Preserving food and drinks

18 June 2018
There are many food products that are easy to preserve at home. They are usually tastier, healthier and cheaper than those you can buy, and by adding them to your stockpile you’ll be increasing your options when it’s time to prepare a meal. The trick is to find a few hours when you can make some of your favourite preserves, pickles, spice blends or whatever you want to store. 



Don't forget that freezing and drying are also good ways of preserving food to be enjoyed later, either out of season or for many months of the year if you have a glut of produce. And baking is a form of preserving and you can bake a wide variety of breads, fruit buns, scrolls, biscuits, crackers, scones, and pancakes. These can be stored as the finished product or in pre-cooked form as batter or dough.



There are many foods that are suitable for preserving: milk can be made into yoghurt or frozen as ice cream or custard, cream can be churned to make butter, fruit can be turned into jam and frozen juice, vegetables can be fermented or made into relish, chutney or sauce and both fruit and vegetables can be dried. And don't forget that you can either use the produce in your backyard or you can look around for cartons or half cartons or fruit and vegetables that are in season and cheap.



Be inspired by the seasons: when your backyard lemon tree produces a good crop or there’s a seasonal abundance of cheap lemons in the shops, pick or buy enough to make lemon butter, cordial, sweet preserved lemon slices, salted lemons, marmalade and lemon juice ice cubes. These will add such splendid variety to your cooking, you’ll be looking around for your next preserving project in no time. You’re never going to preserve everything you want in one afternoon, but make it an ongoing activity and explore the endless options. Instead of meeting your friends for coffee, why not invite them around for a preserving afternoon. You'll have fun, learn new skills and have a few extra jars of food for your cupboards.



Here are links to some of the things I make on a regular basis. All these links will show you the recipe and how I make it up.

Apple rings are a great addition to your stockpile cupboard because they can be used as snacks or, rehydrated, in baking and desserts. If you have an apple tree, use whatever variety you’re growing. If you have to buy apples, buy Granny Smith: they’re available everywhere, they’re fairly cheap and they hold their shape. 


Drying fruit is simple. You need to place the apples in an area that will heat up enough to remove all liquid from the fruit without cooking it. When all the moisture has drained from the apples, they’re ready to be eaten or stored away. You can dehydrate your apples in an oven that operates on a very low temperature (about 100°C), on a drying rack in the sun, or in your car if you have warm to hot weather.

There is a bit of flexibility in drying apple rings; it doesn’t need the precision of preserving. I prefer peeled apples because the skin is quite tough when it’s dried, but you can leave the peel on if you prefer. Many people recommend dipping the apple rings in acidulated water, but I have found they don’t need it: there will be a small amount of browning either way. If you want to dip them, add one part fresh lemon juice to three parts water. 

These slices can be stored in the cupboard in a sealed jar for up to six months.

1. Peel the apples and slice them thinly and evenly with a mandolin or knife, so that each slice dries at the same rate.

2. Cover an oven tray or cake rack with baking paper. Place the slices on the paper and put the tray in the oven, outside in the sun or in the car. Leave until the slices are completely dry.

The drying time will depend on a few things such as thickness of the slices, the variety of apple, how crisp you want the slices to be and the humidity and temperature. It will take longer in high humidity and less time with high temperature. 

You can test to see if the apples have been fully dried by placing a few slices, still warm, in a jar with the lid on. If a lot of condensation forms inside the jar, they aren’t dry enough. It’s okay to leave the slices covered overnight and continue the drying process the following day. Make sure the apple slices are completely dry, or they’ll rot in the jar.

My sponsor Green Living Australia have a lot of information about preserving and offer preserving workshops for those of you around Brisbane or northern NSW.

21 comments

  1. That bread looks delicious! I make a batch of Toll House chocolate cookie dough, and keep it in the fridge. Since I live alone, I just bake one dozen at a time. I also freeze homemade bread crumbs for topping casseroles like broccoli cheese. Stewed fruit is also delicious. I find it easier than canning. Love all of your photos. Everything is so colorful and fresh! Thanks for sharing.

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  2. I preserve quite a lot around here. It started with one or two things and then every season I add a few extras - these days I preserve a lot of our food and have replaced many store bought items. Pre-kids I did a lot more 'mammoth sessions' where I'd harvest the glut or stock up at the markets and preserve, preserve, preserve. These days I have to be a little bit more strategic and so have embraced 'small batch preserving' - it might take me a few weeks to preserve up enough tomatoes in little bits but it gets done in the end. It's also a great way to try new things out in small amounts.
    I've also enjoyed a great many preserving sessions with friends and each time I open a jar it reminds me of that time spent together. It's a great way to tackle a new preserving activity that might be a little daunting to get started on.
    I dried my own apples and pears for the first time this year after a foraging windfall of both. Such a good addition to the pantry. I'm now using them up in our homemade fruit bread and snacks.
    I probably should confess that i'm a little obsessed with preserving and preserves!
    Hope that your post inspires a few readers to get in there and give it a go.
    cheers,
    Laura

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  3. A great post of really useful links thanks Rhonda. My eldest likes ginger ale but I have never made it myself. I’d like to give it a go! Xx

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  4. My grandparents always had jars of dried apples in their cupboards and my grandfather never went on a trip without some for snacks. I put cut apples in a quart of water with a teaspoon of salt. The cut apples will keep up to a week in the fridge without browning. I do not care for apples with a lemon flavor so I was so glad to read about this method and it works so well. I also do the salt water when I prep peaches for canning and they keep their color very well.

