An essential skill in feeding ourselves from our allotment produce is the ability to iron out gluts and scarcity through storage - the wider the repertoire - the more flexibility and delight. Much produce, onions, garlic, potatoes can be dry stored; some can be lifted as needed, such as parsnips and leeks; advanced gardeners may also try clamps. For a number of years, I have added bottling to my range of techniques, in a sense to supplement and sometimes replace freezing. I have bottled plums, raspberries, blackberries, apples, pears, rhubarb, French beans, ratatouille and blackcurrants.
All storage methods have their advantages and disadvantages depending on all sorts of criteria. According different fruits or vegetables, bottling can win out on taste, convenience, attractiveness, cost and security.
Taste: The food cooks in the bottling process and over time allows for some great tastes to develop. Plum stones impart a smooth almond flavour to bottled plums. Try bottling pear halves in red wine syrup with cloves. Invent your own recipes.
Convenience: Just open and eat – no defrosting required. If the vacuum is very tight, I find a pair of pliers pulling on the rubber can release the seal!
Attractiveness: A shelf full of bottled produce looks startlingly attractive – or bottle for gifts and presents.
Cost: After the initial bottling no further energy is required, freezers cost money to run. The glass jars can be used again and again – just be sure to start your stock of jars with a batch of utility jars as still sold on the continent in rural supermarkets and not with the expensive ‘lifestyle’ versions available in the UK. Buy a tray of twelve 0.5ltr or 0.75ltr jars and plenty of spare rubber seals - try a ‘bricolage’ in France or a cookery shop in Germany or Spain. You will also need a sugar thermometer.
Security: No risk to the food if there is a power cut unlike freezing.
Any guide to bottling will list a number of different methods, having used several of these, I recommend bottling under nearly boiling water. (slow water bath method) The lids to Kilner style jars (or the French ‘le parfait’) with the wire lever clamps are actually very cleverly designed valves. When tightly clamped, they let steam out but they let nothing in. Full of your produce and placed under boiling water, they will allow the food to cook, letting the steam out and then on cooling tightly clamp forming a vacuum which can preserve the food for over two years. I use a large dye pan / preserving pan, which takes a two-tier stack totaling fourteen 0.75ltr jars in a batch.
To bottle safety you must get a guide that tells you the strength of the syrup (or salt water for vegetables) and the temperatures needed as you heat and then cook.
Where to get help starting out:
- kit can be obtained from the internet but cheaper in rural stores on the continent;
- instructions and information from www.allotment.org.uk;
- a number of websites recommend the following US book ‘Putting Food By’ by Janet C. Greene (I have not read this myself and use the instruction booklets obtainable from Kilner and Le Parfait [www.leparfait.com].
Check the links provided at the top of the homepage for sources of suitable jars, bottles and other equipment for home bottling and food preservation.