Your guide to homegrown preserves

It’s exciting when you suddenly have a large harvest of homegrown fruit and vegetables because it means you have the opportunity of turning them into homemade preserves. How delicious to serve a home-grown and cooked condiment with everyday meals. You can fill the pantry with a marvellous array of preserved gifts to give to friends and relatives. Even if you don’t have enough from your own Garden, take advantage of fresh seasonal produce from a farmers’ market.

Many years ago, I made organic preserves for delicatessens and cafes and spent hours in a commercial kitchen, slicing large boxes of eggplant, grilling capsicum, peeling onions and filling lots of jars with a variety of produce. It was a hot and time-consuming but rewarding job. When making preserves at Home, keep the produce you are going to prepare at one time to a realistic amount. Preserving requires patience and time, but the end result will be very special.

First of all, here are a few kitchen tools you will need to make preserving foods easier.

  • A good preserving pan. It should be wide in shape to allow for rapid boiling and evaporation and for the setting point to be reached more quickly. It should hold at least 13 litres and it needs to be heavy-based for even heat distribution and to prevent burning or sticking. Stainless steel, aluminium and good-quality enamel are recommended for making sweet chutneys, pickles, jams, marmalades and preserves.
  • Spoons. A slotted spoon to remove scum or pips and measuring spoons for ingredients. Those with long handles are the best as they won’t slip into the preserve and they keep your hand away from boiling hot liquid.
  • Ladles. A couple of metal ladles of different sizes, one with a lip for easy pouring.
  • Jugs. Measuring jug, cup measures and a metal or glass pouring jug for filling jars.
  • Muslin. Muslin gauze to tie up pips and spices and also for straining preserves.
  • Wooden board. To stand the hot jars on when filling them. Also, once they are filled they can sit on it to cool. (This prevents the glass from cracking, which can happen when placed onto a cold surface while very hot.)
  • Sugar thermometer. For measuring the temperatures for setting point. Jams, jellies and marmalades are set at just below 105°C, when the sugar interacts with the acid and natural fruit pectin.
  • Citrus zester. Removes only the skin and not the bitter pith.
  • Funnels. These make it easier to accurately fill jars when pouring in hot ingredients. They are usually are made of plastic or stainless steel and come in a variety of sizes.
  • Good-quality rubber kitchen or gardening gloves. These are good for handling hot jars, screwing on lids or picking up hot filled jars.
  • Jars and bottles. Metal screw-top jars are best for most preserves except pickles or chutneys with high vinegar content. There are special preserving jars with a rubber band and wire seal clip for the lids. Jars with wide mouths are easier to fill. Corks can be used for bottles, but make sure they are placed on while the preserve is still hot.
  • Sterilising containers. You’ll need to sterilise jars for preserving and the best way is to wash the jars in hot, soapy water and rinse thoroughly. Preheat oven to 160°C, place wet rinsed jars onto a baking tray and dry for 10 minutes. Remove and cover with a clean tea-towel until ready to use. You can use a dishwasher by running it on the rinse cycle at the hottest temperature.

Tips for successful jam, jelly and marmalade making

  • Fruit. Pick slightly under-ripe fruit where possible, the exception being apples. Fresh-picked, straight from the tree or bush, will be high in pectin; the longer the fruit is stored, the more pectin will be lost. Pectin in fruit may be higher at the beginning of the season and lower towards the end. Over-ripe fruits will be low in pectin. Some fruits are naturally low in pectin and will need the addition of pectin in the form of pips and pith of citrus fruits, or apple or lemon juice, or commercial pectin.
  • Sugar. Granulated white sugar is the main sugar used in jam making. Dark or raw sugar is often used when making chutneys.
  • Water. Used to help cook fruit that’s dry, such as pears or apples; fruits such as strawberries or raspberries need less water.
  • Pectin. The natural gum-like substance found in all fruits and some vegetables. Pectin is normally at its highest when fruit is just beginning to ripen. Combine high-pectin fruits with low-pectin fruits. The use of a commercial pectin mixture means fruit with little or no pectin can be set without the addition of fruits or citrus high in pectin. Keep in mind that the addition of too much commercial pectin will give the jam or jelly a dull and uninteresting flavour. As a guide, to 1kg fruit add about 15g of commercial pectin.
  • Acid. It’s important that acid levels are sufficient in fruit for optimum setting of jam, jelly or marmalade. Fruits low in acid are strawberries, pears, sweet varieties of cherries, figs, feijoa, kiwi fruit, mango, melon, pineapple and tomato, so add 2 tbsp of lemon juice for each 2kg of fruit. Combining high-acid fruits with low-acid fruits will balance the jam. Citric acid can be added — 1 tsp per 2kg of fruit.