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  5. I am determined to make some pickles this summer and I always get lots of apples from a neighbour so drying them would make a change from freezing. Thank you for the instructions.

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  6. Thanks for the beetroot recipe! We have a heap of beetroot growing that might be too small to sell but would be perfect for some preserves. Pickled beetroot are my dad's favourite!

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  7. I just picked a large bowl of hot Asian chillies this morning. I find them too hot fresh, but sliced and pickled and kept in the fridge and after a few weeks they seem to mellow out. I love popping them onto my individual serving of stir fry for some extra zing (that way the children don't complain about the dish being too spicy!) Noni from Adelaide

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  8. This is a great post Rhonda. One of my friends once started “The Ladies Preserving Society”. A bunch of us all got together and we would each bring 10 jars of a homemade preserve. Plus a tasting jar. And then we each got to take home a jar, so we would leave with 10 different preserves. It was so much fun and so good to spend time with like minded people.
    We would vote for the most popular and once my Strawberry Sweet Chilli Sauce was the winner!

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  9. Me too, thanks for the beetroot! Just when a daunting amount is almost ready to be pulled and we haven't eaten up last year's frozen beets yet. I needed something new to do with a beet.

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  10. Hi Rhonda, old reader/commenter here. But I haven't commented for ages. You look younger in your photo! I have moved back to Brisbane from the Sunshine Coast to care for my parents. My life has slowed down, I love it in so many ways. My Mum who is 86 is one of those 'chuck it out' people, although in other ways she hoards. I have taken over the kitchen, cooking from scratch, freezing surplus etc. Today I froze homemade chicken stock. It's another journey. Kathryn x

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  11. Great tips there Rhonda. I love your new look without the glasses.

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  12. You really are a very encouraging lady and I appreciate it. I also just noticed your photo without glasses! Amazing! You look about 55. I love it.

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  13. Thank you, Rhonda, for sharing the pickled beets recipe. My Granny used to make the best but, alas, she has been gone many years and I never got the chance to get her recipe. I think it is sad that we sometimes become interested in something our grandmothers canned, baked, sewed, etc. after they are gone and we cannot ask them how. I hope that young women who read your column take heed of this and inquire of their grandmothers while they still can. As for me, I will take your recipe and make my own. I did have a question, though. I have always heard to wear gloves while peeling beets as they will stain your hands horribly if you don't. Do you find this to be necessary?

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    1. I never wear gloves for beetroot, Cate. A good wash with soap will get rid of the red.

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  14. Lovely new photo of you Rhonda - you look great.
    I preserve a few things and want to do more in retirement. As well as providing for my family I find homemade/ preserved goods are always welcome as gifts to others. I make small bottles of chilli sherry - a splash adds a kick to soups and casseroles in the winter months.

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  15. Such a delicious post! Until now we have only ever preserved food that we've grown on our farm ourselves, but the other day I noticed that we only have three jars of pickled cucumbers left which means we'll be out within a month. Usually I'd buy the odd jar or two from the grocery shop while I wait for next summer's harvest, but this year I'm contemplating buying a few kilos and pickling them to my recipe instead. They won't be local or seasonal but neither would the ones I would buy in the jar. And at least this way I know my girls will eat them. xx

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  16. Hi Rhonda,
    After reading your post and collecting a whole washing basket of lemons from my backyard tree, I made (for the first time) the lemon sirop (or lemonade ?), and I'm so so glad I did it. It tastes so delicious, one could never find anything even remotely comparable in the shops. And I really like that I exactly know what's inside, no chemicals or other nasties. I also recently tried your 5-minutes bread and it's now a favourite. I've been baking bread for years but this recipe is a keeper for when I don't have time or the energy to kneed a loaf.
    Also, what I find motivating is the satisfaction and real sense of achievement when making something at home. Being everyday food, pickles, lemonade, our home-made pizza of Friday night, bread, or growing herbs and the odd veggie (I'm not a good gardener, herbs are my great achievement), the satisfaction and pride (and small miracle sometime :-)) is incomparable. The small satisfactions that make a difference between a normal/boring and a happy day.

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  17. With the surplus free food I get I often turn things into preserves. One week there were hundreds of chillies. I popped a couple of chillies into a bottle and added oil and allowed the chillies to infuse. Apples have been peeled and dehydrated as have swedes, turnips, mushrooms and zucchinis. Just remember to take out the big seeds if you use big zucchinis as the seeds aren't great when the zucchini is rehydrated. Oranges and cumquats, lemons and limes get turned into marmalade. Also lemon and lime cordials. I have made pickled beetroot and pickled cucumbers. Jama from homegrown or foraged berries. I take the various preserves along to the couple of food swaps I go to and theres normally a made rush (especially if fig jam is presented).
    Claire in Melbourne

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