From Plot to Plate
Turn your bumper crop into delicious edible treats with our guide to drying, pickling and preserving this autumn
3 April 2018
Eating seasonally and living off the land can have a hugely positive impact on the environment whilst keeping costs down in the supermarket. The arrival of autumn offers us a chance to indulge in the fresh flavours of the season and, if you grow your own, it provides ample opportunity to experiment in the kitchen with tasty surplus crops.
Autumn sees the harvest of apples, pears, plums, pumpkins, nuts, berries, melons and much more, and if you’ve been rewarded with a bumper crop this year then there’s no need to waste what you can’t eat. Drying, pickling and preserving in jams, jellies and chutneys is a fantastic – and delicious – way to make the most of your home-grown fruits and vegetables all year round.
Drying leftover fruit and veg is an easy way of cutting down on waste and creating tasty snacks. Dried fruit can be enjoyed on its own, scattered over muesli or mixed in with yoghurt, and though you can buy a dehydrator to speed things up, special equipment isn’t essential.
To dry your chosen produce, wash, peel and thinly slice ripe fruit and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet, removing any pips or stones if necessary. Pre-heat your oven to around 110°C. Place your tray in the oven, ensuring air can circulate around the sheet whilst the fruit is drying, and wedge the door open slightly. Check and turn the fruit slices once per hour. The fruit is ready when dried and deliciously chewy.
Pickling literally means to preserve and expand the lifespan of a food by fermenting in brine or immersing in vinegar. This incredibly easy way of keeping your autumn produce on the table all year round also packs a flavoursome punch, bringing new life to an otherwise simple cucumber or shredded cabbage. Almost any vegetable can be pickled and the fresher the better.
A basic brine of equal parts vinegar and water is all you need to get started, and the type of vinegar is down to you, as is the flavour combinations. There are a wealth of spices and herbs to choose from to mix up the taste, from dill, rosemary and garlic to ginger, mustard seeds and paprika. Once you’ve selected your chosen ingredients, take a sterilised glass jar and add your flavourings, vegetables and pickling liquor – ensuring the liquid covers the veg. Seal the jar and store in the fridge for a couple of days before eating for the best flavour.
An abundant harvest can mean an abundant larder, and what better way to eat the extras than by turning them into a deliciously sticky jam or flavoursome jelly? Fill your kitchen with the sweet scents of the season by cooking up a pot of jam. Fresh fruit makes incredible jelly and requires very few ingredients.
Recipes can vary, but often equal parts fruit and sugar is recommended. You can use pectin to help it set but, if you’re patient, you can make a tasty jam without it. For a berry jam, boil the fruit to reduce it down to a sweet, lump-free mixture, then add the sugar in a steady stream, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil on a high heat, using a cooking thermometer if possible. To test when the jam is ready, dollop a teaspoon of the mixture on a cool plate and push the back of the spoon through the middle of it. If it is thick enough to wrinkle then it is ready. Take the jam off the heat and allow to cool for around 15 minutes before spooning into sterilised jars and storing.
Recipes to try at home…
- Apples (as many as you desire), washed, peeled and cored
- Pre-heat your oven to 110°C and line two baking sheets with baking paper.
- Cut the apples into thin slices, around 2mm thick. Spread out over the baking sheets, ensuring there is space in between each slice.
- Place in the oven, with the door slightly ajar, for approximately 45 mins and then flip each slice over. Cook for a further 45 mins to 1 hour, or until completely dried. Transfer to a wire rack to cool before eating or storing in an airtight container.
Spiced pumpkin pickle
- 2 cups pumpkin, peeled and cubed
- ¾ cup cider vinegar
- 1 cup caster sugar
- Pinch of salt
- Spices and flavourings of your choice (e.g. dried chilli, ginger, peppercorns, cooked garlic, cinnamon)
- Place the pumpkin in a large saucepan along with the rest of the ingredients and cook gently until the pumpkin is tender when tested with a knife and the liquid has thickened.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning as required. If using fresh herbs, stir in at this point before pouring into a sterilised jar and sealing tightly. Store in a cool, dark place for one week before consuming. Once opened, keep in the fridge.
Tomato and chilli jam
- 3-4 cups tomatoes, washed and chopped
- 2 red onions, peeled and finely chopped
- 3-4 red chillies, finely chopped (deseeded if you want a more mild flavour)
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
- Small piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
- 1 cup white wine vinegar
- 300g brown sugar
- 2 tsp fish or soy sauce
- Heat the tomatoes and onions in a saucepan. Add the chilli, garlic, ginger and cumin seeds and stir well. Add the vinegar and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
- Simmer for approximately 30 mins, or until thickened.
- Add the fish sauce or soy and cook for a few more minutes before spooning into sterilised jars and sealing. Allow to cool before storing.
Crab apple jelly
- 1kg freshly picked crab apples, washed
- Caster sugar
- 1 lemon
- Remove the stalks from the apples and slice off the bottom. Cut in half and discard any bruised fruit. Place the halved apples in a saucepan and cover with just enough water.
- Bring to a steady boil and cook for approximately 30-45 mins.
- Pour the cooked apple pulp into several layers of muslin cloth and leave over a clean bowl to strain overnight – don’t be tempted to squeeze it.
- When ready, measure the juice to determine how much sugar you will require – it should be 10 parts juice to 7 parts sugar.
- Add the juice of one lemon to the mixture and bring to the boil, stirring constantly until all of the sugar has dissolved. Keep at a rolling boil for around 30-45 mins, or until the mixture starts to thicken. Skim off any froth that forms. To test the jelly is set, dip a spoon into the mix, it’s ready when it solidifies on the spoon.
- When ready, pour the jelly into warm sterilised jars and seal tightly. Store in a cool, dark place.
- Olive oil
- 1 onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 cup raisins
- ½ cup crystallised ginger, finely chopped
- 4 cups pear, peeled and chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- Pinch of ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp paprika
- 1¾ cups cider vinegar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onion. Cook until softened.
- Add the raisins, ginger and pear. Stir well and cook for a couple of minutes
- Add the rosemary and spices and stir. Add the vinegar and sugar and season well.
- Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for 45 mins to 1 hour until thickened, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Pour the chutney into warm sterilised jars and seal tightly.
- Any fruit you like, washed, peeled and chopped (stones or pips removed)
- Caster sugar, to taste
- Place your chosen fruit in a saucepan and add a little water, to prevent the fruit from catching on the bottom of the pan.
- If you want to add sugar, depending on how tart your fruit is, add this a little at a time, starting with 2 tbsp.
- Bring the fruit to a gentle simmer and cover with a lid, stirring occasionally. As the fruit starts to soften, taste and gradually add more sugar if desired.
- Once the fruit is softened to how you like it, remove the lid and continue to simmer to reduce the liquid.
- Pour your stewed fruit into a container and allow to cool completely before storing in the fridge, or freeze for later.
- 2 cups melon (rind removed), deseeded and chopped
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 1½ cups vodka
- Blitz the melon in a blender with the sugar.
- Pour the mix into a container and add the vodka. Place a lid on, or cover well, and store at room temperature in a dark spot for 1 week.
- Strain the liquid and store in a sealed bottle until ready to use. This makes a delicious cocktail when served with soda water, a sprig of mint and freshly sliced lime.