Testing setting point

First, always check earlier rather than later, and remove the saucepan from the heat while you check. Small amounts of mixture will reach setting point faster than larger amounts. When the thermometer reaches 105–110°, the jam will be sufficiently cooked and set.

Alternatively, take a small amount of mixture onto the jam spoon and drop onto a chilled saucer; as it cools, push a finger across the top and a wrinkly skin should form.

Any scum that may form on the top of the jam can be scooped off with a slotted spoon at the point of setting. Scum does not affect the flavour of the jam, only the look and possibly the clarity. If you are entering it into a preserves competition, you’ll be marked down for this, but no one at home will care!

Making marmalade

The main ingredients are usually citrus fruits and the preparation of the skin or peel of the fruit dominates the texture and taste of the marmalade.

To make top-notch marmalade, here are some tips to help you out:

  • Wash the fruit thoroughly, squeeze the juice and save all the pips. Pectin is found in the pips and white pith of citrus fruits.
  • Lemon juice will add extra acid to marmalades for a better setting consistency where the fruit may be low in acid.
  • Marmalade can go past its setting point and may not set at all if left to cook too long. It’s therefore important to check frequently to see if the marmalade is near setting point. Once setting point is reached, remove from the heat and spoon into prepared jars and seal.


Jelly making is similar to jam making except for the draining of the fruit through a jelly bag. The magnificent, clear, bright jelly is certainly worth the effort.
You’ll need a jelly bag made of cloth and conical in shape with four attachments for suspending it over a bowl. Wet the jelly bag before straining the fruit.
Although a jelly bag is the best way of getting the juice from the cooked fruit, a wet muslin cloth lining a large, conical sieve can work just as well.

Chutney, pickles and ketchup

Chutney and pickles usually have a blend of sweet and sour flavours and sometimes are spiced with added chillies or mustard seeds. Pickled vegetables normally have a crunchy texture.

Vinegar chosen for pickling should have at least 5–6 per cent acetic acid.

Store chutneys and pickles in a dark, cool cupboard until ready to use. This can be up to 3–4 months in some cases, to allow the preserve to mature and develop flavour.

Bottling by heat sterilisation

This method is used because there is low sugar, low acid or low vinegar in the liquid the produce is to be preserved in. Whole fruit and vegetables have been bottled and preserved for many years using a sterilising bottling kit. A special sterilising bottling kit is something to invest in if you are serious about bottling fruits and vegetables.

The bottling process involves sterilising the content of the jar by immersing it in water that’s brought to boiling and then cooked for at least 15 minutes. Proper bottling jars should be used.

Drying foods

It’s more efficient to dry fruit and vegetables in an electric food dehydrator, which will speed home preserving. Sun drying can be a bit tricky if the air is very humid and it can take 4–5 days of continuous sunshine to get the desired result. However, drying can be done in an electric fan-forced oven that can be set at a temperature 60°C; it can take up to eight hours.

Herbs are easy to dry and only need to be tied in a bunch and hung upside-down in a dry, warm spot. This is also a good way of harvesting seeds to plant again or to use in cooking with things like fennel, coriander and dill. Place the heads of the plant in a paper bag to catch any seeds that might fall out.

