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 Pershore Plum Festival celebrates plum growing in and around the Worcestershire town of Pershore. Many varieties are grown in local orchards, including Victoria, Monarch, Greengage and many more but, of course, the varieties that are most celebrated during the festival are those named for the town, Pershore Purple, Pershore Yellow Egg and Pershore Emblem (also known as Evesham  Red). Of these, the Pershore Purple seems to be most prevalent.

Held during August bank holiday weekend, the festival sees this pretty market town celebrate plums with an expansive food and drinks market, music and family entertainment, craft exhibitions and even a large vintage and classic cars show held in abbey park. Local shops deck their windows out in purple, competing for the prize of best display of the year.

I bought my plums from the absolutely charming Ellenden Farm Shop near Harvington. Smaller than other farm shops we visited over the weekend, this one was nonetheless our favourite, firstly because it had a really appealing range of produce and secondly because of the genuinely warm and helpful welcome.

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My Pershore Purples went into a simple plum jelly, with the addition of port for extra flavour.

The purple skins and yellow flesh combined to make a beautiful deep maroon pulp which I strained to 500 ml of juice. Putting the juice aside, I also pressed an additional 182 grams of thicker pulp from before discarding the remaining stones, skin and fibre. I made the jelly in two batches, one with the strained juice, which results in a clearer jelly, and a second smaller batch with the pulp, which makes a thicker and cloudier but just as tasty offering.

I used the same recipe as my previous plum jelly, made from yellow plums from our allotment, it was the colour of sunshine in a jar. It’s the recipe my mum’s been making since I was a kid and is simple and delicious.

 

Plum & Port Jelly Recipe

Ingredients
Plums
Sugar
Water
Ruby port

Note: You won’t know how much sugar you need until you’ve cooked the plums down and strained the juices. For each litre of juice, you’ll need a kilo of sugar.

Note: You can omit the port if you prefer to make a plain plum jelly.

Note: I’ve provided information about the weights and volumes produced from this batch of plums below the recipe.

Method

  • Halve the plums. I find this quick and easy to do by drawing a sharp knife right around each plum and then twisting both halves in opposite directions; the halves come apart easily.

PershorePurplePlumPortJelly-1569

  • Place halved plums into a large pan, leaving the skins on and stones in.
  • Add just enough water to cover most of the plums. (It’s better to be frugal with water and add more during the cooking down process – add too much and your resulting juice will be too thin).

PershorePurplePlumPortJelly-1571 PershorePurplePlumPortJelly-1573

  • Cook down the plums until they disintegrate completely. Add more water only if the mixture is looking dry and might catch.
  • Transfer the cooked pulp into a muslin straining bag or cloth. Either tie closed and hang over a pan or place into a colander inside a pan, so that the juices can easily run down. I left mine to strain overnight, with a clean towel loosely covering everything.

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  • To avoid cloudy jelly, resist the urge to squeeze the pulp to extract extra liquid.
  • Set the strained juice aside.

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  • If you are feeling thrifty, as I was, squeeze more juice from the pulp, and process this separately, as it will produce a thicker, cloudier jelly than the naturally strained juice.

PershorePurplePlumPortJelly-1590

  • Discard the pulp (on your compost heap or into your green bin).
  • At this stage, if you think your juice may be too watered down, boil to reduce volume.
  • Measure the juice and put into a large pan, with caster sugar. Use a kilo of sugar per litre of juice, adjusting for your volume of juice.

PershorePurplePlumPortJelly-1608

  • Plums are naturally high in pectin, so I used regular sugar, but if you use this recipe for other fruits with lower pectin, add powdered or liquid pectin now, or use jam sugar, which has pectin added.
  • Boil the juice and sugar hard. I use a jam thermometer to make sure I reach 104 °C (219 °F).

PershorePurplePlumPortJelly-1609

  • When the jelly has reached temperature, do a pectin check to test that it’s ready to set. I usually just hold the spoon up and see how the jelly drips off it, or draw a line in the jelly coating the back of the spoon).
  • If the jelly is ready, turn off the heat and stir in the port.
  • Pour your hot jelly into hot sterilised jars. I sterilise my jars in the oven (and boil the lids at the same time, draining them onto a clean tea towel). Pouring the jelly into the jars while it and they are still hot minimises the risk of the glass cracking from a sudden and extreme change in temperature.
    (Actually, I ask Pete to do the pouring as holding large jugs of very hot liquid scares me!)

