I’m very used to making jams, jellies, chutneys, ketchups and pickles, all of which require basic sterilisation of jars, easy recipes and a straightforward process to fill and seal the jars. In these recipes boiling helps kill harmful bacteria and yeasts as well as reducing the moisture in which they thrive; sugar or acid stops regrowth and sealing in a sterilised airtight jar prevents recontamination.

But these techniques aren’t suitable for low acid foods such as fish and meat which is why we often turn to other techniques to extend their shelf life. The same goes for vegetables, when we want to preserve them without introducing the strong acidic flavours of a pickle.

Most commonly for fish and meat here in the UK, we freeze, cure or dry them.

Freezing turns moisture into ice and also inhibits the growth of most bacteria. The advantage is that the fish or meat is as fresh once it’s been defrosted. Curing with salt, sugar, nitrates or nitrites works by drawing out moisture. It changes the nature and flavours of the fish or meat, but this is often highly desirable – many of us adore cured salmon, bacon and cured hams such as Parma and Serrano. Drying, by sun, in a dehydrator or oven, or by smoking, works on a similar basis of reducing moisture. It also seals the surface of the fish or meat, which makes it difficult for bacteria to enter. Smoked fish such as salmon and mackerel are popular in the UK. Biltong, Bresaola and jerky are examples from the dried meats category.

I do know people who cure and smoke fish and meats at home. But it’s relatively rare.

Preserving by fermentation is becoming more popular here too, though it is still uncommon. As the food ferments, it produces lactic or other acids, which are themselves preserving agents. Kimchi (which is enjoying a surge of popularity amongst foodies at the moment), sauerkraut and surströmming (which my dad enjoys but I just can’t get into) are all examples of preservation by fermentation.

Of these three methods, freezing is probably the easiest for the home cook. Indeed, our freezer is full of raw home grown vegetables as well as raw meat and fish and portions of cooked food such as stews and curries.

There is another way of preserving low acid foods so that they can be stored at ambient temperatures and retain their essential flavours or textures. Known as canning, the process was first trialled by the French navy in the early 1800s, after they launched a competition seeking new methods of preserving food. Although the method was originally tested and developed using jars, when the process took off commercially, most food was preserved in tin cans rather than glass and hence the process became known as canning.

After the food is prepared and sealed in to the tin (or glass jar), a heat and pressure treatment is applied to the container to kill the bacteria within. It’s the heat, not the pressure, which destroys bacteria, but pressure provides the easiest method to achieve sufficiently high temperatures. It’s important to be thorough here, as there is no acid, sugar or salt added to the ingredients to restrict the growth of any bacteria that survives the treatment.

Canning as a commercial process took off around the world, nowhere more quickly than in the US, as did its counterpart, home canning. Indeed, judging by online content, I consider America to be the spiritual centre of home canning! Many of the other preservation methods are more popular in Europe and elsewhere in the world, but it seems to me that the Americans have taken the canning process to heart.

It’s critical to reach the correct temperature and to maintain it for a sufficient duration, which can be quite a challenge for the home cook. To that end, there are home pressure canners available, though in the UK we have access to a smaller selection, at higher prices.

Because of the risk of botulism, the toxins of which are not detectable by taste or smell, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides detailed guidelines for home canning. Botulinum spores are very hard to destroy at 100°C but can be eliminated at 120°C, provided the temperature is maintained for long enough. Where foods do contain enough acid, the guidelines suggest a boiling water bath will be sufficient. For lower acid foods, a pressure canner to reach the higher temperatures is recommended.

As an avid food blog reader, I’ve been bookmarking home canning recipes for several years.

Attending an event by Le Parfait, when they launched their products into the UK last year, gave me the last push to give this form of preserving a go myself, especially when they kindly provided some sample jars for me to use.

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In the US, Ball or Kerr brand Mason jars are the most popular, featuring a two part lid – a flat disc cap that seals to the rim of the jar and a screw on band which secures the disc cap into place until the canning treatment creates a vacuum seal. Here in the UK, we’ve traditionally used hinged clip top jars with rubber sealing rings such as those made by Kilner. Indeed, like Hoover vacuum cleaners, “kilner” seems to have become shorthand for describing this style of jar regardless of manufacturer. Le Parfait is a French brand and has been going for over 80 years. They offer both styles of jar – their Super Preserve and Super Terrine both have clip top lids and their Familia Wiss have seal caps under screw-on lids.

