Preserving summer's goodness in small jars always brings pleasure - either when you open a jar in a few months to serve with cheese or a grill. Or as a present for a friend who will appreciate the fruits of your labour.
For best flavours and colour, make chutneys, pickles and jams in small quantities. Smaller amounts are also easier to handle.
Remove any blemishes from your fruit or vegetables before use. Choose a heavy-based stainless steel saucepan for cooking. Most jams set at 104C. A jam thermometer is useful, however, if one is not available then try the plate test.
Place two saucers or small plates in the freezer. When you think the jam has reached setting point, spoon a little on to one of the cold saucers. Allow it to cool for a few seconds then push it with your finger. If a wrinkly skin has formed then the jam will set. If not, return it to the boil for a few more minutes and test again on the second saucer.
Always pour preserves into hot sterilised jars. Wash the jars and lids thoroughly in hot soapy water, dry with a clean tea towel then keep warm in a 160C oven until ready to fill. With chutneys, I often place a small circle of waxed paper on top before sealing with a lid. This helps prevent the lid from being corroded by the vinegar in the chutney.
Jam-setting sugar is becoming very popular. It means you can make successful jam in a very short time using fruit with little pectin, for example, over-ripe apricots, peaches, pears, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and cherries. The sugar contains added pectin and citric acid, which provide setting and flavour enhancers.
For more preserving hints, visit my website www.janbilton.co.nz
CHINESE FIVE-SPICE PLUM CHUTNEY
1.5kg red plums
500g Granny Smith apples
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic
1 tbsp grated root ginger
1 litre white vinegar
1 tbsp each: five-spice powder, salt
1 tsp ground chilli
750g white sugar
Halve and stone the plums. Place in a large, heavy-based stainless-steel saucepan. Quarter the apples and core. Place in a food processor and coarsely chop. Add to the plums. Quarter the onion and place with the garlic in the food processor. Coarsely chop. Add to the plums, together with the remaining ingredients.
Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 1 hours or until thickened. Stir often to prevent the mixture burning on the base.
Pour into hot, sterilised jars and seal. Leave for about two months before use. Makes about 8 cups.
TRADITIONAL APRICOT JAM
This is my mother's recipe - it has no water. She believed adding water encouraged mould to grow.
1kg ripe but firm apricots
Juice 1 large lemon
2 tsp butter
Halve and stone the apricots. Layer them in a ceramic or glass bowl together with the sugar and lemon juice. Cover and stand overnight. This keeps the apricots in good shape during cooking.
Next day, place the apricot mixture in a large, heavy-based stainless-steel saucepan. Bring to the boil on low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat slightly and boil for about 20 minutes, stirring often. Scoop off some of the foam that forms on top into a bowl (this is excellent spooned over icecream or yoghurt).
Test for setting. If necessary, boil for an extra five minutes. Watch the jam care fully at this stage as, if it is not stirred, it will burn on the base. When setting point is reached, stir in the butter. This will remove any remaining foam. Pour into hot, sterilised jars and seal.
Makes about 5 cups.
CHUNKY COURGETTE CHUTNEY
500g each: courgettes, tomatoes, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 tbsp each: grated root ginger, yellow mustard seeds
2 tsp ground mixed spice
1 tsp salt
250g brown sugar
350ml white wine vinegar
Place all the ingredients in a large, heavy-based stainless-steel saucepan. Slowly bring to the boil, stirring often. Simmer for about 45 minutes or until thick. Pour into hot, sterilised jars and seal.
Makes about 5 cups.
CHILLI & RED PEPPER JAM
This colourful savoury jam is excellent with cheese and grills. Leave the seeds in the chillies if you want a really hot jam.
2 large red capsicums, seeded and diced
1 large tomato, diced
1-2 large red chillies, seeded and diced
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 cups jam-setting sugar
Place the capsicums, tomato, chillies, apple, vinegar and water in a heavy, stainless-steel saucepan.
Simmer for 10 minutes. If you want a finer mix, blitz quickly with a hand blender.
Stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Boil rapidly for four minutes. Remove from the heat and test for setting.
Spoon into hot, sterilised jars and seal.
Makes about 3 cups.