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Preserving basics

If you've never done it, preserving can seem daunting. But it's really simple and fun (we promise!), and enormously satisfying. Here's what you need to know to get started.

  • Large saucepan or stockpot
  • Jars – either empty supermarket jars, washed well, or special preserving jars with seals and screw bands
  • Wooden spoons
  • Knife with a long blade
  • Tongs
  • Large frying pan or shallow saucepan

Sterilise the jars you intend to use by placing them in an oven heated to 120°C, for about 15 minutes.

Prepare brand new preserving seals by pouring boiling water over them until they become flexible. Boil reused lids and seals thoroughly. You can leave all lids, seals and screw bands in a pan of simmering water until required to ensure they are sterile and hot enough to form a vacuum. Discard any lids or seals with rust spots or damaged linings.

  • Fill jars over a heatproof pan to catch the overflow.
  • Use tongs to remove hot sterilised jars from oven.
  • Ensure sauce/preserve/syrup is piping hot (leave on the stove), and spoon a small amount into the jar. Wait a few seconds for the glass to adjust to the temperature of your mixture and then pack the jar quickly. Fill to the brim.
  • Slide a long-bladed knife down the inside of the jar to release air bubbles, then fill jar to the rim with hot sauce or syrup so that placing a seal on will cause it to overflow slightly. This 'overflow method' ensures there's no air trapped in the jar to harbour bacteria.
  • Use tongs to position your hot seal in place and apply pressure to the centre of the seal while you screw on the band. (Or just screw on the lid if you are reusing a bought jam jar).
  • As the contents of the jar cools, a vacuum will form and the seal will become slightly concave. When cool, wash jars well and store away from direct sunlight. Any jars which do not seal should be used immediately or resealed.

If your seal does not form a vacuum when cool, the filling was not hot enough. Remove seal and reheat in boiling water. Place the full jar in the microwave and heat until filling is boiling hot. Pour boiling water into the top of the jar until it overflows (yes, over the top of the existing filling. Topping up this way ensures a good seal). Replace the seal as above.

Impress your friends and make the most of the seasonal surplus with these easy and yummy preserves:

Chunky primavera
Passata
Antipasto preserves
Pickled mushrooms
Oven-dried tomatoes
Frozen tomatoes
Spiced (pickled) peaches

First published: Mar 2009



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