As far as I can see, the advantage of the clip top design is that, once purchased, the costs are minimal. The rubber sealing ring lasts well, though not indefinitely, and needs replacing from time to time. That said, I find them more difficult to open and close, and awkward to sterilise, since I use the oven method for jars and boil the lids separately. The Mason style jars are much easier to use but since the disc caps are single use only, the costs of using them are higher.

At the moment, I don’t have a pressure cooker or pressure canner, so I’m using a large and ancient Indian aluminium stockpot. I mentally refer to it as a cauldron, though that does give a slightly wiccan air to it. I also don’t have a canning rack – essentially a special wire metal basket and handle which makes lowering and lifting jars from the water much simpler; it also keeps the jars from sitting directly on the base of the pan, touching the sides or rattling against each other. In my cauldron, I use several flannels and tea towels to line the pan and separate my jars and I’ve not yet discovered an easy way of lowering the jars into boiling water!

Without pressure, I can’t achieve temperatures above 100°C, so am hesitant to use the technique for fish or meat products.

Stay tuned for my first canning experiments.

 

The two apple trees on our allotment gave us a whopping 55 kilos of apples this year; 34 kilos of cookers and 22 kilos of eating apples. And that’s just what we picked – we left some cookers on the tree for our plot neighbour to enjoy.

Some of them we processed at the time, making several variations of apple jelly. Some we made into apple pie. Some we peeled, prepped and froze in large bagfuls. But the majority were carefully washed, individually wrapped and then boxed according to grade – perfect, slightly blemished and those to use first… a labour of love by Pete.

Since then, they’ve been sat in their polystyrene boxes in the garden shed waiting to be used.

I’m conscious that we really need to use and process the rest, so a large batch of chutney seemed to be a good option.

As I had some fabulous dates leftover from Christmas, I decided to use these too. A web search revealed so many different recipes with such vastly differing ratios of apple, dried fruits, vinegar and sugar that I gave up on following any of them and created my own recipe according to the amounts of apples and dates I had to hand, and sugar and vinegar to my own taste. Ginger powder and chilli powder added a kick and additional depth of flavour.

I allowed my apples to cook down until they were really soft but if you prefer them more solid, you may need to reduce the amount of vinegar and sugar you add.

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Kavey’s Apple, Date & Ginger Chutney

Makes approximately 4.5 kilos chutney

Ingredients
2.5 – 3 kilos cooking apples (unpeeled weight)
500 grams of super soft dates (weight including stones)
500 grams onions (unpeeled weight)
350 grams muscovado sugar
650 grams granulated or caster sugar
600 ml malt vinegar
3 heaped teaspoons ginger powder
1 teaspoon of extra hot chilli powder
1 tablespoon salt

Note: My apples weighed 3.1 kilos before peeling, coring and dicing but many of them were unusually small, and some had a little spoilage, so the weight loss during preparation was higher than usual. I’d estimate that I used the equivalent of about 2.5 kilos of regularly sized cooking apples in good condition.

Note: My chilli powder is some of the hottest I’ve come across. Mix in, taste and add enough to give a warming kick.

Method

  • Stone and roughly chop dates.
  • Peel and dice onions.
  • Peel, core and chop apples into a large pan of cold water. Drain well just before cooking.

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  • Measure all ingredients into a large saucepan or stock pot and mix well. Cook on a medium heat until apples soften and liquid thickens.

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  • Transfer the hot finished chutney into hot sterilised jars (I sterilise mine in the oven and boil the lids on the stove top) and seal.
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  • Leave to mature for at least 3 months.
 

Green & Black’s Head of Taste, Micah Carr-Hill, is looking for a Taste Assistant.

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The winning candidate will support Micah in the development of new Green & Black’s products – sourcing ingredients from all around the world, working with marketing on the development of ideas, developing kitchen samples, scaling small trials to factory scale and even getting involved with technical and sales aspects.

For many food and chocolate lovers, if Micah’s job is the best job in the world, this is a close second!

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To find just the right person, Micah isn’t planning your normal run-of-the-mill interviews. Oh no! He’s running a series of challenges designed to find a candidate with an excellent palate and the creativity to put it to good use.

To give his unorthodox interview challenges a road test, Green & Blacks got together with Miele and invited a group of bloggers to have a go at those same challenges.

And somehow, Green & Black’s Community Manager, Gail Haslam, talked me into participating in the 15:15 challenge. We had £15 and 15 minutes with which to create a dish which showed our skills in balancing flavours. Eek!

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I nervously hauled my chosen ingredients to the Miele London showroom and, after a cup of restorative tea, quickly got stuck into the wonderful cocktails being made by Drinks Fusion.

