The preservation of fruit by bottling or canning is a common way to manage large harvests and keep you in fruit throughout the winter months. The term ‘canning’ is an American alternative to the English ‘bottling’. Either description is an umbrella term to describe the preservation of fruit by turning it into chutney, relish, jam or jelly, or simply by pickling it. The pickling and preservation of fruit has been used for centuries to help people manage their harvests and provide an alternative to the winter staples of potatoes and greens. This method of preserving food is one of the oldest culinary skills of the human race, and it’s currently enjoying something of a revival.
Almost any type of fruit can be bottled, although some types lend themselves to particular methods of preserving. Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, currants and gooseberries all make excellent jams and jellies. Apples and pears make good chutneys and most fruits can be pickled. It’s a good idea to experiment with different types of bottling, however, so you can identify your favourite recipes.
Preparing Your Fruit
Fruit for bottling should be firm, young and never overripe. Wash and prepare the fruit, taking care to cut away bruised areas. Small fruits may be left whole, but larger fruits, especially ones with pips or stones, should be halved or quartered. Apricots and peaches should be peeled. Simply blanch the whole fruits in a saucepan of boiling water until the skin appears loose, then drain, leave to cool and the skin should fall off easily. Apples and pears should be peeled, cored and sliced.
Basics of Bottling
Fruit may be bottled cooked, raw or made into a puree, depending on the type and your preference. The ‘raw-pack’ method for bottling is best used for soft fruits such as, berries or plums, tomatoes, currants and cherries. This is where fruit is packed tightly into jars a third at a time, each layer being covered with a sugar syrup solution. Syrup helps preserve the colour and texture of the fruit and tastes good too. Fruit juice or wine can also be used with this method, spices such as mustard seeds, cloves, allspice, coriander seeds and black peppercorns can be added.
Firm and fibrous fruits such as apples and pears should be cooked in a sugar syrup solution to make them easier to pack into jars. It also adds to the flavour and gives you the opportunity to infuse the fruit with spices. During simmering, to prevent the fruit from browning, rub peeled apples, peaches, pears, nectarines and apricots with lemon juice.
Ensure jars are sterilised before you use them. This removes any bacteria present, which would cause your fruit to go off sooner than it would otherwise. Either wash the jars in your dishwasher just before you use them, or in hot, soapy water. Rinse them and stand them upside down in the oven at 150°C for 30 minutes. Your jars must be hot when you ladle in the mixture.
Use a large, heavy non-metallic pan. Add sugar to the liquid over gentle heat and don’t stir until it has all dissolved naturally. This prevents crystallisation and burning.
When the mixture dries it can be prone to shrinking. Tap jars to remove any air bubbles. This will prevent oxygen being trapped in the jars, which can make them to go off.
Once the mixture is in, seal the jars immediately. If you’re using metallic lids, seal the jars with greaseproof paper and fix it with an elastic band. This prevents the acid in the mixture from coming into contact with the lid and corroding it.
Store your preserves in a dark, dry, cool area. Moist, warm conditions can grow mould and thus spoil preserves. Light will bleach their colour.
Ten ideas to bottle fruit:
- Banana jam
- Lemon curd
- Spiced citrus fruit
- Pickled pears
- Mustard fruit
- Spiced raspberries
- Bottled peaches
- Nectarine chutney
- Blackberry and raspberry jam
- Blueberry jelly
However you choose to bottle or can your fruit, you will have a tasty alternative to traditional ways of eating it, and be able to enjoy the fruits well into the winter months. Preparing the mixtures is great fun and the range of recipes available is endless.