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Preserving tips

by Sarah Alcock

It's the perfect time of year to be preserving, with a glut of seasonal fruit and vegetables just crying out to be turned into delicious jams, jellies, relishes and more to see you through the coming months. Here are our top 5 tips for getting the most out of any preserving you're doing.

1) Be scrupulous in your cleanliness. Nothing's more dispiriting than going to open a jar of lovingly made and matured chutney only to find a film of fur on top. Wash all equipment thoroughly before use and take the time to sterilise your jars and lids. No licking your fingers either.

2) Use the ripest fruit you can find, but not TOO ripe. Ripe fruit and veg have the most flavour, which is what you're trying to preserve, but overripe ones might not have enough pectin to set your jams and jellies. Look for aromatic-smelling produce with no bumps or bruises.

3) Don't overcook it. With fresh produce every moment of heat applied is a bit of flavour lost, so stick to the cooking times recommended and don't get bored and wander off when a pot's on the stove. Jam that's cooked too long tastes of sugar and nothing else.

4) Experiment with flavours, but leave the preservatives alone. Sugar, salt and vinegar are the key preservatives in any recipe and you're best off not fiddling with them if you want a reliable result. Spices are another matter however, so if you don't like coriander, don't put it in. If you love the taste of vanilla, add a bit. Make it your own.

5) Always label your jars! Yes, you know what's in there now, but in three months' time when you dig it out from the back of the cupboard you might find it harder to distinguish between chutney, compote and jam. Wait until the filled jars are completely cold before putting the labels on, otherwise they'll just peel off again.

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