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Before the cook-off we were welcomed by Micah and then enjoyed a talk by Frutarom‘s flavourist Matthew Stokes. It was fascinating to learn about the complexities of flavours in chocolate (and coffee too, actually) and to discuss the differences, pros and cons of natural versus artificial (synthetic) flavourings. During the talk, we were passed sniff sticks dipped into various flavourings including a rather disgusting butyric acid. Gag!

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All too soon it was time for the first round of 15:15 contestants to get cooking. I held my nerves together, despite some giggling visits from blogger friends and produced my very simple dish – four individual cheese toasts (Cheddar, Stilton, a goat’s cheese log and Epoisses) served with a fresh pear and ginger chutney. (Scroll down for the chutney recipe; it’s a good one so do make some yourself!)

It was all I could do to complete this in the time so I was blown away by the talent of my 4 fellow competitors when we took our finished plates to the judging station. I quickly stroked goodbye to the beautiful red kitchen aid that was the first prize!

Round two resulted in another 4 stunning efforts. Very impressive indeed!

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Once Micah had finished tasting, the rest of us dug in and tasted each dish.

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Three stood out for me: Luiz’s quails cooked with chocolate, cinnamon, pistachio and rose, Simon‘s duck breast with a quince and red peppercorn sauce, cassoulet, green beans and edamane in a light basil emulsion and Meems’ pasta dish featuring brown beech mushrooms, dashi, soy, mirin, salmon roe, shiso leaves and spring onions.

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Other challenges during the evening were the two taste tests – a cocktail one, where we had to guess the ingredients in two specially designed cocktails by by Drinks Fusion and a chocolate one, for which Micah created two different chocolate ganaches and asked us to identify the flavourings he’d added.

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The well-deserved winners were Jennifer (cocktail taste test), Meems (chocolate taste test) and Meems again for the 15:15 challenge. Her dish was a really clever and tasty balance of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to watch her teary emotions as she was announced as the winner of the cookery challenge. It was lovely!

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During the evening, we were also treated to some delicious sweet and savoury canapés, not to mention more cocktails! In fact, Pepe, the handsome barman, designed a cocktail especially for me featuring freshly squeezed clementine juice, double cream and crème de mure. Delicious!

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At the end of an already wonderful evening, we were also given gorgeous boxes full of Green & Blacks goodness to take home.

Many thanks to Green & Blacks for one of the best events and evenings I’ve attended for a long time and best of luck to Micah in his search for his new Taste Assistant!

Kavey’s Pear & Ginger Chutney

Ingredients
2-3 Conference (or other hard) pears – peeled, cored and diced
1 small onion – peeled and finely diced
3-4 chunks of stem ginger (the kind one buys in syrup) – very finely chopped
100 ml cider vinegar
Approximately 6 tablespoons dark brown sugar (to taste)
2-3 tablespoons of ginger syrup (from the jar of stem ginger)
half teaspoon powdered all spice

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Method

  • Peel and dice the onion and throw into a pan with the cider vinegar.
  • As the onion is cooking, peel and dice the pear and add to the pan.
  • Next add the brown sugar, syrup from the stem ginger jar and the all spice and stir.
  • Continue to cook on a medium heat.
  • Lastly, finely chop the stem ginger pieces and add to the chutney.
  • In the challenge, I cooked the chutney for as long as I had available. However, when I made a second batch the next day, with my leftover ingredients, I gave it longer to cook – about 15 minutes after I’d added the last ingredients. Aim for soft onions but some bite left in the pears.
  • About 5 minutes before the chutney is finished, have a taste and adjust sugar and vinegar to achieve your preferred balance of sweet and tart. If you add more sugar, it will need those 5 minutes to dissolve and mix into the chutney.
  • When finished, serve as is or preserve in sterilised jam jars to mature further.

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I’m really, really happy with this chutney recipe. It’s completely my own invention as I couldn’t find any suitable recipes to use as a guideline. It seems that my growing love of preserving over the last 18 months has paid off as I think this chutney has a lovely balance of autumnal flavours. I hope you enjoy it too!

 

Gareth Groves is an ex-Chef turned wine merchant who is now Communications Manager at Bibendum. His best man once described him as a man who uses breakfast as an opportunity to think about lunch. Part of his job is to manage social media for Bibendum, so he spends a bit of time on twitter, where it’s clear to all that he feels a real passion for food and drink.

Given my recent condiment craze, nay obsession, I was more than a little intrigued when he tweeted that he was cooking up his annual batch of mango, date and chilli chutney. Sounds quite a tasty treat doesn’t it? Especially given that Gareth stipulates proper tasty mangoes!