Have fun and create your own special homemade preserves — and don’t forget to label and date them. There is nothing worse than spreading a piece of toast with chilli tomato jam when you thought it was strawberry!

Jams and preserves by Syd Pemberton

The following recipes are from my book Jams and Preserves (Penguin).

Roasted Red & Yellow Capsicum with Chilli Pickle

Makes: approximately 3 x 500g jars

750g red capsicum
750g yellow capsicum
50g chillies (long red & green)
150mL extra virgin olive oil
Salt & ground black pepper
800mL white wine vinegar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
80g brown sugar
2 garlic cloves
6 bay leaves

Preheat the oven 200°C.

Remove the seeds from the capsicum and chillies and cut into strips, place in a roasting tin with 150ml of oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the capsicum and chillies for 50 minutes until soft.

Meanwhile, place the vinegars, sugar, garlic and bay leaves in a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil to dissolve the sugar. Boil for 10 minutes to reduce a little.

Place the capsicum and chillies into warmed sterilised preserving jars. Pour over the hot vinegar mixture and seal. Leave for 2 months before using. Refrigerate after opening.

Spicy Plum Sauce
This is delicious served with grilled duck breast or barbecued kebabs and pork ribs.

Makes: approximately 4 x 280mL bottles

1.5kg plums, stones removed & chopped
1 large red onion, finely chopped
2cm knob of ginger, grated
2 red chillies, deseeded & chopped
6 star anise
1 cup red wine vinegar
3 cups soft brown sugar

In a preserving pan, place the plums, onion, ginger, chillies, star anise and red wine vinegar. Slowly bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes until the plums collapse. Stir in the brown sugar and cook, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. 

Bring to the boil and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and sieve into another pan. Cook for a further 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and pour into warm sterilised bottles and seal.

Apple & Rosemary Jelly
This recipe can have fresh mint added to it or, if you prefer no herbs, leave them out.  

Makes: approximately 6 x 400g jars

1.5kg green apples, roughly chopped
2½ cups white wine vinegar
5 cups water
Sugar (see below)
½ cup fresh rosemary leaves
Sprigs of rosemary 

In a preserving pan, add the apples, water and vinegar. Bring to the boil and cook for 10–15 minutes until the apples are soft. Pour into a jelly bag and suspend over a bowl, allowing the juices to drip through. Allow at least 4–5 hours or overnight.

Measure the juice and return to the pan. Measure 450g of sugar for every 600ml of juice and add to the juice. Stir in the rosemary leaves and bring to the boil and cook until setting point is reached. Remove from the heat and strain. Place a sprig of rosemary into each warm sterilised jar, pour in jelly and seal.

Seasonal Citrus Marmalade
This marmalade is a good way to use the best citrus fruit available in the citrus season — such as limes, oranges, mandarins, tangelos and pink grapefruit. 

Makes: approximately 4 x 500g jars

100g each of grapefruit, lemon, oranges, mandarins and limes totalling approximately 1kg of fruit
4 cups water (approximately)
4 cups sugar (approximately)

Remove the zest from all the citrus and shred finely. Squeeze the juice from the fruit and set aside. Collect the pips, finely chop the pith and tie both in a muslin bag. Soak the zest and the bag of pith and pips overnight with the fruit in about 3 cups of water.

Place the soaked ingredients into a preserving pan with the soaking water. Add another cup of water. Bring to the boil and cook until the zest is soft. Remove the muslin bag, first squeezing out any juices. Combine the juice from the fruit juice and zest and measure the amount. Add the same quantity of sugar.

Return to the preserving pan and cook over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved, stirring occasionally. Bring to the boil and cook until setting point is reached. Remove from the heat and pour into warm sterilised jars and seal.


Your guide to homegrown preserves

By: The WellBeing Team

If you haven’t experienced the joy of making pickles, jams and jellies at home, here’s a beginner’s guide to inspire you.


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Tried this recipe? Mention @wellbeing_magazine or tag #wbrecipe!

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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