The fruit trees and hedgerows are heavy with their autumn bounty at this time of year, making now the perfect time to pick for jams, jellies and chutneys. Almost any fruit or vegetable can be turned into a sumptuous preserve and the process of jam or chutney-making is not as tricky as you might think.
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Getting started needn't be an expensive affair. A preserving pan is ideal but a heavy, stainless steel pan will work just as well for smaller quantities. If you are making chutneys, do not use a copper, brass or iron pan as the metal will react with the vinegar.
If you are beginner it also worth buying a sugar thermometer so that you can be sure when your jam is ready to set.
Of course you will need jars in which to keep your finished products and it's worth investing in the preserving variety which come with their own lids (like the Kilner jar). Though it may cost more to start with, they are reusable and provide an air-tight seal.
Empty, sterilised jars can also be used but remember that the vinegar in chutneys and pickles and corrode metal so be sure they have plastic-coated lids. Waxed discs should be used to keep your preserves properly sealed and these are available in most kitchen shops.
For chutney making, buy some muslin squares in which to wrap spices and don't forget the labels!
Forget those shop-bought jams and jellies - the home-made variety requires just two ingredients, fruit and sugar. When picking your fruit, ensure it is in good condition. Slightly under-ripe fruit makes the best jam as it contains the most pectin, fruit's natural setting agent.
Clean and dry your fruit and remove stalks, leaves, pips and skin (where necessary), and chop larger fruit.
Most fruit requires a little cooking (in just a little water) before the sugar goes in, allowing the skin to soften and the pectin to be released. Though it depends on the pectin level of your chosen fruit, you will probably want to add sugar. Be aware that jam sugar usually contains added pectin so if, after a little trial and error, you find your jam is set firmer than you would like, try using ordinary granulated sugar instead.
Once the sugar is in the pan, stir well to dissolve it completely then bring the mixture back to the boil. Be sure to stir continuously to avoid burning and boil until the mixture reaches 104-105 degrees - setting point.
Remove the jam from the heat and place in jars while still hot. Then all that's left to do is store in a cool, dry place.
Chutneys, pickles and relishes are just as simple to make as jam. Whatever your chosen fruits, vegetables and spices, the basic recipe is the same - a mixture of fruit, veg, sugar and vinegar.
All fruit and veg should be chopped into small chunks or diced (squashier items such as tomatoes can be quartered as they will cook down). These are then placed in a pan with vinegar, sugar and your little muslin spice wraps, and then heated, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
The mixture should then be simmered gently (do not allow to boil) and stirred frequently until the fruit and veg are soft. Unlike jam your chutney doesn't need to reach a setting point so a good test is to draw your wooden spoon through the mixture - if the resulting groove doesn't immediately fill with liquid, you are ready to put your chutney into jars.
Unlike jams, which are often best fresh, chutneys mature with age and storing for three months before tucking in with a strong cheddar will ensure the flavours have blended beautifully.
Jams and chutneys really are simple to make and there are endless flavour combinations, fruits and vegetables to be tried. So take the plunge and get stuck in - we guarantee you'll never go back to shop-bought again!
Are you a preserve aficionado? Have you found an interesting but fabulous flavour combination? Leave your comments below...