Useful Ways to Preserve Food
A Variety of Methods
There is such a variety of methods of preserving foods. In the 'old days', especially before refrigeration, most housewives devised methods of preservation, so the foods would keep over the winter and provide sustenance for their families. It remains quite an art and lots of fun to do. The produce is often also used for entering in local agricultural shows, so appearance is important, too.
Probably the best known method is preserving fruits by making jams, jellies and marmalades. Then there are fruit butters, candied fruits and bottling fruits. Another method is by drying and this mostly concerns herbs and vegetables. Foods can also be preserved in the home by salting, smoking, by making pickles and chutneys, and, of course, there is always wine. I'll only be writing about a few of the preservation methods.
Jams, Jellies and Marmalades
Many different fruits and even some vegetables can be made into jams, jellies and marmalades. Over the years I have made rose-petal jelly and lilly-pilly jelly and they turned out to be such pretty colours. Oh, and once when we were broke I even made passion-fruit skin jelly. Marmalades are great when I need to take something for a church stall and are not really a lot of trouble. One recipe I like is Scottish, so again it is frugal, but it also tastes great.
Dundee Marmalade. Basically, every time someone eats an orange or any citrus fruit, save the skin and seeds, pop them into separate bags in the freezer, and keep adding until you have enough. When you are ready, thaw the skins and put them in a pot. You can add some whole fruit as well, cut into quarters, cover with water, bring gently to the boil and cook until tender. Cool. Remove the fruit and skins and weigh them; cut the fruit and skins so they are chunky, removing the seeds. Put all the seeds in a calico bag and tie firmly. Put everything back in the pot and bring slowly to the boil. Meanwhile, caramelise an equal weight of sugar and add it to the boiling fruit. Remove the bag of seeds. Add a couple of tablespoons of treacle. Continue as you would with any marmalade, putting it into warmed jars while it is still quite hot. It comes out dark and chunky and is a great favourite.
Candied and Crystallised Fruits
So many different things can be candied, crystallised or made into glace fruit. I used to love to sneak into my Gran's pantry and sneak snippets of her candied peel, it was so delicious. Things that can be candied or crystallised include many different kinds of fruits, including tinned fruits, and flowers such as violets, pansies, rose petals, even forget-me-nots. Recently, I crystallised my whole crop of cumquats, which was only about a dozen as the bush is fairly new.
Crystallised Cumquats. First I cleaned them, then covered them with water and cooked them gently until tender, then removing them from the pot. I made a small slit underneath each piece and removed the pips. To each 250 ml of liquid I added 150g of sugar, brought it to the boil and poured the syrup over the fruit. Then for about eight days, each day I repeated the process, adding a dessertspoon of sugar to the syrup each day until it was about the consistency of clear honey when cold. Then the fruit was removed to be dried in a very slow oven. When it was dried, with tongs I dipped each piece in boiling water, shook off the excess, rolled the fruit in caster sugar and put back in the oven to dry before packing them away. They have a very astringent flavour but taste good. The remaining syrup can be used over desserts.
Drying Herbs and Vegetables
There are several different ways of drying: There are the commercial dehydrators, or simple methods such as a slow oven or a frame of some kind for drying out-of-doors. Years ago my Dad made a contraption that had several shelves of mosquito wire and Mother sliced and dried beans, tomatoes and many other vegetables on it. I dried my herbs just spread out on white butchers' paper and the mushrooms in the oven.
Lavender: This is usually picked early in the morning as it has more flavour then. Lavender is particularly useful as it can be used for pot-pouri, for adding to cookies, (Australian style) scones and even a 'Middle Ages' syrup, but we have the advantage of being able to pour it over ice-cream and the delicate flavour is delightful.
Freezing Fruit, Vegetables and Fish
Berry Fruits: The blueberries and other soft berries are so simple. Just make sure they are clean and dry, spread them out on an oven sheath or something similar, and pop it in the freezer. When they are frozen, bag, add a twist and replace in the freezer.
Vegetables: Most vegetables need to be cleaned and blanched before freezing. It's not difficult. I just prepared the broad beans as if for a large meal, then place in a wire salad basket or colander and immerse in a large pot of boiling water. This retards the enzyme action and helps the vegetables to retain their colour. The length of time for blanching varies. Broccoli and cauliflower take three to five minutes, carrots and asparagus three minutes, while shredded cabbage and broad beans take only about a minute and a half. Remove, cool and drain and bag, or they can be frozen on a tray first, to keep the vegetables separate, and then bagged. When being used, vegetables so treated only require light cooking and keep their colour well.
Fish: They should be very fresh and small fish can be gutted and scaled, heads and tails removed and then frozen whole. Larger fish may need to be filleted. Simply place on a tray, separate with layers of freezer film, freeze and then bag.
If you grow your own fruit and vegetables, or have the opportunity to catch your own fish, try preserving your produce. It is not a lot of work and you can enjoy the fruits of your labour for much longer.
© 2012 Bronwen Scott-Branagan