As I mentioned the other day, I picked up a bunch of cheap nectarines and tomatoes with the intention of having a preserving fest over the Christmas holiday period. These are some notes on what I did.
Nectarines in light syrup
Monday afternoon, canned nectarines. I was originally thinking of stewing them, but decided to just dice them and can them in a very light sugar syrup: 2L water to 1 cup sugar. I also wanted a bit of citric acid to counteract the lightness of the syrup and help the nectarines stay bright and not disintegrate in their jars, but I wasn’t sure how much was enough and just chucked a spoonful in unthinkingly, tasted the syrup, and decided it would do. I think, in retrospect, that it was probably too much, but we shall see. They won’t be inedible, just perhaps a bit tart. So if you’re trying it, maybe just do 2 tsp.
The whole point with the syrup was that last year I tried to do nectarines in just water, and they came out kind of icky, flavourless and watery and kind of slimy-squishy. So apparently a little bit of sugar really is necessary. That really irritates me, but oh well.
I’m canning them using my Fowlers Vacola thingy. I don’t know what the piece of equipment is called. People talk about the Fowlers Vacola Method or Fowlers Vacola Kits but what is the urn thingy called? I’ll call it the urn, I think.
For people not in Australia: the FV urn is a piece of equipment that can let you do hot water canning without a stove, and (most importantly in my opinion) without overheating your kitchen. It’s a plastic bucket-like thing with a power cord, a heating element in the bottom, a shelf for the jars to sit on, and a lid. You simply put all the jars in, fill it with water (I used the garden hose), then plug it in and bring it almost to the boil. For most fruit canning, you can put the fruit in cold, and if you turn off the unit when it’s just below a boil, the jars will have spent ~10-15 mins at that all-important temperature of over 80 degrees C, and will be safe to store in the pantry.
Fowlers Vacola would like you to believe that you need to buy their special fancy jars, but you can actually use any jars you want in the FV urn. We use anything, including recycled jars from supermarket-bought food, though we do buy clean lids for them. Be careful not to overfill your jars, or to boil the urn, or to put the jars in while the water’s hot (instead, put them in cold and bring the heat up gradually, like boiling frogs). Fail in any of these points and you run the risk of nectarine soup. Ask me how I know this.
Results: 6 large jars, which are now sitting in the pantry with all the jams and chutneys and things, looking very colourful.
Indian lemon and mango pickles
Next up, I decanted the Indian pickles that have been stewing away in the hot sun outside our back door. Last year after we made Moroccan preserved lemons my friend Sumana said they reminded her of an Indian lemon pickle her family had made. We made it last year but I didn’t blog it. It was great though, so we did it again this year: a double batch with 12 largish lemons.
The best part about these are that they’re no-cook preserves. You just put everything in a big jar and leave it out in the sun for a month. Ours sits outside our back door, where we go past it on the way to water the vegies or hang washing on the line. Once a day or so, we give the jars a good shake to distribute all the flavours. The high proportions of salt/sugar/sourness/chilli discourage anything nasty from growing in it, as does the high heat that happens when you leave a big jar of pickle on a brick pathway in weather of up to 40 degrees celsius.
Since the lemon pickle worked so well for us last year, this year I also made a mango pickle along similar lines. It’s called Aam ka Achar and it uses unripe green mangos, salt, spices, and mustard oil. Like the lemon pickle, it’s left out in the sun to season. I did two things differently from the recipe as written: firstly, I did the mango-drying stage in a low oven, rather than in the sun, since the weather was bad that week, and secondly, after adding all the spices and mustard oil, I found the mixture a bit too dry, so I added some more neutral-flavoured oil (grapeseed, but anything would do) to make it wetter/oilier, and make sure that the oil would cover all the mango.
I left both outside for about a month, and waited til we had a really hot day to give both pickles one last blast of heat outside, then brought them in and decanted them into very clean jars. We got 3 large jars of lemon pickle and 4 medium jars of mango pickle, which we’ll eat mostly with dal and rice throughout the year.
Tomato sauce, Nanna style
Finally, today my friend Meg came around and we made tomato sauce (ketchup) from an old Australian recipe quite similar to the one my Nanna used to make. When I was a kid I much preferred the bought stuff (preferably Heinz) and never understood the adults who were always going on about how the home-made variety was so much better. Now I’m one of those adults, though I will still say that if you’re going to squirt it over heavily-processed junk food, the Heinz kind is definitely the way to go. Still, if you’re talking about a nice flavourful sausage or a home-made burger or even a grilled cheese sandwich, I think the homemade kind is best.
We used a recipe from “Classic Preserves: From Blackberry Jam to Worcestershire Sauce” by Alice May, which I picked up in a cheap remainder bookstore almost 20 years ago, and which is full of classic Nanna-style Australian recipes. I’ve always found the recipes in it reliable and just interesting enough without being totally WTF. The pickled dried figs recipe, for instance, was a favourite for a few years, and I’ve had good results with most of the chutney recipes.
Here’s the tomato sauce recipe:
- 3kg ripe tomatoes
- 2 onions
- 2 apples
- 125g raisins
- 4 garlic cloves
- 180mL vinegar
- 625g sugar
- 60g salt
- 2 tsp whole black peppercorns
- 2 tsp whole allspice
- 1 tsp whole cloves
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp mace
We doubled the garlic, substituted brown sugar, used chilli powder instead of cayenne pepper, and didn’t have any mace. We also didn’t bother with the fiddly instructions to put the whole spices in a muslin bag, since the whole thing was going to be strained later anyway.
Basically all you do is chop everything up and chuck it in a big pan. Simmer til it’s mushy. The next step is to push it through a sieve or mouli, which was a bit exciting because I’d bought a mouli as a Christmas present to myself, from the amazing Costante Imports up the street, but it took a bit of figuring out how to put all the pieces together. Once we’d figured out that the sieve part went in the other way up, it all came together well and we had a good time grinding through the paste. We generated about 2 cups of dry fibrous matter, I suppose, and the rest of the liquid went back in the pan to boil down to about 50% its original volume.
The results were delicious, though perhaps a little sweeter than necessary. I’ve made a note to try reducing the sugar to around 500g next time. I’ll also wait and see how it tastes after aging a week orso, because it could be that it just needs to sit and mellow out for a while.
We bottled the sauce in recycled Schweppes lemonade/tonic water bottles, well cleaned and then sterilised for 15-20 mins in a lowish (120C) oven. I poured some boiling water over the lids, as well as the funnel and ladle we used for the bottling. In Australia we don’t traditionally bother with hot water canning for sauces/chutneys/jams/anything that’s fairly sour/sweet/salty/alcoholic, but just use scrupulously clean jars. You can also sterilise the jars with very hot water in the sink, or in the dishwasher, but I find the oven method easiest, especially for narrow-necked jars.
We ended up with 6 x 300mL bottles, one of them a little scant, so we’ll use that one first. Meg took one home, so we’ve got four more sitting in the cupboard to use throughout the year.