Get into preserving: how to make great jam and chutney

PUBLISHED: 12:36 07 August 2020

Green tomatoes are a main ingredient in Ruth French's Spiced Autumn Chutney. Photo: Getty Images

Green tomatoes are a main ingredient in Ruth French's Spiced Autumn Chutney. Photo: Getty Images

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If you’ve got a glut of green tomatoes and too many marrows why not have a go at making your own jam and chutney? Ruth French shows you how

Ruth French's pear jam and ginger jam is delicious on croissants and bagels. Photo: Getty ImagesRuth French's pear jam and ginger jam is delicious on croissants and bagels. Photo: Getty Images

It’s that bounteous harvest time again, of squirrelling and storing for the dark months ahead.

After a difficult spring and summer for us all, many of us have had to put into practice the art of ‘make do and mend’ and food has been at the heart of that. What better way to extend that philosophy than with the making of preserves? It’s kitchen alchemy at its best but there’s much more to it than simply using the season’s glut out of frugal necessity.

Preserve-making can be creative, decadent and result in a truly delicious, luxury food, especially with the addition of herbs, spices and exotic ingredients from around the world.

The art of preserving goes way back into the mists of time and includes salting, drying, fermenting, bottling, smoking, pickling and more. There are of course some key techniques to preserving food safely but they are easily mastered, and there are a few indispensable tools that will make your sticky preserving days easier and more professional, so try to invest in a few of them.

Preserved lemons are a key ingredient of north African and southern Mediterranean cooking. Photo: Getty ImagesPreserved lemons are a key ingredient of north African and southern Mediterranean cooking. Photo: Getty Images

So many of our everyday foods are actually preserves that we may not recognise them as such. These include everything from a tin of baked beans or anchovies (canning) to lentils, pasta and ham (drying). Prepared with love, and beautifully presented and labelled, preserves make the most wonderful gifts that everyone will appreciate. Get the whole family involved in preserving this autumn and get some of those Christmas presents sorted early.

THE BASICS

Jams and Jellies

Homemade jams and preserves make great gifts, says chef Ruth French. Photo: Getty ImagesHomemade jams and preserves make great gifts, says chef Ruth French. Photo: Getty Images

Boiled fruit or juice in sugar. The sugar is the preservative so don’t skip on the quantity given in the recipe. The setting point of jams and jellies is crucial at 104°C and the ability to set is obtained by the occurrence of Pectin. In fruit with many seeds, this is present naturally, but in some fruits it is virtually non-existent so commercial pectin has to be added. Jars must be sterilised prior to being filled up to the neck to reduce the risk of moulds developing. This is done by putting cleaned jars and their metal lids in a cool oven while they are still wet, until they are dried.

Chutneys

Boiled vegetables and/or fruit in sugar, vinegar and spices. The reduction of the vinegar and sugar with the fruit and vegetables produces the thickness of the chutney. Jars must be sterilized.

Drying

In the right climate, food can safely be dried and preserved by laying it out in the sun during the hot, arid days of summer. Here in the UK, we can achieve equally successful results with either a rack dehydrator or the simple use of a cool oven.

Salting

Salting food leeches water from the cells. If enough is used it will preserve it because bacteria cannot survive in the presence of salt.

EQUIPMENT

Large stainless steel pan with a thick bottom, preferably a traditional Maslin pan with handles

Long wooden spoons

Sugar thermometer

Jam/chutney funnel

Jars with lids (waxed lids Must be used for chutney as vinegar reacts with metal)

Waxed paper/disks

Cellophane paper/disks

Labels (preferably home-made)

Pectin powder

Pieces of muslin cloth for herbs and spices

String

SAFETY TIPS AND HINTS

Use great care when boiling food with sugar and/or vinegar. The preserve reaches very high temperatures and can spit boiling jam/chutney over the outside of the pan as it thickens.

Always sterilize any container that holds a preserve. As mentioned before, a cool oven is best – around 130°C for ten minutes works well.

