Sunday, 28 August 2011

My journey into Preserving

I suppose really bottling and preserving of any sort is one of my passions alongside anything to do with food of any type.  I started preserving in my own right when I first got married at the tender age of 19 years (quite a few years ago!). If I remember rightly it started with a passion for home made pickled onions and apple chutney.

My journey into preserving was. in many respects a continuation of a process that had been going on year in year out since I was knee high to a gnat.  A task that marked the passing of time and of the different seasons.  There was a choice, to live well or live not so well and my grandparents  out of necessity working the land meant that the food they had was good and unadulterated and that they fed their family well (and others) during difficult times.

We used to mark the seasons by the different activities and indeed we used to look forward to them as it was a way of celebrating the seasons and a time when we worked as a family in tandem.  It was only when my nan had passed and the family home was sold (it was strange not going to do the big apple pick en masse)  that I realised just exactly what we had lost and I have been trying to regain it ever since or some modicum of it.  Sometimes you have to lose what you have to learn what really is important to you.

My mum used to bottle fruit for use during the winter months; I can remember the pantry top shelves being lined with bottles and bottles of fruit namely apples, gooseberries, rhubarb, blackberries, bramble and apple and strawberries, plums, damsons.  Even at a young age I had a fascination with the top shelves of the pantry - but  they were placed there secure from prying fingers and as a preventative of broken bottles - would have been sacrilege after all the work in preparing them - all that was needed was a cold pantry to store them in.  A cave in which to store goodies to keep the wolf from the door.  This is probably where I have got my squirrelling instinct from.  And there was always ginger beer in the pantry.

My grandparents had a smallholding which was surrounded by apple trees over an acre plus  (originally 6 acres but granddad sold off the rest for £30 a plot when I was a babe in arms)- there were also plums, and pears and a soft fruit garden as well as a gigantic vegetable garden and it was thanks to the land that my family lived. - lived very well.  It was out of necessity that my Nan bottled or preserved and my grandfather did the heavy work in the garden.  My grandparents had pigs and chickens as well as the geese and ducks and my Grandad kept bees. My Nan did even more preserving than my Mum and come the end of autumn her pantry was stocked from top to bottom with just squeezable room to get by.  A meat safe was firmly esconced at the end of the pantry  Then there was all the wine and the cider that she made with demijohns scattered on any available space throughout the house usually in the conservatory and the major apple store that not  only kept the whole family going through the winter but also neighbours.  Any excess eggs  after Nan had done the weekly bake were sold to "regulars". and went towards paying for the corn to feed the chickens although they were fed on veggie scraps as well boiled up and then mixed with bran to form a mash.  During the war years and after whilst my Dad was at home he used to go rabbiting for meat for the pot and any extra was always passed on to those in need who were not quite as resourceful in getting a rabbit.  It just used to be left on the door of the lucky recipient .  

My grandparents very rarely went shopping apart from the market once a week and clothes were made where needed - my Nan was always doing something there was always the sewing maching on the go, a clippy rug in progress and her knitting needles  with a jumper vest or cardigan or a pair of socks on the go.   In later years not being able to afford a new three piece suite she completely re-upholsteredI  her existing one (which was originally my mum and dads).and made lovely floral slip covers to "smarten it up".  Nan was the sort who could make a meal out of virtually nothing too.   They lived an "organic" life before organic became fashionable.  They just worked the land naturally with love and respect.

So against this background I suppose it was only natural that I followed on in their footsteps well trod.  I mastered the pickling, the jam making and making chutney, but I was terrified of the bottling - it seemed complicated but its not really once you get used to it.   There are still forms of preserving I have yet to tackle I am in particular thinking of a dryer and also a canner, but these will come in time - along with the bigger kitchen and the bigger pantry. Everything has its season and place and what goes around comes around.

Bearing in mind my own tentative steps and how unsure I was when I first started, I thought that there may well be more of you out there who wanted to do more but hadn't got a clue how to go about it.  I thought I might therefore do a few posts on how to make things by different basic methods to give you a few more things for your cupboards or your pantry.  It might also encourage you newbies to have a go and get into the swing of "putting things down" for your family.  Its a good habit to get into and one that every housewife in the country would have done as a matter of course many years ago.  Not sure whether you want to do some of the recipes or that you will like them go and buy a jar of something you have never tried before, decide whether you like it or not and if you do look round for a similar recipe and take it from there.  Each time you make something you will understand the recipe that bit more and will find quicker ways around things, however there are a few basic rules that should be adhered to at all times, these I will post up separately.

I hope that this assists, but also gives you a greater understanding and love of food in the long run.


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