When making preserves, most of the attention goes on the recipe or the cooking process, but in fact the clue is in the name: preserves. How the jars are filled, sealed and stored are equally important aspects.
Filling jam jars
Most preserves should be decanted into jars – carefully – upon reaching setting point. Marmalades can be left to cool a little to prevent peel floating to the top. Ideally the jars will still be warm from sterilising, as this helps to avoid the preserve from cooling down before you’ve managed to seal the jars. Always fill jars to the top and seal immediately. Chunky preserves such as chutneys should be tapped upon the worktop to remove pockets of air.
Sealing with lids and jam jar covers
Preserves are sealed by two main methods: a wax disc topped with jam jar covers or a screw on lid. The best lids for preserving are lined with plastic. As soon as the jar is filled, screw the lid on tightly. While jars can be recycled it’s not generally a good idea to recycle lids as even when thoroughly cleaned, the nooks and crannies of screw tops can harbour nasties that will destroy the freshness of your preserves. In a similar way, the shape of the lids can be distorted with use and enthusiastic cleaning, so it’s a good idea to invest in a fresh set of lids from Wares of Knutsford when you begin your preserving season.
Using jam jar covers
To seal with a wax disc and jar cover, place a disc with the waxy side down onto the surface of the jar of preserve while it is still hot. Use a drop of water to moisten the top side of the cover, stretch it neatly over the neck of the jar and secure in place with an elastic band. Wares of Knutsford sells a range of attractive jam jar covers and labels to go with them, and if you are giving the preserves as gifts you can prettify the jar with some ribbon.
A cool, dark spot is the best place to store your preserves – a larder cupboard, garage or shed, for example. Most will keep for up to a year stored thus, as long as they have been correctly prepared and sealed. Once open, store preserves in the refrigerator.
Fruit curds and uncooked condiments or relishes are an exception and should be used within a month.