Many years ago when I was first married I started my road to preserving with home made Pickled Onions. I had a large old glass sweet jar that was packed to the gunnels with pickling onions and whole spices and plenty of malt vinegar. They were a success but over the years I have refined my method and I have actually learned from making my preserves. To start with I was not cutting the base of the onion properly and so they were either falling apart or looking a bit tattered on the bases and when all said and done if you are preparing something for your Pantry shelf you want as much as you can to eat - you can be over zealous.. However if you feel with the knife there is a natural line between the onion and the root where this can be achieved neatly and quickly. I then used to spice the spiced vinegar bought from the shop up further by creating my own spicing bag to give it extra oomph and boiled this up in the vinegar. You then allow this to cool leaving a clean tea towel over the pan to stop anything getting in and then decant the cold vinegar onto the onions. Doing it this way stops the onion from going soggy. I then add home dried chillies and bay leaf and black peppercorns to each filled jar.
I suffer badly from tears so when it comes to peeling any onion these days I soak in boiling water for a maximum of two hours and then strip the onion down of its outer leaves. This works wonderfully for me in stopping the crying and the only part of the onion to go soggy with the hot water is the bit you want to remove in any event, but please do not leave the onions in the hot water for long.
All things have been learned via trial and error and from reading various different recipes and different approaches to preserving. Pickles are ideal for the beginner to try and add so much flavour to food. For example I regularly prepare red spiced pickled cabbage and in the winter months add this to salad leaves to pep the salad up flavour wise but also to give very pretty visual. After all we are all meant to eat with our eyes first.
Pickled onions are good to have on hand in the Pantry as you can use them in stews and casseroles (drained) as part of cheeseboard, part of a ploughmans and you get more for your money. If the recipe makes too much for you to start with give them away as a present at Christmas.
I therefore started with the pickled onions, graduated to pickled shallots, pickled cucumber, pickled beetroot, pickled red cabbage, chutney, pickled spiced eggs, picallili etc. Each year I did something I added extra things to the list to be prepared in any one preserving year and even now some 36 years or so on I am still adding new items to the list.
If you do not want to start with a pickle why not start with a jam and practice learn from the preserve. If you make your own jams and make your own bread you have bread and jam for Saturday night supper and/or to give the kids as a snack. Kilner have just added their own butter churn to the items available so that you can make your own butter (new item on the kilner blog). So you have then made your bread, jam and butter.
One of the main reasons I started to preserve was to add some different things to my meals that you could not necessarily obtain from the supermarket and over the years I have worked out those items which are the old faithfuls and made year in year out based on what my family eats. Every year I have at least a couple of experimental recipes I make them but if I am not keen on them they do not get made again. It is trial and error but it is something I enjoy very much.
One of the good things of making your own jams is that you can use them in your baking ie in a sponge cake, in jam or curd tarts, coconut cheesecakes, swiss rolls, Baked Alaska. They can be served with croissants and/or toast for breakfast in the morning, added to puff pastry slices with some buttercream to make home made milles feuilles etc. Added to plain yogurt, semolina pudding, Steamed puddings, Queen of Puddings. The list goes on and on. Home made Apricot jam can be used to spread over a Christmas cake to help stick the marzipan down.
Want some tutorials on where to start and some recipes to try then check out the Kilner blog at http://www.kilnerjar.co.uk/ The blog is regularly updated and it has very good basic information for any novice preserver.
The only thing I would say is that sometimes the recipes take longer to set than is specified in the recipe so don't panic too much just persevere and you will get there.
Another good site is the jam jar shop which also has recipe tutorials on their site at
http://jamjarshop.com/making-jam and various other recipes.
So go on have a go its very addictive and you will learn as you go along.
Its very satisfying and adds an extra dimension to your pantry shelf and to your food table.
Catch you soon.