Frugal Friday: Preserving the bounty
For me, preserving some of the bounty nature provides throughout the growing season is a big goal in our quest towards greater frugality and financial independence. While I might not have spent as much time as I could have in our garden growing up, I did spend more than a few hours in the kitchen.
When we moved back to Norway in May, it was with the attitude that this time we were going to stay, and thus, it would be worth investing in certain kit and skills we had never yet considered. Glass jars and canning skills were two of the major ones for me, and we started early by boiling spruce-shoot syrup in May while I still lived with my good friend.
Second on the list was meadowsweet juice/squash. Now, if you have never tasted it, I highly recommend it. It is a concoction of meadowsweet flowers, lemon and sugar, and it is much more complex in flavour and less sweet than many alternatives. Mr. E. and I have already drunk all but one single bottle left in the pantry already. We will decidedly have to step up our game for next year!
Lastly, and perhaps the easiest place to start, are with good ol’ jams. They are simple to make if you have access to produce or someplace to forage, they only cost the price of sugar, time, and some clean glass jars. They are a great project to get started with preserving. We found a handful of large red currant bushes in our neighbourhood that had strayed from various gardens, and were able to harvest several kilos worth of tart little rubies.
The first thing you want to do, is to put your fruit or berries into a large pot, as much as will fit. You can add a small splash of water, just to get things going without burning, but you should start on such a low heat that it should not be a problem any way. Patiently, and on low heat, the fruit/berries will break down and release their juice.
Now, if your goal is to make jam, you must add sugar to taste. Traditional recipes recommend 1:1, but I have friends who reduce the need for that much sugar by adding a vanilla pod instead. Perhaps not the cheapest option, but it does give a lovely flavour. Sugar is a preservative, so I would not recommend omitting it entirely, but you can reduce it quite a bit and still have a lovely-tasting product, albeit probably a bit runny.
While your jam is boiling, you want to put another pot of water on the stove and get it to a good, rolling boil. Set your oven to 110-120oC (230-250oF) and put the glasses you want to can in inside, make sure they are completely clean and have been washed with soap.
When your jam starts to thicken and your other pot is boiling away, you can add your lids with rubber seals etc. I do it this way because I do not have room or equipment to boil large glasses. Pure glass can easily withstand temperatures above boiling, but rubber seals really can’t, so it is paramount to boil those.
Now to the part that can get messy. You want to take out your glasses (NB: Hot) and fill them with piping hot jam straight away. Twist the lids on as fast as you are able (again, hot. I typically use my oven mittens when doing this). Continue until everything is sealed and in jars. Once done, turn the jars on their heads and let them sit like that for at least ten minutes. This ensures that all corners on the inside of your jar are covered in hot jam, killing off any germs that might have gotten in while you were working.
Finally, label clearly with what it is and what year/month you made it and pop all except one in your pantry. You can now enjoy the spoils of your labour and pennies spent in not having to pay for jam for quite some time!
Jellies, on the other hand, are quite a different beast with a specific set of requirements. Probably to be covered in a later edition of Frugal Friday at some point.
PS: As with any other homemade food, remember that you are wholly responsible for your own food safety. I always employ the 3-step test to any food:
- Does it look good? Are there signs of mould or rotting?
- Does it smell good? Your nose is amazingly sensitive. Trust your instincts.
- Does it taste good? As with the above, trust your instincts. Does it taste as it should?
Good luck, and stay frugal!