Welcome to our expert guide to preserving. Elspeth Biltoft, owner of Rosebud Preserves, gives expert tips and tricks on prolonging the life of seasonal fruit, as well as a homemade pear and vanilla jam recipe.
When to make preserves
Of all the types of preserving, one of the most popular is making jams, jellies and marmalades of seasonal fruit. Plan your year and make a few jars of lots of different things to discover what you really love.
Start in early spring with forced rhubarb paired with stem ginger and orange. In June, pop a couple of handfuls of fresh elderflower into a muslin bag to add to sharp gooseberries. Each summer there’s a profusion of soft fruits just waiting to be preserved – raspberries, strawberries and blackcurrants for classic jams, or redcurrants for vibrant jelly.
English plums, greengages and damsons make great early autumn preserves. Pick wild crabapples and rowan berries for jellies to accompany roast meats. Make jelly from new-season Bramley apples, then add any of your favourite chopped herbs to capture their vibrancy. Close the year and start the new one with a selection of citrus fruits to make tangy marmalade. Include the classic ‘in-season’ bitter Seville oranges from Spain.
What equipment to use for preserving
Use a heavy-based stainless steel preserving pan with a top wider than its base if possible, to help the evaporation process. A 10-litre pan should be big enough for your needs. It should only be half full after the sugar is added, to allow for a rolling boil without boiling over.
You will also need the following preserving equipment: a heatproof bowl, plate, sieve, jug, funnel, wooden spoon, slotted spoon, sugar thermometer, new jars and some matching lids and labels.
How to sterilise jars for preserving
To sterilise jars quickly, wash them in hot soapy water, rinse and put in a oven heated at 160C/fan 140C/gas 3 for 10 minutes. This ensures they are clean and hot just as you are ready to start filling. Alternatively, put the washed and rinsed jars in a low 50C oven while you make the jam.
Techniques and tips for preserving
• Fruit should be dry, fresh and slightly under-ripe (to ensure sufficient natural pectin).
• If you are a novice, make raspberry jam first. It’s quick and simple with a stunning flavour.
• There’s no need to add pectin – just generous quantities of fruit and a little fresh lemon juice or grated sour apple according to your recipe.
• Try golden granulated cane sugar instead of white sugar from sugar beet. It is less sweet and imparts a subtle hint of molasses to the jam.
• Stir sugar on a low heat until it is thoroughly dissolved, then turn up the temperature to achieve a rolling boil.
• Check regularly for the setting point, lifting the pan off the heat each time. Use a sugar thermometer to test for set.
• When the jam is ready, pour into a heatproof container to prevent further cooking and spoiling. Remove any ‘scum’ with a slotted spoon before jarring, as it looks unsightly.
• Leave preserves containing pieces of fruit, peel or herbs for about 10 minutes to distribute evenly before jarring.
• Jar and lid while hot.
• Always use new jars and metal lids rather than cellophane tops in order to create a vacuum to help preservation.
• Label with the preserve’s type and date.
Rosebud Preserves is located on Rosebud Farm in North Yorkshire, and makes award-winning jams, marmalades, chutneys and jellies. rosebudpreserves.co.uk