Friday, February 27, 2009

Biggest Kitchen Table – Preserving in a Water Bath

This month’s topic at the biggest kitchen table is preserving using a water bath. Preserving is something that most people put into the “oh how cute, you make your own instead of buying one from the shops” category. I find a lot of people think preserving is now a waste of time and is old fashioned.

Now, I completely disagree with this. Firstly, have you ever read the ingredients list on a store bought jar of relish or chutney? There is usually a long list of ingredients that are added to preserve, flavor and colour the product. I like to know exactly what is in the food I am giving to my family. A lot of preserves are also imported and one of our goals is to reduce our food miles so that is another strike against the store option.

I also get an immense satisfaction when I make my own preserves. I enjoy seeing the delight on people’s faces when I give away extra jars as well as the enjoyment people get from eating my preserves. I suppose homemade preserves are reasonably rare and they are treated as something special (as compared to a store bought jar).
When I researched preserving I was concerned about the risk of botulism contamination. To minimize the risk, I decided to buy a Fowlers Valcola Preserving Kit (actually, it was a birthday gift – thanks again Mum). This ensures an even temperature of the water and so far I haven’t had a failed seal. It's very easy to use, comes with really easy instructions and recipes and I would recommend them to anyone thinking of preserving. Here is the link to a site that sells them.

I also have some FV jars but when I made my first chutney, I had too much for the jars and ended up using some jam jars I had in the cupboard (never throw out glass jars, they can be used for so many things). I actually found the jam jars to be just as good – better than FV because you use the same screw top lid when the jars are opened. I now prefer to use glass jars that I have saved. The lids do need to be checked to make sure there isn’t any damage done to the underside rubbery bit. You can buy new lids here and here.
I store my jars in my storage pantry which is under the house. It was once a dark room and is, of course, dark as well as having an even temperature and is dry. Each jar is also labeled with the date, the contents, and which recipe I used. Storing them on an open shelf in the kitchen may look fantastic but it will quickly ruin your hard work. Perhaps a recipe is needed that will look good on the shelf but isn’t for eating? Note to self: google.

There are heaps of recipes on the web for all sorts of preserves. I started with a recipe from the web for my mango chutney and tweaked it here and there until I was happy with it. I also borrowed a few books from the library on preserving, but my favourite is A Year in a Bottle by Sally Wise.
Sally has heaps of recipes that are easy to follow and I think it makes a great book if you are just starting out or are unsure about adjusting recipes – there are so many different recipes in this book you don’t need to adjust anything.

I tend to be a bit of a sucker for homemade preserves from markets. I also like to support cottage industries. When we were down at the Sapphire Coast in January, I picked up some tomato pickles at the Bega markets. The man selling them was either old enough to be my grandfather or he spent way too much time in the sun. He said it was his mother-in-law that does the cooking and preserving and he travels to the local markets to sell them. Now that I think about it, he must have just spent too much time in the sun, otherwise his mother in law would be 110. As you can see the jar is almost empty – Mr Berry puts it on just about everything.

My favourite though, is beetroot relish. I haven’t been able to find a recipe I am happy with yet but I did find a yummy jar at the same markets at Bega. I am the only one in the house that likes it so it should last me long enough to continue tweaking my recipe. Beetroot relish is great on homemade burgers.

I know I haven’t really talked much about the technique of preserving. If you are after clear instructions please visit Down to Earth. There really isn’t any point in re-inventing the wheel and Rhonda’s instructions are fantastic (as always). Here is also the link to my mango chutney recipes.

If you have been thinking about preserving then the best way to start is to jump right in. It can be a bit daunting at first but once you get going it really isn’t any different to making a bolognaise sauce.


Fiona said...


I think that you have inspired me to give it a go with FV. Do you have any great recipes for Tomato Chutney. My tomatoes are going really well and I have quite a few that need bottling soon.


lisa winter said...

i love to can also, even though i am still learning. i do pretty well with preserves but am having a hard time finding a recipe for pickles where they stay crunchy.

Taryn said...

I have made my own jelly/jam- but that is all so far. Maybe this summer I will try something more adventurous. thanks for the advice.

Rhonda Jean said...

Fabulous post, Emma. You and I preserve for the same reasons - we want preservative-free delicious food. I really liked your post because it encourages others to try this without and gives very good reasons why. Thank you for joining the kitchen table. :- )

Jan Hatchett said...

This is my first visit to your blog and it is lovely! I found it through the Biggest Kitchen Table discussion at Down to Earth.

I had never heard of the FV system and I think it is very interesting. Thanks for introducing me to something new!

Emma @ the Berry Patch said...

Thank you everyone for posting and I hope the biggest kitchen table has inspired you.

Fiona, I haven't made tomato chutney yet because my tomatos keep failing.


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