Prac­ti­cal ideas and ad­vice for would-be small­hold­ers

Country Living (UK) - - Contents -

Prac­ti­cal ideas and ad­vice for would-be small­hold­ers

THERE IS SOME­THING RATHER MAG­I­CAL ABOUT PRE­SERV­ING. Whether you’ve grown the pro­duce your­self or taken ad­van­tage of the sea­sonal glut of sea­sonal avail­able at farm­ers’ mar­kets, pre­serv­ing trans­forms it into some­thing else en­tirely. It al­lows you (quite lit­er­ally!) to en­joy the fruits of your labour dur­ing the colder months to come, from a crunchy pick­led onion with a strong Ched­dar to a sweet jam on hot, but­tered crum­pets.


The best thing about chut­neys is the lim­it­less op­por­tu­nity for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. Once you’ve mas­tered a ba­sic recipe, you can play around with the veg­eta­bles and spices un­til you’ve cre­ated the ultimate pickle for a cheese sand­wich. As a rough guide, start with 3kg veg, 1 litre vine­gar and 500g sugar. Cour­gettes, car­rots, onions, cauliflow­ers and toma­toes are good in­gre­di­ents, and most peo­ple like to bulk it out with Bram­ley ap­ples, too. Spices, such as chilli or mus­tard seeds, give a depth of flavour, while raisins add tex­ture and sweet­ness. Peel and chop veg­eta­bles into small chunks and bring to the boil in a large pan with the vine­gar, sugar and spices. Sim­mer for around an hour. Once you can drag a spoon along the bot­tom and leave a line that re­mains clear for a few sec­onds, it’s ready. De­cant into ster­ilised jars, hot from the dish­washer, as too big a tem­per­a­ture dif­fer­ence be­tween jar and chut­ney can en­cour­age bac­te­ria to breed. The acid in vine­gar will erode metal lids, so opt for Le Par­fait-style jars, which have plas­tic-coated lids. Leave for a month be­fore eating, but the flavour will con­tinue to ma­ture if you can keep your hands off for longer!


Pick­ling veg­eta­bles in vine­gar cre­ates a great taste and also pre­serves their crunch. The trick to suc­cess­ful pick­led onions and cu­cum­bers is to add the right in­gre­di­ents to the vine­gar be­fore­hand. For onions this is sugar; for cu­cum­bers try spices such as car­away and car­damom. Small pick­ling onions and cu­cum­bers are the best to use, but the vine­gar is a ques­tion of taste

(white wine and cider vine­gars both work well). Top, tail and peel the onions and leave them in brine for a day or so to re­move ex­cess mois­ture. Rinse and dry, then pack into ster­ilised jars. Boil up your vine­gar, sugar and spices, then pour over the onions and seal in jars with plas­tic-coated lids. Cu­cum­bers are even sim­pler – place in jars (cut length­ways, if pre­ferred) and pour over your cooled spice-in­fused vine­gar, then seal. Wait at least a month, or prefer­ably three, be­fore eating. Both types will store well for at least six months un­opened.


Home-made jams are sur­pris­ingly sim­ple to make – just boil up fruit with sugar – but a cou­ple of pieces of key equip­ment can make it even easier. A heavy­bot­tomed pre­serv­ing pan helps to pre­vent burning and a jam ther­mome­ter takes the guess­work out of when set­ting point has been reached (al­though you can check this by drop­ping a lit­tle jam onto a freezer-chilled plate, then see­ing if it crin­kles when you push a fin­ger through). Fol­low a recipe (Mar­guerite Pat­ten’s Jams, Pre­serves and Chut­neys Hand­book is hard to beat) for jam-to-sugar ra­tios, as it de­pends on the fruit you are us­ing. Cer­tain types – such as straw­ber­ries – are low in pectin, which helps the jam set. Spe­cial jam sugar has ex­tra pectin, or you can add lemon juice. Don’t be tempted to use over-ripe pro­duce, as it can cause the jam to fer­ment.

Ster­ilise jars quickly and eas­ily by run­ning them through a hot dish­washer cy­cle.

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