Preserving food in jars

8 December 2010

I received an email the other day from a lady who wanted to know why I don't do more canning/preserving posts. The plain and simple answer is that I only post about what I do, I don't do a lot of preserving, so I can't write about it more than I do.

We do things differently here. Speaking from my own experience, we don't have to put up a lot of food in jars because we have a garden we can walk out to most of the year to pick fresh what we want to eat. In colder climates, where growing food is impossible half the year, canning gives options that otherwise are not available. The theory is to grow as much as you can during the warm months, harvest in autumn and can the excess for eating over the cold winter. That is a great way to save money, eat the best organic produce and know for sure what you're eating.

In Australia it's fairly common to put up those foods that you really enjoy, that you can make yourself, and that taste better homemade than bought. I usually put up various tomato products - sauce, pasta sauce/pizza topping and tomato relish. I generally do some sort of jam - I love peach jam so I buy a box of peaches in season and put up several jars of peach jam. Some years I'll do a strawberry jam as well, but they're different seasons here. Strawberries are a winter crop, peaches are abundant in summer. At some time during lemon season, which is winter and again in early spring here, I'll make up several jars of lemon butter and juice all the lemons I can lay my hands on. I freeze the juice in two litre containers to make cordial with it year round, but especially in summer. Late summer I'll put up a few jars of bread and butter cucumbers and pickled beetroot. But none of these foods are meant specifically for winter meals - we never can meat, soup or salmon, we eat it all fresh, year round. When there is an abundance of beans, carrots, peas or silverbeet, I blanche and freeze - it's easier, cheaper and takes less time.

For those reasons, a small preserving kit, circa 1970s, suits me well. It's not a handsome unit but it does the job required for my sporadic preserving sessions. And let me tell you that nothing you can buy in the shops is better than homemade lemon butter, peach jam or tomato relish; it's like manna from heaven. I've never had the need for a pressure canner and most of the time I use recycled jars. And we're still here to tell the tale.

Don't get me wrong, I think the ability to preserve food for later use is one of the most helpful of all the household tasks we can learn. It's complex, in that it has health and safety aspects, but when the time it put into the learning of it, it is a fairly straight forward task. It's just that with a garden full of fresh food most of the year, we don't need to preserve food unless we have too much of it.

What do you put up and when do you do your canning/preserving?