (the most dangerous organisms are invisible and give off no smell).

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