Back in February I preserved jars and jars full of fruit to brighten up our food choices in Winter. The jars look like glittering jewels. Today I added four jars of mandarin segments to the collection. Our favourite mandarins are Imperial which have a very short season in the shops so I bought up big.
Two Christmas's ago I received a Fowler-Vacola preserving kit which is one of my favourite toys. My kitchen bench is covered in shiny jars of peaches, plums, rhubarb, figs and apricots. I planned that when winter came and the only fruit that is locally available are oranges and apples we would be able to feast all our senses.
Before I got my kit I read umpteen books on preserving and it all seemed so complicated and dangerous with dire warnings about horrid bacteria and all the sorry things that could go wrong.
In fact its really not that hard. The kit came from my local coop. The jars are cheap - I buy 4 every now and again. The lids, clips and rubber rings come in packs of 12. Everything is reusable except the rings which are one use only. Honestly they look fine after one use but as they seem to be the weak point where bacteria is likely to get in I diligently follow the rules and throw them out.
I put the jars and lids through the rinse cycle on my dishwasher so they come out clean and piping hot. Wash and cut up the fruit. Stuff the jars, then put ring, jar and clip in place. The jars all go into the big "kettle" which is switched on for an hour. Hey presto gorgeous fruit with a long shelf life.
The rhubarb is the only home grown fruit I have used. I need to aim for a wider variety in future although I have preserved lemons which are great in lentil curries. I stewed the rhubarb and placed directly into the jar. I had hoped to bottle wild blackberries. Last year I bottled two large jars full which made a delicious pie in early spring. Alas though Council found the bramble patch and poisoned it. I know it will grow back but it will be a few years.
I did have one failure when I bottled two lovely ripe mangoes. Mangoes don't have enough acid by themselves so I added citric acid according to the instructions that came with my kit. Alas however when I removed the clip the lid popped up and it was ruined. I thought it looked a little frothy around the shoulder of the jar. I bought more mangoes but couldn't quite bring myself to have another go. Next summer. It is too much of a waste of gorgeous fruit.
One tip - Fowlers Vacola recommend a special set of tongs for removing the hot jars from the "kettle". I didn't buy one at first - I thought it was just a marketing ploy. But it is diabolically difficult to get the jars out without pulling the lids off. I bought one very cheaply and it is a must have. Absolutely marvellous.
I even used the hot water from the kettle to do the washing up! Otherwise let it cool and use in the garden.