It occurred to me that I bang on a lot about preserving food but I have not really told you what I do in preparation for doing that. I talk a lot about the recipes but not so much the underlying rituals that I have to achieve this. Cleanliness is next to godliness when preserving and handling food of any kind. So I thought I would share some of the things that I do in an attempt to de-mystify this for someone who wants to have a go but is slightly nervous. Although one of the nicest things you could do is if you have a friend who preserves ask them to show you as you often retain more information by watching than just from written instruction. There is a lot to take in but once you get your head round it, it is pretty sensible and practical and the more you do the more you remember of the routine and then can go onto automatic pilot.
When it comes to preserving you can never be too clean and this is what I do in preparation for processing food of any kind whether that be Jam, wine making, canning, pickling, meat preserving.
I wash all surfaces that I am going to work on down usually with a bowlful of boiling water with washing soda in. I also make sure all chopping and cutting boards are treated to the same wash down. I have a regular change of cloths when mopping up so that the surface is kept as spotless as I can keep it and that I am not recontaminating surfaces I have just cleaned down. I also repeatedly wash my hands in between especially when handling meat and fish. Usual standard practical hygiene requirements.
For meat and fish preserving in particular check that your fridge is at the right running temperature i.e. 4 degrees C/40 degrees F).
I sterilise all jars and bottles and lids before use to remove any nasties.
I also in a separate bowl pop my sealing rings/lids and any jelly bags/teatowels that I am going to be using for straining purposes. The term for this is called "scalding". I do not re-use any seals and I know that you can re-use some of the jam jar lids again but my preference is to use a clean seal each time.
Dishwasher:If you have a dishwasher this is perhaps the easiest way of achieving this. Time the wash to be more or less ready for when you need it. The jars will keep warm in the dishwasher for a little while in any event.
Oven: However an alternative way of doing this is stacking washed jars individually on a tray and heating at Gas Mark 1 to 2 to sterilise the jars for about 20 minutes; or alternatively
Hot Water Bath: pop jars into a large pan full of water and add the jars making sure they are covered in water and gradually raise the heat until a boil is achieved. Switch off and remove the jars as you need them.
In essence my new Bielmeyer Preserver is a Hot Water Bath/Pasteuriser. However so is a baby bottle steriliser If you have one of these to hand you use it by popping your bottles in making sure that the water in the steriliser comes half way up the small sauce type bottles that I use for this bring to the boil (this usually takes about 30 minutes but can be sooner) and then time as for a bottling chart which many preserving books have. Each fruit varies as to the time required as some fruits are more fragile than others. and I also use one of these if I am only going to produce a few small bottles of something and I want to prolong the shelf life of a cordial, sauce, coulis. Hot water bathing effectively removes all the air out of the bottles once your preserve is in there but I will cover this in a section marked Heat Processing. I have tried to break it down into easy sections so that it makes it easier for you.
In reality the cleaner you are the more chance you have of creating a preserve that will last quite a while on your pantry shelf, which after all the effort and attention popped into this process you want a maximum return on where possible.
This post will continue in a post marked "Heat Processing".
Catch you later.