When you have a glut of any particular fruit or vegetable, you need to look at preserving methods to avoid wastage. Jams, pickles, chutneys and preserves of any kind are designed for this purpose, while freezing and simple bottling will also do the job. There is a list of suitable bottling produce as not all foods are suitable, but the basic procedure is the same all round.
The basics of bottling produce
When preserving produce you can bottle in two different ways – either in a boiling water bath or a pressure cooker. Bottling in boiling water is the simplest method and doesn’t require any special equipment.
You can bottle certain produce depending upon its natural acidity. You need a certain level of acidity when bottling fruits and vegetables to avoid an overgrowth of Clostridium botulinium bacteria, which can cause Botulism, a potentially fatal form of food poisoning. The bacteria can be destroyed in foods with a high enough level acidity by heating them to a certain temperature.
Most fruit apart from figs can safely be bottled either whole or made into jams, compotes or other preserves. Adding a little lemon juice, vinegar or citric acid will raise the acidity level if necessary. Most fresh vegetables apart from tomatoes don’t have the required acidity level for water bath bottling and will need pressure cooking to be safely preserved.
Choosing bottling produce
Bottling may be used to deal with a glut of produce but it will only work with decent quality food. Mouldy or diseased fruit will not do – make sure you use fresh, firm fruits. Small areas of lesions or spots can be cut away.
Bottling works best with fruits of optimum ripeness. If you can’t bottle the fruit while it is freshly picked, store it away in a cool, dark place until you are ready. Apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums and pears should be left for a day after harvesting before bottling, unless they are very ripe, as this will allow them to sweeten a little more.
Boiling water bath tips
You can buy special preserving pans, but a large stockpot works perfectly well as a boiling water bath.
Line the base of the pan with a folded tea towel before filling it with water to prevent the bottom of the jars from banging against the bottom of the pot and cracking. If you are worried the boiling water will move the jars around, place another tea towel in between them.