Apparently honey is the only food that doesn’t go off or suffer from decay. What that essentially means is that all other foods, at one time or another, will need to be preserved. The point of preserving food is to inhibit the growth of bacteria, mould or fungi of any kind. As a brief guide to canning, the standard way to accomplish this is to heat the food to kill off any existing contamination and reduce its moisture content and then contain it with an airtight seal. Often an added ingredient such as sugar, vinegar or other acidic liquid is added to further prevent the growth of bacteria. However one of the keys of food preservation is to maintain the original colour, texture, flavour and nutritional content of the food.
Preserving food by making jams and chutneys
While jam was created as a way of extending the life of fruits and vegetables, it has become a favourite foodstuff in its own right. While supermarket shelves have masses of jars of jam to choose from, it’s both easy and fun to make your own – and it’s a great way to use up the surplus from an over enthusiastic outing to the ‘pick your own’ farm!
In essence, the fruit or vegetable is cut or sometimes squashed then cooked with sugar and a little water. Commercial brands tend to use pectin or some other gelling agent to make sure their jams set but although you can buy special jamming sugar with added pectin, this is not really necessary for home made efforts. Chutneys are more or less a savoury version of jam and tend to be very flavoursome thanks to the addition of herbs and spices.
Preserving food with vinegar
Pickling is a way of preserving larger, savoury foods in vinegar or brine. Conveniently making a virtue out of necessity, foods such as pickled onions or gherkins end up with a tangy, sweet and sour taste that is enjoyable in its own right.
It’s not only vegetables that respond well to pickling – eggs, walnuts, cockles, mussels, herring and olives are popular Northern European condiments, while pickled seafood known as ‘ceviche’ is a popular South American dish.
You can make pickles with normal vinegar or buy a home pickling mixture that includes some herbs and spices.
As a guide to canning, you should always sterilise all bottles, jars and their associated lids before you add your home made jams, pickles or other preserves.