Food For Thought: Homemade Preserves

Preserving can be a somewhat labour of love, but a pantry full of homemade preserves will provide all the reward one needs to get bottling in the kitchen.

Preserving can be a somewhat labour of love, but a pantry full of homemade preserves will provide all the reward one needs to get bottling in the kitchen.

An abundance of a particular fruit or vegetable is the perfect opportunity to create family favourites. Jams, jellies, chutneys and relishes all have different origins and with them have provided endless cultural influences. When chutney infiltrated the Empire, preserves would never be the same again; English fruit was met with the warmth of chilli and spice. Many cultures also preserve their meat in order to enjoy it all year round. The Italians salt, cure and flavour the less desired cuts for perfect salumi and the French famously confit rabbit, duck and pork for delicious pots of rillettes. However, for me, it has to be the classic recipe of bittersweet marmalade. This perfect combination spread liberally over hot toast with copious amounts of butter is the perfect reward for a days preserving.

Chutney first popped up in history as early as the 5th century in India and was then adopted by the British. It was these two influences that has given chutneys and relishes their identity in today’s world. The fruit and vegetables of the Empire where spiked with the flavours of their time in India. Possibly the most famous of all is Piccalilli, sometimes referred to as Indian pickle. Cauliflower, zucchini, baby onions and even gherkins are preserved in liquor of ground mustard seeds and turmeric. This preserve would soon become a quintessential accompaniment to the traditional English ploughman’s lunch.  

Preserving is not just exclusive to fruit and vegetables, many types of meat can be preserved as well. Duck legs are cured in salt overnight and then submerged in fat to cook slowly for several hours.  The meat falls of the bone, infused with the rich flavour provided by the fat making it extremely succulent and juicy. Confit duck legs are a speciality of southern France, commonly sold in jars full of cooked haricot beans. This simple preserve is full of flavour and is exported all around the world so others can also enjoy the magic of true French duck confit.

Jams, jellies and marmalades are the perfect way to encapsulate the seasonal essence of any fruit.  This old tradition calls for different combinations of fruit set in a sugar based liquid. The setting of jams and jellies itself is an art form and true artisanal jam uses natural pectin. The more mass-produced products call for setting agents and additives to enhance their colour, thickness and taste. The addition of thin strips of rind turns a jam into marmalade, infusing it with its iconic bittersweet profile. Blood orange marmalade folded through a sponge cake batter results in a moist cake with the perfect balance between bitter and sweet.

Preserving fruit, vegetables and meat is a long-standing tradition in many cultures and is something that is readily available on a large scale. Being able to master the basic skills of preserving at home will put excess produce to use, and not to mention, create fantastic homemade gifts.

Red onion pickle is the quickest preserve you can make at home.  Once you have tried it, you will never go without a jar in the fridge again.

 

red onion pickle recipe

 

 

 

 

 

 

RED ONION PICKLE

Ingredients

• 500ml good quality red wine vinegar
• 300ml water
• 1 cinnamon stick
• 10 peppercorns
• 2 bay leaves
• 150g sugar
• 8 large red onions sliced     approximately 2mm thick

Method
1. Bring the vinegar, water, cinnamon, peppercorns, bay leaves and sugar to a simmer for five minutes.

2. Gently add the sliced onions, trying to retain the full slice as much as possible.

3. Allow the liquid to come back up to the boil and turn the heat off.

4. Decant to sterile jam jars (I just use them hot from the dishwasher) and fill to the very top. Use any left over liquidto top up the jar, if necessary. The jars will keep for a couple of months in the fridge.

5. Serve with cold meats and in your favourite sandwich. I love pickled pork, hot English mustard and bitter greens on a crunchy baguette.     

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