Preserving food has always been a vital part of the cook’s repertoire.
As we are in the middle of the Great North Festival of Agriculture (Thursday, 31st August to Sunday, 1st October), it’s the perfect moment to get some preserving done for our winter supplies. It’s the time of year where we have an abundance of goodies and we don’t want to waste anything!
If you happen to pop through this weekend, we have Hands-On Heritage Skills taking place (Saturday, 23rd to Sunday, 24th September) where we will be making jam and chutney in our 1940s Farmhouse. Luckily for our Land Girls they have a small orchard and allotment, fit to burst with different fruit and vegetables that can be preserved to last us through winter. This will offer some well-appreciated variation to what could potentially be a very monotonous diet of mock goose (made with lentils) and national loaf!
From Georgian farmers to wartime Land Girls, preserving food was an important part of the food calendar. This is especially true of these two periods, where there wouldn’t have been the imports that could be relied upon for bulking out meals or adding variation.
During the rationing of the Second World War, people had to be especially creative with their jams and chutneys, without the amounts of sugar used in the past. The usual ratio of fruit to sugar in jam is 1:1 (so for every pound of fruit, a pound of sugar was required) and although, sugar could be set aside specifically for preserving, in a lot of cases using sugar in these quantities was not an option.
One very popular method that didn’t use any precious sugar was bottling. The absence of sugar meant it was a trickier process, as sugar not only adds to the delicious flavour of jam, but also acts as a preservative. It relied on boiling the bottle or jar full of fruit until a vacuum is created, so no nasties could get in and spoil the contents. An airtight seal was vital to its success, as was the know-how on how to achieve this – especially important when nothing could be wasted!
Even though sugar is back on the menu, preserving fruit at harvest time is still a vital skill, one we cannot let slip away! When someone you know offers you their glut of strawberries from their allotment, or you pick far too much as your local pick-your-own, make some jam with it instead of letting it get fuzzy in the bottom of your fridge. I promise you it is easier than it looks and so satisfying!