One gets a true sense of satisfaction when the pantry is filled with pretty jars of preserves, especially if they are all home-made. However, it can be rather devastating if things go wrong.
Preserving fruits and vegetables successfully requires strict hygiene measures: the fruits and vegetables to be preserved should be washed thoroughly, be firm and unblemished. Try to avoid overripe or damaged fruits or vegetables as they do not preserve very well.
Measure and weigh all the ingredients before beginning. It is extremely important NOT to change the proportions of sugar, salt or vinegar called for in a recipe as these ingredients not only give flavour to the jam/chutney/pickle, they also act as preserving agents.
While the type of sugar used to preserve really depends on your personal taste, it is important to use a 'pure' salt such as sea or kosher salt: the anti-caking agents in table salt can cause clouding in pickles. The vinegar used will also influence the flavour of the final product, so use a good-flavoured vinegar, such as cider vinegar or wine vinegar. for pickles that call for an extensive list of spices, malt or distilled vinegars are acceptable to use.
Whether you use new or recycled jars, it is extremely important to clean them thoroughly before the foods are stored in them. Use hot, soapy water, and rinse well. For extra measures of hygiene, clean, dry jars can be sterilised in a hot water bath or in a low oven (120'C) for 45 minutes. The sterilised jars should be kept upside down on a clean tea towel, in a draft-free spot until needed.
The lids and rubber gaskets should also be sterilised by boiling them for 15 minutes. Leave them under water until needed. Make sure that the lids are pristine and undented; if there are any signs of rust or scratches in the lid, discard them: large super-markets and hardware shops often stock canning lids, jars and rubber gaskets.
Once the foods are jarred and the lids are tightly closed, they should be allowed to cool down to room temperature before being refrigerated. Leave to mature for the specified time before tasting the fruits of your labour. Refrigerator preserved should be consumed within 6 months of production.
If fridge space is at a premium, jarred preserves can be sterilised before storing at room temperature. Once the jars are tightly sealed, place in a large pan, and fill with warm water up to the necks of the jars. Bring up to a simmer, and leave the jars bubble away for 30 to 60 minutes -depending on the size of the jars: the shorter time is for 500ml/pint jars or smaller, the longer time is for 1L or 1 quart jars. When the simmering time is up, remove from the hot water bath, and leave to cool down in a draft-free area. The jars should emit a loud 'pop' when they form a seal.
The jars are now sealed, and ready for safe storage at room temperature. Try to consume your preserves within twelve months. Refrigerate any unsealed (those that did not pop) jars.
Although preserving will extend the shelf-life of your produce, they will not keep indefinitely.
Most preserves will benefit from getting a two week to 2 month resting period before you tuck into them, but once the maturation time is up, try to consume them before the year is up.
Refrigerator pickles and jams should be consumed within 6 months of placing in the refrigerator.
Pantry preserves will easily keep for several years, however, they keep maturing over time and tend to drop in quality after 10-12 months. Preserves that are pale in colour (lemon or lime marmalade; white gooseberry or quince jam; Pickalily, etc..) will get darker with age, and often develop a jammy flavour. They have not technically gone off, but they will not be at their best. Pickled vegetables will tend to go soft with age; again, they have not gone off, they just aren't in their prime anymore.
Discard any preserves that have gone mouldy or smell off.
«Once opened, all preserves should be kept in the refrigerator and consumed within two weeks.»