I am often asked when it was I first began my love affair with preserving and, thinking about it for a while, I realise that I have been fascinated by jars of jams, jellies and chutneys since I was very small. The craft of preserving and stocking the pantry was an integral part of my childhood, when my mother would follow the seasons, pickling, bottling and potting whatever could be safely stored away to enliven our food in the bleak North Norfolk winters.
I loved to help and not only because I was a hungry little girl, it was more than that. I’m sure my affection was based on the love and security that comes with a shared task, the filled shelves and the glow of an important job well done, as much as a promise of something sweet for my tea.
Little did I realise then how important preserves would become to me not only to feed my family or as gifts for friends, but also in my role as Preserves Judge on The Big Allotment Challenge. It was whilst working on the show that the idea of this book came about. Spending time with passionate gardeners and seeing just how prolific the crops they grew were, I couldn’t help but envisage the jars of spicy chutneys, tangy pickles and smooth-as-silk curds that could be made from all this bounty.
Talking to people about the show, I noticed that many found the idea of making even the simplest of jams daunting: they worried about such complexities as pectin in fruit, what vinegar to use for pickles, how to make even a simple jar of lemon curd. Perfect Preserves is my answer to those questions. Here is a book that takes you by the hand and leads you through the door into the wonderful world of preserving.
At the start of each chapter you will find a master recipe, one that tells you everything you need to know about how to make a perfect jar of jam, chutney, curd or pickle. Each recipe is thoroughly explained, including exactly what equipment you might need and what to look out for. Let me say here that there is very little equipment that you won’t have already in your kitchen, and so you can get started straightaway.
My idea is that even the novice can make a perfect jar of each type of preserve in the book by following the step-by-step instructions. Once you are confident with the techniques, you can graduate to the recipes that follow the master recipe. Using the same methods you will soon become adept at preserving, and before long you will be adapting the recipes to suit your and your family’s tastes, using whatever fruit and vegetables you grow in your garden, pick from your allotment or buy at the local market.
To start the book there is a glossary of all the things you need to know, in which technical words are clarified, and ingredients explained. Here you can find what fruits contain high levels of pectin, which sugars to use in jams, what acidity vinegar needs to be for pickling, and much, much more.
I have had a wonderful time writing this book, as it has reinforced my love of preserving. I’ve come up with some delicious new recipes, and tweaked some old ones to make them even tastier. I am now besotted with gooseberry and elderflower curd, and have a range of fruit ketchups sitting alongside bottles of cordials that will take the flavour of summer on into winter.
When I started writing this book Seville oranges were in the shops. Each year I wonder at how simply splendid it is that, in January’s darkest days, these glorious oranges fill our kitchens with the smell, taste and colour of Spanish sunshine. From citrus fruit to the first palest pink, champagne rhubarb, and here a tribute to our Victorian forefathers who, using ingenuity, new farming practice and an keen eye on profit, formed the Rhubarb Triangle in Yorkshire, where this premium fruit is still grown. Soon after these we have elderflowers and heady perfumed strawberries, crisp radishes and bright green beans.
In each season, using the fruit or vegetable most abundant to that season, I will make one or two jars of my favourite preserves. These will not only help keep the joy of these seasons alive, but also feed that hungry little girl who still lurks within.