PershorePurplePlumPortJelly-1610

 

I started out with 1.2 kilos of plums from which I strained 500 ml of juice and squeezed an additional 180 grams of thicker, cloudier juice.

To the 500 ml of juice, I added 500 grams of sugar and about 2 tablespoons of port. This produced three 200 gram jars of dark but clear jelly.

To the 180 grams of thicker juice, I added 180 grams of sugar and a tablespoon of port. This made just over one jar of a thicker jelly, more like fruit cheese. We poured the excess into a small bowl to be eaten over the next few days.

PershorePurplePlumPortJelly-1611

 

This is a beautiful jelly, both in appearance and taste. The flavours of fruit and herb come through clearly, and a gentle aroma too.

As a preserving addict, I knew I wanted to make some apple jelly with the kilo of cooking apples from our allotment tree. We also had a small handful of Cox’ Orange Pippins left from the small tree we planted in the back garden last year. We’d enjoyed a few of these sweet, crisp, richly flavoured apples every night for some weeks after harvesting them, but the last few in the fruit bowl had started to wrinkle. To these we added 2 British apples from the supermarket, also past their best.

An interview with garden designer Robert Stoutsker, during a recent visit to London Syon Park hotel, resulted in his gifting me a generous bag of lemon verbena cuttings. A few of these Pete planted (and am pleased to see some of these growing successfully) but the rest I dried and stored in a bottle in my spice and herb rack.

I’ve been thinking of making mint jelly this way for the longest time, but the lemon verbena snuck in first.

Kavey’s Apple & Lemon Verbena Jelly

Ingredients
Apples
Sugar
Lemon verbena leaves
Water

Note: You won’t know how much sugar you need until you’ve cooked the apples down and strained the juice. For each litre of juice, you’ll need approximately 750 grams of sugar, adjusting to taste and according to how sharp your apples are.

Note: As apples are naturally high in pectin, an apple jelly doesn’t require any added pectin. If you adapt this recipe for other fruits you may need to add lemon juice or pectin to help achieve a set.

Method

  • Halve the smaller apples, chop the larger ones into quarters or eighths. You don’t need to peel or core them, as the skin and pips contain lots of pectin, which will help your jelly to set.

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  • Place chopped apples into a large pan and add water to about two thirds of the way up the apples.
  • Cook the apples on a medium heat until they disintegrate completely. Add more water if the mixture is looking dry and might catch.
  • If some of the apples don’t break down, give them a helping hand. I used a potato masher towards the end of cooking, as some of the apples were firmer than the rest.
  • Pour the cooked pulp into a muslin straining bag or cloth. Either tie closed and hang over a pan or, as I did, place into a colander inside a pan, so that the juices can easily run down. I left mine to strain overnight, with a clean towel loosely covering everything.

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  • To avoid cloudy jelly, resist the urge to squeeze the pulp to extract extra liquid. *
  • Discard the pulp (on your compost heap or into your green bin).
  • At this stage, if you think your juice may be too thin and watery, boil to reduce volume. Mine was a fairly thick but easy pouring juice, similar in consistency to single cream.
  • Measure the juice and put into a large pan, with caster sugar. Use 750 grams of sugar per litre of juice, adjusting for your volume of juice.
  • Add lemon verbena leaves. If using fresh, add a small scattering of leaves and taste after the first few minutes of boiling, adding more if the flavour isn’t coming through. I had previously dried my lemon verbena leaves, reducing their potency greatly, so ended up adding over 100 shrivelled leaves, in order to impart my desired level of flavour.
  • Boil the juice and sugar hard. I use a jam thermometer to make sure I reach 104 °C (219 °F).
  • Test for set. I put a plate into the freezer before I start cooking the jelly. When I reach the required temperature, I put a teaspoon of jelly onto the plate and pop it back into the freezer for 20 seconds. After I get it back out, I push my finger through it to see if it wrinkles. If so, the jelly is done. If not, I cook for longer.
  • Pour your hot jelly through a strainer, to remove the lemon verbena leaves. I ladle mine into a heat-resistant Pyrex jug and then pour into hot sterilised jars. I sterilise my jars in the oven (and boil the lids at the same time, draining them onto a clean tea towel). Pouring the jelly into the jars while it and they are still hot minimises the risk of the glass cracking from a sudden and extreme change in temperature.

