Passion for Preserving

Jars, backlit

It’s that time of year again, when the dew stays on the grass until mid-morning and the evenings start getting chilly. Despite pleasantly warm days, it’s feeling undeniably autumnal in the garden as shrubs are starting to colour and the late-season flowers are in full bloom: Aster Mönch has been at its splendiferous peak of lilac perfection for weeks, set off spectacularly by the golden yellow stars of Rudbeckia and the wands of orange and brown Crocosmia. Down at the allotment the harvest is in full swing: plums and apples aplenty, and lots of vegetables just calling out to be preserved for the dank, dark days of winter.

I love preserving: ever since I had my very first house and took to cooking and gardening like a duck to water, I’ve adored the alchemy of converting harvested goodies, preferably grown and picked by my own fair hands, into gleaming jars of jewel-like preserves for the store cupboard. It must be nearly 30 years ago that I was tempted by a Good Housekeeping offer of a preserving set with capacious pan, long-handled wooden spoons, a wide-angled funnel, jelly stand and muslin jelly bag. Bar the pan (which came to a sticky end after an ill-fated and ultimately burnt-on encounter with plum ketchup a few years ago…), I still have the rest – and they come out like clockwork every year. The jelly stand has been worth its weight in gold for straining elderflower cordial and redcurrant and blackberry & apple jelly, all three staples of my kitchen year.

At this time of year, though, it’s the vegetables that are calling out to be preserved. I ring the changes depending on what I have in glut proportions, but here are the three preserves I’ve made in recent weeks:

Chilli dipping sauce

400g granulated sugar

3 chopped chillis (mine are Apache, which I find germinates reliably and produces in abundance in my conservatory, hot but not too hot!)

5 garlic cloves, crushed

250ml cider vinegar

250ml fresh orange juice (3-4 juicing oranges)

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan (you don’t need a preserving pan for this, just a large saucepan will do) and cook over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes until syrupy – i.e. when the drips run together when you hold up the spoon over the pan). Leave in the pan for a few minutes to let the chopped ingredients settle, then pour into warm, sterilised jars and seal. I find this makes just enough for a standard 450g jam jar, but you could use two smaller jars if you prefer.

Thanks to Sarah Raven for the recipe!

Chilli dipping sauce

Cucumber Relish

3lb cucumbers

1lb onion

2 green peppers

1 ½oz salt

1pt distilled white vinegar

10oz granulated sugar

2 tsp turmeric

2 tsp black mustard seed

2 tsp ground allspice

1 tsp ground mace

Peel and dice the cucumbers, finely slice onions and finely chop the pepper. Place in a large bowl, sprinkle with the salt and leave overnight, covered with a tea towel. Drain in a colander, rinse in cold water and drain again thoroughly.

Place remaining ingredients in a preserving pan, stir until sugar dissolves, then bring to boil and simmer for 2 mins. Add drained vegetables, bring back to boil and simmer for 4-5 mins, stirring constantly.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer into warm, sterilised jars (using a wide-necked funnel makes life a lot easier!), then top up with any remaining liquid. Seal with cellophane and lids.

Should make 4-5 jars. Ready in one week, but keeps for ages – delicious with cheese and cold meat.

I’ve had this recipe for years (as you can tell by the Imperial measurements!). It’s in my hand-scribbled recipe book, but my notes tell me it came originally from my friend, Bridget, a home economics teacher and keen fellow gardener.

And finally, my younger son’s favourite:

Spiced beetroot and orange chutney

1.5kg raw beetroot, trimmed, peeled and grated (much easier with a food processor; otherwise wear disposable gloves!)

3 red onions, chopped

3 apples, peeled and grated – you can use cooking or eating; whichever you have available!

Zest and juice of 3 oranges

2 tbsp black mustard seeds

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp ground cloves

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp salt

700ml red wine vinegar

700g granulated sugar

Mix together all the ingredients in a large preserving pan. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cook for at least 1 ¾ hours until the chutney is thick – or when you draw your spoon down the middle of the mixture, the resulting channel doesn’t immediately fill with liquid. Leave to settle for 10 mins or so off the heat.

Spoon into warm, sterilised jars and seal with cellophane and lids while hot. I find this makes 5 standard jars. It can be eaten straight away, but I think it’s better kept for a few months to mature and then keeps for ages in a cool, dark place. Again, perfect with cheese and cold meat.

Store cupboard

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