August jobs: preserving your abundant crops

Juliet Kemp
Monday, 12th August 2013

Permaculture in Pots author Juliet Kemp explains the different ways to preserve your fruit and veggies when they all crop at once.

Growing things is great, but if you're lucky, you may also face the question of what to do with them. In most cases, in a small space, you'll not be able to keep up with eating what you produce as you produce it, most of the time. However, some vegetables tend to show up all at once (tomatoes may do this, depending on which varieties you chose and how many plants you grow), and you can also end up with a lot of green veg which are about to go to seed all at once, and so instead you prefer to harvest them all at once. The solution to this is preserving, which can take various forms. 

Freezing

The most straightforward way to preserve food is to freeze it, which is particularly good for soft fruit. Raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, and blueberries all freeze well, and getting out a spoonful of frozen home-grown strawberries for your morning muesli in December is both satisfying and cheering. Dry the fruit as much as possible before freezing it, to avoid freezer burn. 

To get individual frozen fruit rather than a huge lump of frozen fruit, you need to flash freeze the fruit. Get a baking sheet, or a sheet of tinfoil, and lay the fruit out in a single layer on it, not touching. Put it flat in the freezer for 24 hours. Once the fruits have frozen, take them off the baking sheet and put them into a labelled box - they’ll now stay separate and you can eat however much you want at a time! 

Frozen fruit is nice in smoothies, in porridge, muesli, or yoghurt, or just on their own. You can also use them to bake with (try crumble or stew). 

Blanching

A good option for green veg such as chard or spinach is blanching, followed by freezing. Blanching destroys various enzymes and bacteria, helping to keep the food fresh, and also maintains its colour and texture.

Use a pan with a lid, so that you can get the temperature back up to boiling as fast as possible. Fill the pan with water and bring it to the boil, and put your clean produce to be blanched into a sieve or chip basket (this is just to keep it all together). Once the water is boiling, plunge the sieve into the water, and put the lid back on the pan – the water needs to be back to boiling in under a minute. (If necessary, you can blanch smaller quantities at a time.) Courgettes (sliced) should be blanched for a minute, chard or spinach for two minutes. 

Once the time is up, remove the sieve and plunge into a bowl of cold water for a few seconds, then into a bowl of water with icecubes in. This stops the cooking process (if the veg are left to cool by themselves, they’ll carry on cooking in their own heat). Once it’s cooled, dry and put into the freezer. See above for how to flash freeze if you want to keep the veg separate; otherwise, just freeze in appropriate portion sizes.

Bottling / canning tomatoes

Finally, with tomatoes and some other vegetables, you can try bottling (also known as canning). The downside of this is that you’ll need to invest in a certain amount of kit - at the very least, sufficient jars and lids to hold your crop, and a pan large enough to boil the jars in (this seals them). Reusable lids are available and are worthwhile in the long run, but do cost more in the short run. You can either can your tomatoes whole (blanch them first, for one minute) or turn them into sauce first. Making sauce has the advantage that it shrinks the tomatoes down a bit and therefore you need fewer jars. If you decide to try bottling (I have never quite had enough tomatoes yet to be worth it!), there’s plenty of further information available online. Be aware that since bottling doesn’t use sugar or vinegar to help with the preservation, you need to be more careful about sterilisation of your equipment and making certain that the jars come up to temperature. Jam or chutney is more forgiving as the sugar content makes it harder for any nasties to survive.

You can also turn green tomatoes into green tomato chutney (see p.37) or just leave them in the fridge to ripen slowly. 

Jams and jellies

Another option for preserving fruit is to make jam or jelly. The basic approach is to use a pound of sugar per pound of fruit, put it all into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, and leave on a low heat, stirring often, while it first melts and then thickens. Meanwhile, wash some jars and put them (but not their lids) into the oven at 100ºC to sterilise.

When making jam, you use the whole fruit and leave it in; jelly is made in much the same way but with the fruit juice only. There’s a recipe for hawthorn and rosehip jelly on p.171. Chutney is also a form of savoury jam, again made in much the same way; see p.37 for a recipe for green tomato chutney.

If making other jams, you should remember that some fruit needs added pectin (blackberries, raspberries and other berries) in order to set, whereas others (such as rhubarb and apple) have their own pectin. If you’re adding pectin, you should need to cook the jam after the sugar has melted for only a short while. Follow the instructions on the pectin packet for best results. You can also chop up an apple (whole, including skin and core) and suspend it in the jam in a muslin bag to make your own pectin. However, I’ve had limited success with this. I did come out with some very nice rosehip syrup-ish stuff; it just didn’t really set. 

If you’re making jam without added pectin, you need to boil it for longer, and test it intermittently for setting. Put a saucer in the fridge to get cold, then drop a teaspoon of jam onto the saucer and leave it to cool for a moment. If when you drag a finger across it, it has formed a skin, it has set, and you should take the jam off the boil and pour it into the sterilised jars. (I strongly recommend using a funnel to avoid making a terrible mess.) Place a circle of greaseproof paper on top (you can buy packets of circles specifically for jam making) and put the lid on. Label the jars with contents and date once cool.

Taken from Permaculture in Pots: How to grow food in small urban spaces. You can buy it here from www.green-shopping.co.uk. Also available as an eBook.

Further resources

Making plum and golden gage jam and how to avoid wasp stings

How to make cordials, naturally

Homemade elderflower wine

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