The first hint of autumn wafting outside the door always seems to coincide with my involuntary urge to gather things in and stock up for winter. I start making preserves about now and continue until January when I finish the marmalade.
The shelves groaning with jams, jellies, chutneys and pickles gives me a sense of security. I blame it on all those harvest festivals we went to as kids. That, and watching the Waltons.
An afternoon of chopping, stirring, potting and labelling – plus the resulting messy, sticky kitchen – are all worth the sight of my creations sitting securely in their jars and bottles. If the contents were home-grown, then it’s a jackpot.
Why bother making preserves?
But surely there are already great preserves to buy, so why go to all that effort? True, for a couple of quid you will find some excellent ready-made offerings out there. They can even be cheaper to buy than to make yourself.
What you won’t find, though, is that sense of self-satisfaction when you pop open the jar of jam ready to slather on a scone, or the smug pride as you hand over a hunk of cheese with a dollop of your home-made relish on the side.
Home-made preserves are not as complicated as some like to make them out to be, especially if you begin with an easy, trusted recipe such as the rhubarb chutney below. (This is the chuck-it-all-in-the-pan method and they don’t come any easier.)
And there are some great books out there, such as Jams & Chutneys: Preserving the Harvest, which is chock-full of great recipes from renowned cookery writer Thane Prince.
Pickled onions secret
The rite of passage as a ‘preserver’ comes once you are willing to tackle the pickled onion. It isn’t complicated but will test your patience both in the time it takes to peel the onions and how long you have to wait for the first crunch of your home-made pickle. (Making them now means they will be bang-on, come Boxing Day.) But boy, is it worth it.
I will let you into my secret: to speed up the preparation of the onions, top and tail them, place them in a large heat-proof bowl, and pour over boiling water to cover. Leave to cool and – hey presto – the skins will just rub away. But don’t leave them in the water once cool, or the onions will start to go mushy…