AppleLemonVerbenaJelly-0871

As apples are high in pectin, the jelly achieved a great set and is a beautiful colour, with tiny flecks of lemon verbena leaves suspended throughout.

I’m looking forward to enjoying this on breakfast toast, but as it has a lovely herby flavour, I may also try it as an alternative to mint jelly next time I have roast lamb.

* I hate waste, so once the cooked apple had finished dripping through the muslin, I set the clear juice aside and then pressed and squeezed the remaining pulp to release quite a bit more juice. This was much cloudier than the rest, so I used it to make a second batch of jelly in a smaller pan. To this one I added very hot chilli powder instead of lemon verbena. Although the single jar of chilli jelly is not as clear as the lemon verbena, it’s perfectly attractive and tastes great.

 

Although we’ve not achieved as much as we’d hoped over at the new allotment (which we took on this time last year) we have enjoyed harvesting fruits from the existing trees and bushes.

Our plum tree gave us a fair crop of juicy sweet fruit.

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I’m glad we picked nearly all of them on one day as, when we returned just a few days later to collect any remaining, we found they’d been shrivelled up by brown rot.

I had a hankering to make plum jelly just like my mum makes. When I was growing up, we had plum trees in the back garden, so she’d make some every year.

Plum Jelly

Ingredients
Plums
Sugar
Water
Pectin or lemon juice (optional)

Note: You won’t know how much sugar you need until you’ve cooked the plums down and strained the juices. For each litre of juice, you’ll need a kilo of sugar.

Note: If your plums are a little tart, or you include some slightly unripe ones in the mix, you probably won’t need to add extra pectin. However, if all the plums are very ripe, additional pectin may be needed. This can be added in powdered or liquid form, or via lemon juice, which is naturally high in pectin, or you can use jam sugar, which has extra pectin.

Method

  • Halve the plums. I find this quick and easy to do by drawing a sharp knife right around each plum and then twisting both halves in opposite directions; the halves come apart easily.

PlumJelly-9760

  • Place halved plums into a large pan, leaving the skins on and stones in.
  • Add just enough water to cover most of the plums. (It’s better to be frugal with water and add more during the cooking down process – add too much and your resulting juice will be too thin).

PlumJelly-9765

  • Cook down the plums until they disintegrate completely. Add more water only if the mixture is looking dry and might catch.

PlumJelly-9766

  • Pour the cooked pulp into a muslin straining bag or cloth. Either tie closed and hang over a pan or, as I did, place into a colander inside a pan, so that the juices can easily run down. I left mine to strain overnight, with a clean towel loosely covering everything.

PlumJelly-9767 PlumJelly-9769

  • To avoid cloudy jelly, resist the urge to squeeze the pulp to extract extra liquid.
  • Discard the pulp (on your compost heap or into your green bin).

PlumJelly-9771

  • At this stage, if you think your juice may be too watered down, boil to reduce volume.
  • Do a pectin test if you think you might need to boost the pectin before making the jelly.
  • Measure the juice and put into a large pan, with caster sugar. Use a kilo of sugar per litre of juice, adjusting for your volume of juice.

PlumJelly-9772

  • If you need to add pectin, add it now (or use jam sugar, which has extra pectin).
  • Boil the juice and sugar hard. I use a jam thermometer to make sure I reach 104 °C (219 °F).
  • Pour your hot jelly into hot sterilised jars. I sterilise my jars in the oven (and boil the lids at the same time, draining them onto a clean tea towel). Pouring the jelly into the jars while it and they are still hot minimises the risk of the glass cracking from a sudden and extreme change in temperature. Actually, I ask Pete to do the pouring as holding large jugs of very hot liquid scares me!

PlumJelly-9775 PlumJelly-9778

My finished jelly is a soft set, as I chose not to add any extra pectin.

It’s delicious, and has such a gorgeous colour, tinged pink from the skins of the fruit.

I used some recently to glaze a home-made blackberry, raspberry and banana fruit tart. It worked beautifully. And of course, it’s lovely on toast or scones. And I bet it’d be nice between two layers of soft sponge cake…

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