Shelves groaning with jams, jellies, chutneys and pickles always give 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 of those jars and bottles were also home-grown, then it’s a jackpot.
Surely there are great preserves ready to buy, so why go to all that bother? True, for a couple of quid you will find some excellent ready-made offerings out there. 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 homemade relish on the side.
Homemade preserves are not as complicated as some like to make them out to be, especially if you begin with an easy, trusted recipes like the rhubarb chutney below. This is the chuck-it-all-in-the-pan method, and they don’t come any easier. Also, 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.
The right of passage as a ‘preserver’ comes once you are willing to tackle the pickled onion. It is not 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 ensures they will be bang on Boxing Day) but boy is it worth it.
I will let you into my secret, though. To speed up the preparation of the onions, top and tail them, place the onions in a large heatproof bowl and pour over boiling water to cover. Leave to cool and hey presto, the skins will just rub away. Do not leave in the water once cool or the onions will start to go mushy.
Preserving is now very much back in fashion and, though thought to be caused by the recession and the need to cut back, making jams and preserves isn’t necessarily cheaper than buying them. So perhaps it is for all the reasons above. If you fancy having a go, be warned, you may turn into Ma Walton.