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Rather liking the sound of that, I invited Gareth to share the recipe (and it’s history) with readers of my blog and, to my delight, he agreed.

Over to Gareth:


I’ve been making this chutney for something approaching ten years. I first came across the recipe in a cookbook celebrating the chefs of the town of Noosa on Australia’s Gold Coast, when I was cooking in a Edinburgh fusion restaurant (God bless the 1990s).

We used to serve it with anything and everything: goats’ cheese tarts, grilled tiger prawns, Isle of Mull cheddar – you name it, it probably came with a small red dish of this chutney. It was our staple condiment: it is easy to make, reads well on a menu and, most importantly, is absolutely delicious.

Since giving up the professional cooking lark for the wine trade and moving to London, I’ve made this chutney every summer when the Indian and Pakistani mangoes have been in season on Tooting High Street.

Mango, Date & Chilli Chutney

Ingredients (makes 6-8 jars):
3 boxes of golden Pakistani mangoes (about 15-18 mangoes)
500ml cider vinegar
500ml demerara sugar
6-8 hot chillies
250g root ginger peeled or scraped
325g pitted dates

ingredients

Method:

  • Chop the mango flesh into a big pan.
  • Boil the vinegar and sugar to make a light syrup.
  • Blitz the chillies (seeds and all), ginger and dates up to make a thick paste. Add a bit of water to the blender if necessary – it will boil off in the final cooking.
  • Add the vinegar syrup and chilli mixture to the mango.
  • Heat and simmer gently until thick and a dark burnished gold. This can take a few hours. Sunday’s batch took about 3 and half hours. Take care the chutney doesn’t catch and burn on the bottom of the pan.
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  • When ready, jar up in sterilised jars.
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  • Wait.

How long do you have to wait? In truth, not that long. You can eat this chutney almost immediately and it will be hot, sweet and fruity. With time, it mellows and becomes more rounded with a deeper flavour. We’ve just finished our last jar of the 2009 vintage one year on and it was delicious.

And what should you serve it with? Almost anything you like. Cheese and cold meats are obvious choices but it also shines in fish fingers sandwiches. A favourite at our house is to make quite a plain dhal and serve it with rice and this chutney: perfect comfort food.

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Having made jam (and marmalade, pickles, chutneys and ketchups) for the first time ever in August, I’ve really caught the preserving bug. And it’s proving to be a perfect way to use and store our home-grown vegetables.

We planted our tomatoes out a little late this year so, although the yield has been fantastic, most have not had time to ripen.

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Back in September, I used some of our green tomatoes to make some chutney. I didn’t have all the ingredients for any of the recipes I had to hand so I decided to improvise. The result was even better than I expected; I’m so pleased with it!

Kavey’s Green Tomato & Raisin Chutney
Ingredients
1 kilograms green tomatoes
250 ml malt vinegar
250 grams raisins
165 grams sugar
5 cloves garlic
2/3 tablespoon ground cumin
2/3 tablespoon sweet paprika (optional)
Salt (to taste)

Method

  1. Place all the ingredients, except for the sugar, into a pan and bring to the boil.
  1. Turn heat down and cook covered until tomatoes are soft.
  2. Uncover, add sugar and boil briskly until the mixture reaches the desired consistency.
  3. Taste and adjust seasoning, spices, sugar and/ or vinegar, as required.
  1. Transfer into hot sterilised jars (both jars and chutney should be hot), seal and leave to cool.
  1. Label and store in cool, dark cupboard.

Note: I sterilise my jars in the oven, putting a tray of jars into a cold oven, setting the temperature to 160 C, and leaving the jars in for at least 10 minutes once the oven has reached temperature. The lids I boil in a pan and then lay out to dry on a fresh teatowel.

The finished chutney is quite a dark one, with a strong flavour. It’s kind of a mix between the flavours of a fruit-based chutney and the picquancy of Branston pickle. It makes a great accompaniment to strong cheese.

 

Some of you may know I’ve been working on produce for my day manning a stall of my own on the Real Food Market at Covent Garden (27th August).

These pictures are just a small selection from two marathon sessions up at my parents’ house in Luton. Thank goodness for my mum and my cousin, who shared the heavy workload!


Spicy Tomato Ketchup

Apple and Sultana Chutney

Tamarind ketchup – it took so long to hand squeeze that sauce mum’s pouring from the tamarind blocks soaked in water – ouch!





Apple jelly – well it was back then; now it’s caramelised chewiness!


Chilli and ginger pickle


Lemon Pickle

A different chilli pickle




My favourite of the lot – nectarine and amaretto jam
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