In the height of summer, produce is overflowing. Berries, stone fruit, vegetables, herbs – you name it, it’s growing like there’s no tomorrow. If you’re fortunate enough to grow some of your own food, you’ll know some plants are renowned for producing a glut. You’re unlikely to have so much asparagus you don’t know what to do with it. Courgettes and runner beans, on the other hand, you may be fed up of eating!
In the depths of winter, opening a jar of jam or chutney is like opening a jar of sunshine. A reminder of the good times, a hit of colour and flavour to brighten up all kinds of meals. So if you see some seasonal produce at a good price or you’ve got a tree groaning under the weight of its fruit, get preserving.
Blackcurrant, Cinnamon and Merlot Jam
This is summertime in edible form.
- 450g blackcurrants
- 560g granulated sugar
- 3 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces and tied in muslin
- 425ml Merlot or your preferred red wine (or water)
Put a few saucers in the freezer.
Heat the fruit, cinnamon and water/wine in a large heavy-bottomed pan and cook until the skins are very soft. The pan should be much bigger than you think to allow space for the jam to boil.
Once the fruit is completely cooked, add the sugar and stir until it has completely dissolved. Only when the sugar has dissolved turn up the heat and bring to a rolling boil for 3-5 minutes until you reach setting point. You can check if it has reached the setting point by spooning a little of the jam on to one of the cold saucers. After a few seconds, give the jam a push and watch the top surface to see if it wrinkles. If it does, your jam is ready. If it doesn’t, it needs boiling for another minute or two. If you have a sugar thermometer, the setting point is 105C. Carefully remove the cinnamon and ladle your jam into sterilised jars.
Runner Bean and Kohlrabi Pickle
- 700g runner beans, sliced
- 300g kohlrabi, peeled and diced (or another 300g runner beans if you prefer)
- 750g onions, chopped
- 900ml malt vinegar
- 45g cornflour
- 2 tbsp mustard powder
- 1 tbsp ground turmeric
- 700g soft brown sugar
Heat the onions in a large heavy-bottomed pan with 300ml of the vinegar. Simmer gently for around 20 minutes, or until the onions are soft. In a separate pan, boil the beans and kohlrabi for 5 minutes then strain and add to the onions.
Mix together the cornflour, turmeric and mustard with enough vinegar to make a smooth paste, then stir the mixture into the onions. Add the rest of the vinegar and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Stir in the sugar and keep stirring until it has dissolved. Simmer for 15 minutes and then ladle into sterilised jars. Put the jars in a dark cool place for a couple of months to mature. It will taste horribly vinegary and harsh before it has matured but after a couple of months it transforms into a mellow deeply flavoured pickle.
Fruit vodka isn’t going to use up a garden’s worth of raspberries but it does preserve the taste of summer well into winter.
- 300g raspberries
- 500 ml vodka
- 250g caster sugar
In a sterilised wide-necked Kilner jar, mix the raspberries, sugar and vodka together. Seal and leave in a dark place for a few months. Shake the jar every day until the sugar has dissolved, then shake every now and then to make sure the fruit and vodka are transferring flavours. After you’ve decided you can’t leave it any longer, strain out the fruit to enjoy in a very adult ice cream sundae. Transfer the now beautifully pink vodka into bottles to enjoy at your leisure.
Frozen Herby Pesto
If you’ve gone to the trouble of growing your own basil, you won’t want to waste any of it. One of the best ways to preserve it is to make a batch of pesto and freeze it in small portions.
- Large bunch of basil (stalks and leaves are fine)
- Small handful of toasted pine nuts
- Small handful of grated parmesan
- ½ clove garlic
- 1 lemon
- Sea salt
- Extra virgin olive oil
If you’re using a pestle and mortar, pound together the garlic with the salt into a paste. Then add the basil and pine nuts and pound away until you have a green paste. If you’re using a food processor just blitz the garlic, salt, basil and pine nuts together. Mix in the parmesan, then add enough olive oil to make a runny paste. Add lemon juice to taste, and check for seasoning. Line some small containers with cling film and spoon the pesto in. Fold the cling film over each container and freeze. Alternatively, freeze the pesto in ice cube trays. One frozen, dip the containers or ice cube trays very briefly into hot water to loosen the pesto packages and transfer them into a freezer bag so you can re-use the containers/trays. This works well with other soft herbs too. You might want to try parsley and walnut pesto.
Preserving produce in oil is as easy as falling off a log, but worth doing. Chilli oil, rosemary oil, garlic oil… they look wonderful and taste great, so make brilliant presents.
- Extra virgin olive oil
Pierce the chillies a few times with a skewer. Pop a few in each sterilised bottle then top up with extra virgin olive oil. Seal well then put them in a dark place for a few weeks for the flavours to meld. Make sure the chillies are completely submersed in the oil so no air can spoil them.