Fill jars right up to the neck to ensure minimum airspace. Always use a funnel to fill whilst the mixture is piping hot and seal straight away. Use a clean, damp cloth to hold the jars and wipe when sealed. Leave to cool before labelling.

GET CREATIVE

Be inventive! Add an extra spice or ingredient you love to give your preserves an exotic, personal touch. As long as you broadly stick to the same ratio of fruit and veg to sugar and vinegar, you will produce a little jar of magic.

Save fabric scraps for covering the cellophane disks or lids and use pinking shears to cut them out. Make your own labels for the front of the jars – remember to name and date the contents.

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RECIPES

Ruth’s Spiced Autumn Chutney

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This is a wonderful chutney that can be used to accompany a curry, a cheeseboard or even perk up sausage and mash. It makes an ideal Christmas present and it will improve with age. It’s also a good way to use up surplus marrows and tomatoes that haven’t ripened.

750g of marrow or squash

750g of green or very firm tomatoes

750g of cooking apples

750 mix of any other surplus garden fruit/vegetable such as pears, green beans, or both

750g onions

6 fat cloves garlic

300g sultanas

200g apricots

2 inch piece ginger

2 teaspoons chilli flakes

2 teaspoons sea salt

8 cloves, 8 cardamon pods, 2 blades of mace, 2inch piece of cinnamon stick, all tied in muslin.

500grams brown sugar

750ml cider vinegar

250ml water

Remove seeds and cores from the veg and chop all fruit and vegetables into smallish bits. Grate the ginger and discard the fibrous parts. Put everything including the spice bag into the preserving pan, slowly bring to the boil to ensure that the sugar has dissolved, then simmer for a couple of hours until the chutney has thickened. It should leave a channel when you trawl a spoon through it. Remove spice bag and leave for five minutes. Fill sterilised jars whilst chutney is still hot.

Granny Annie’s Pear & Ginger Jam

This very simple recipe given to me by my French grandmother is always a firm favourite. Spread it on croissants or toasted bagels, or add it to a chocolate and banana trifle instead of the usual strawberry version.

Makes around 2kg of jam.

2 kg pears

2 inch piece fresh ginger

4 to 6 pieces stem ginger plus some syrup

2 lemons

1 kg sugar

500ml water

Piece of muslin cloth

Peel core and chop the pears into smallish pieces and put into a preserving pan with the juice of the lemons. Reserve the rest of the lemons and wrap in a muslin cloth with the peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger. Tie the muslin with some string and suspend into the pan with the pears and lemon juice. Add the water and cook until the pears are soft. Now add the sugar, stem ginger and syrup and boil the whole lot for about an hour or until setting point has been reached (104°C) or the jam shrinks back on a cold plate. Allow to cool for five minutes then spoon into sterilized jars and seal. Label when cool.

Preserved Lemons

These glorious lemons are an essential part of Moroccan and Greek cuisine. They will enhance any savoury dish but their real magic lies in their tangy addition to a lamb tagine.

12 medium unwaxed lemons

20 black peppercorns

5 bay leaves

20 coriander seeds

10 cardamom pods

8 cloves

Salt

Large 500ml preserving jar or two 250ml jars if giving as presents

Take six of the lemons and cut them into wedges. Now take out the seeds. Squeeze the juice from the other six lemons and reserve it. Layer the jars with lemon wedges that have been firmly pressed down and add 10g of salt (approx two teaspoons), a bay leaf and a small amount of the whole spices. Repeat with layers of lemon, 10g of salt and spices until virtually full. Press down again and add the lemon juice to the brim of the jar. Seal. If you are using two smaller jars you will need to reserve half of the salt, juice and spices. Do not skimp on the amount of salt as this is not only the preservative but will reduce the likelihood of fruit fermentation. If made in September, you can expect them to be ready to use in a month or two, so they make excellent Christmas presents.

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