Tag Archive | Drying herbs

Preserving and Storing Crops – Part 3

Today I am continuing with my series on ‘Preserving and Storing Your Crops’ and I am talking about ‘drying’, jam and jelly making, pickling and chutney making:

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Drying:

People used to use the heat of the sun for drying and today we can still buy ‘sun-dried tomatoes’ and ‘sun-dried raisins’ from the supermarkets.  Sun drying involves many days of hot sun and dry air, which unfortunately this country is usually short of.  However, nowadays you can buy electric dehydrators, where you lay sliced foods such as apples etc. onto trays.  I would absolutely love one of these, but I also have a long list of other gadgets I would love too.

Years ago peas, beans and sweet corn were dried by families ready to use over the winter.  They were left to dry completely on the plants until they had turned yellow and then the plant would be cut to the ground and hung inside to finish drying.  When the pods were brittle they would be shelled and then left on trays for a few more days before storing in airtight containers in a cool dry place.

Today, however people find that the above things are actually nicer when they are frozen, so they don’t bother to dry them, though I do know some people that do still dry their home grown beans.

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I have got to be honest, the only things I do dry are herbs such as basil and lavender.  If you read books about drying, it will say you need a warm, dry place such as an airing cupboard to dry your produce.  I wash my basil and shake it dry and then hang it in bunches in my kitchen.  When it starts to crumble, then I know it is drying and I pop it into a paper bag so the bits don’t go all over my kitchen floor.  It can take several weeks to dry, but when it is dry I rub the leaves through a colander and store it in an airtight container in my pantry.

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If you don’t want things ‘hanging’ around, you can easily dry your herbs on trays in your oven.  This year  I dried my basil by placing the washed basil leaves in the oven on its lowest setting and leaving the door slightly open.  It does take several hours and obviously costs money to heat the oven, but the drying procedure is over in a day.

Home dried basil

Home dried basil

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Bottling (known as ‘canning’  in many other countries).

The idea is food in bottles is heated to a high enough temperature for a designated length of time to stop any enzyme activity and kill off all the bacteria, yeasts and fungi.  The jars are sealed at this high temperature so no further micro-organisms can re-enter the bottles.  It is vitally important to follow correct instructions when you bottle foods in this way, as you can be very very poorly if you don’t…which is why I am happy to use other methods of preserving, though I know a lot of people out there do use this method.

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Pickling.

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Pickled beetroot, pickled gherkins, pickled onions etc are really easy to make as it is just a case of preparing the vegetable and pouring pickling vinegar over it.

Recipes usually tell you that pickling onions should be left overnight soaking in a salt water brine.  I have used this method and I find that the onions lose their ‘bite’, so I use my dads method instead.  He peels and washes the onions and then covers them in salt and leaves them overnight (no water is added to the salt).

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In the morning he washes the salt off the onions, dries them and then puts them in sterilised jars, covering them with pickling vinegar.  Two to three weeks later, the result is a pickled onion with a ‘bite’ to it.  Just how we like them.

Full details of how to pickle beetroot, gherkins, onions etc are on my recipe index here (under preserves at the bottom of the page).

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Chutneys.

Chutneys are a mixture of vegetables and fruit cooked in vinegar.  The most famous shop bought chutney nowadays must be good old ‘Branston Pickle’.  Chutneys are easy to make, though they can sometimes take a couple of hours to make but they taste delicious served with salads and cold meats.  The good thing about chutney is it seems to mature with age and lasts for months.

Spiced Green Scallopini (Patty Pan) Chutney cooking

Spiced Green Scallopini (Patty Pan) Chutney cooking

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Jams and jelly making.

This is one of my favourite ways to use up home grown fruit.  In fact, if I didn’t make strawberry jam for my youngest daughter there would probably be a riot in my house.  I know you can buy jams and jellies easily from the supermarkets, but if you have fruit to use up then it is so much cheaper to make your own and you know exactly what goes into it.

My Jelly making

My Jelly making

I won’t go into how you make jam, as there are lots of jams and jelly recipes on my recipe index here (under preserves at the bottom of the page), but what I will say is jam making is easy provided you follow a few basic tips which I have listed below.

My 'maslin pan' for jam making

My ‘maslin pan’ for jam making

Just to let you know, the pan I use to make jam is a ‘maslin’ pan which is deep enough for jam making.  Mine was second hand, purchased for £10 from ebay and it was worth every penny.

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My Tips For Jam Making:

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Clean equipment – Always use equipment that is scrupulously clean and jars that have been sterilised.

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Fruit – Always use undamaged fruit. Fruit with too much damage will spoil the result and the jam is likely to deteriorate quickly.

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Pectin – Jams, jellies and marmalade set because of pectin. Pectin occurs naturally in fruit and when cooked with sugar the naturally occurring acid in the fruit, thickens and sets the preserve. Citrus fruit, blackberries, apples and redcurrants have high pectin levels. Soft fruits such as strawberries have a lower pectin level. If fruits are low in pectin then you can add fruits with a higher level of pectin to it or just add a few squeezes of lemon juice which will help them to set. When possible use slightly under ripe fruit when pectin levels will be at its highest.

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Sugar – I use granulated but you can use preserving sugar, but it is more expensive. Preserving sugar will help set low-pectin fruits, but I just add lemon juice, which does the same job.

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Quantity – Don’t make too large a quantity at one time. Large volumes of fruit and sugar will take a long time to reach setting point, causing the fruit to break up and eventually dissolve in the jam.

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To test for the setting point – Place a few small plates or saucers in to your freezer for a while before you start to make jam, so they are really cold.  Pour a small drop of the hot jam on to the plate and wait a few moments. Push the edges of the jam with your index finger and if the jam wrinkles then the setting point has been reached.  If it’s not set, continue to boil it and check again in 5 minutes. Don’t overcook. It is tempting to keep cooking to achieve a firmer set. A slightly looser jam is preferable to one that tastes burnt or where the fruit has dissolved.  Don’t worry if you didn’t judge your jam setting point correctly and it’s runny, just call it a ‘preserve’ instead.

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Scum – There is always a little bit of scum on the jam after the setting point has been reached.  Skim it off with a ladle or add a tiny knob of butter and stir. This will dissolve the scum almost instantly.

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Leave the jam to settle – Always leave the jam for 15 mins away from the heat, once the setting point has been reached.  This will prevent the fruit from rising to the surface of the jar when you pour it in.

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This is the end of my feature on ‘Preserving and Storing Your Crops’ as I have written an awful lot on the subject.  There are many other ways to preserve crops e.g. wine making, fruit butters and cheese making etc. but I have written about the basic methods, as these are the most used.

I really hope you have enjoyed reading about ‘Preserving and Storing Your Crops’.  I would love to hear any feedback from you.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at 4pm.

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