Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough

Time to bottle summer fruit

- BARBARA SMITH

All you need to bottle fruit is a sharp knife and large glass preserving jars with screw-top sealing rings and lids.

The cold pack method cooks the fruit in the jars. Cut small fruit, such as plums and apricots, in half, remove the stones and pack into preserving jars. If you’re bottling peaches and nectarines it’s better to slice them up so more fruit packs into the jar.

Make a sugar syrup to suit your taste. Old cookbooks define a heavy syrup as equal parts of sugar and water or a light syrup of one part sugar to three parts water but you can use much less sugar or even none.

Bring the syrup to the boil then pour over the fruit in the jars, leaving a 1–2cm gap at the top. Put on the lids and screw down with sealing rings.

Place jars in a large pot of hot water, deep enough to come two thirds of the way up the jars, and bring to the boil. Cook for 20–35 minutes (you’ll see bubbles rising inside the jars as the fruit boils). Remove from the heat and let cool.

The lids will ‘‘pop’’ down and seal. Check the seals and clean any stickiness off the jars before storing.

PATROL THE VEGE PATCH

Don’t take your eye off the ball – a daily inspection is the only way to spot pest and disease problems in time to outwit the baddies.

Squashing aphids and vege bugs by hand is messy but effective. Allow them to breed unchecked and they’ll suck your crops dry.

Regular harvesting also ensures that edible plants keep producing.

They don’t just flower and fruit for fun – or for us – they are trying to ensure the survival of their species As soon as tomatoes, beans and peppers are left to set mature seed, they think their work is done and slow down and stop fruiting.

Don’t be in too much of a hurry, though – pick each vege at its peak.

Beans, courgettes, gherkins and cucumbers are best when young and tender but wait till corn is fully ripe. You can tell by the silky tassels turning brown.

For watermelon­s, look for these clues: The stem near the top of the melon turns brown and dry; the skin is hard to pierce with your thumbnail; and the bottom of the melon, where it’s sitting on the soil, changes from green to pale yellow. When tapped, it should make a dull thud sound.

Tomatoes have the best flavour when ripened on the vine but you may need to save them from birds or blight. Tomatoes that have started to change colour will ripen inside.

Fully green ones won’t.

RIPEN CHILLIES & CAPSICUMS

Growing green chillies and capsicums is easy-peasy but getting them to turn fire engine red or blushing orange is not so easy. If yours are still solid green.

You will need to be patient. Once the fruit has grown to its full size, it needs consistent daytime temperatur­es of at least 22–25°C to develop the red pigments required to change colour. Even then it takes fruit up to 28 days to fully redden.

The soil should be warm too – about 20°C. Mulch to trap in warmth and moisture.

The good news is that chillies and capsicums can both be used when unripe. If, like me, you’ve had whole branches laden with chillies break off your plants just eat them now or freeze for later use. The flavour won’t be as fully developed but they’re perfectly acceptable in stirfries or cooked dishes where the colour doesn’t matter

MAKE PICKLED ONIONS

To make peeling less painful, plunge pickling onions, skin and all, into boiling water to soften the skin so it slips off easily.

Peel 1kg small onions and place in one layer in a shallow dish. Sprinkle with 4 tablespoon­s

GET GROWING

This column is adapted from the weekly e-zine, get growing, from New Zealand Gardener magazine. For gardening advice delivered to your inbox every Friday, sign up for Get Growing at: getgrowing.co.nz of salt. Stir to cover onions with salt. Cover with a tea towel and leave overnight.

The next day rinse onions well and pack into sterilised jars (washed in hot water and left in the oven at 120°C for half an hour).

Top with spiced vinegar: boil 2 tablespoon­s peppercorn­s, 1 teaspoon each of blade mace, whole cloves and allspice, 2–3 bay leaves, a thumb-sized piece of ginger, 2 teaspoons mustard seeds, 2 cinnamon quills, 4 dried chillies and 1 tablespoon salt with 1.5 litres malt vinegar. For crisp onions, pour in cooled vinegar; for softer onions, use vinegar while still hot.

Cover and seal the jars with sterilised lids.

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