5 Top Tips for Preserves
If pulling out a jar of your own homemade jam at breakfast time sounds dreamy, or you don’t want to spend a huge amount on gourmet chutneys and pickles, preserving is for you. Along with shorter days and cooler nights, autumn brings some of the year’s best fruit and veg, meaning the time is right to get jamming. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, you should be harvesting a glut of produce at the moment and can turn your haul into jams, pickles, chutneys and more both easily and efficiently. If you’re not a gardener, it’s simple to make the most of the season by shopping for produce…and then following our handy guide to bottling.
- Be a cheapskate
If you’re not preserving fruit and veg from your own garden, visit farmers’ markets or fruit and veg shops to see what’s going cheap. There’s lots of stone fruit around at the moment, including peaches, plums, apricots and the last of the nectarines. Late-season tomatoes and chillies are typically also plentiful at this time, as are zucchini and eggplant. And we’re also seeing the first of autumn’s hero fruit, namely feijoas and pears. Look around and shop for bargains.
2. Be prepared
Once you’ve got your produce sorted, you’ll need to make sure your kitchen is ready for jamming. Here’s a checklist of what you’ll need:
- Jars to bottle your preserves in. Agee jars are a great choice and are available in a range of sizes, from 240ml to 1 litre (and reasonably priced at $6.99-$8.99). They’re also dishwasher-safe and as an added bonus will look super stylish on your shelves.
- A large saucepan to cook your jam in. Jam tends to bubble a lot as it’s cooking, so you need plenty of room. The Davis & Waddell Maslin preserving pan, $139.99, is tailor-made for the purpose.
- A spoon or spatula to stir your jam with. A silicone Agee spoon, $19.99, will work well. And a ladle, $19.99, is useful to transfer your jam to the jars.
- An oven mitt to hold the hot sterilised jars (this Agee oven mitt, $18.99, has a silicone grip to guard against burns).
- A saucer or small plate to perform set tests on. It needs to be chilled when you use it, so pop it in the freezer when you start cooking.
3. Hygiene first
Before you start cooking, make sure to sterilise your jars to ensure a clean environment for your jam. Wash jars and lids thoroughly in hot soapy water, then rinse well and drain. To make sure they are the right temperature — to maintain sterility, your jars and the jam should both be hot when bottling — place them on a rack in your oven then turn the oven on to 120°C and heat for 10-15 minutes. Immediately before use, carefully remove from the oven, place on a clean wooden board, newspaper or tea towel and pour in your hot preserve. Alternatively, you can run the jars through a hot cycle in the dishwasher.
4. Follow directions
Once you become more confident with preserving, you can play around with ingredients, but if you’re a jam novice, it’s a good idea to start with a recipe as to get your jam to set you’ll need to be precise. The plum and ginger jam recipe below from Agee is an excellent start; the fiery warmth of the ginger is the perfect counterpoint to the sweet plum flavour, and the jam is delicious on everything from toast to a special sponge cake or trifle.
As a general rule of thumb, you need around 1kg of sugar for every 1kg of fruit you’re cooking. The sugar works with the natural pectin contained in fruit to help set the jam (you also need a bit of acidity, hence lots of recipes may include a squeeze of lemon), as well as preserving it from developing mould. If stored in properly sterilised jars, jam should keep in your pantry for up to a year - once opened, store in the fridge. Make jam in small batches, so your pan is only about one-third full, as this allows enough room for the jam to bubble and reduce down.
Chutneys, pickles and sauces are also great preserves to make and relatively easy. You can bottle tomato sauces ready to use on pasta, pizza and casseroles throughout winter, or make a batch of chilli sauce or eggplant chutney. And if you’re a pickle addict, give Nicola Galloway’s lovely gherkin recipe a go.
5. Ready to set?
When you’re ready to check if your jam is set, place a small spoonful on your chilled saucer. Set it aside for a minute, then run your finger through it - if the surface of the jam wrinkles slightly then your jam has reached setting point and you can begin bottling it. If not, continue to cook, re-testing every two to three minutes.
Agee Plum & Ginger Jam Recipe
Makes around 2 x 240ml jars
3 cups plums, stoned, sliced
3 cups sugar
3cm ginger, peeled, grated
- Put the plums in a saucepan with a little water and bring to a simmer until softened.
- Add the sugar and grated ginger and simmer, stirring often, until the sugar has dissolved.
- Simmer for 4-6 further minutes, stirring often, then start testing if the jam is set.
- If it’s set, pour into hot sterilised Agee Jam Jars and seal. If not, continue to simmer, re-testing every few minutes.
- Store the jam in a cool, dry place.