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Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Freezing and bottling

The first problem confronting the person growing their own is how best to preserve all the excess fruit and veg they produce! I'm a freezer girl myself, and have learnt over the years what works best for me. Quite frankly I don't think any veg freezes really well (blanched or not - I've tried both) but in the depths of winter I have no desire to eat courgettes anyway, let alone soggy ones that have been frozen, when I have fresh veg like leeks and purple curly kale I can go and collect from the veg patch. 

Winter is also a time when I feel that I can buy 'other' veg that I don't grow - now I don't mean things that are out of season flown in from other countries but local seasonal veg like red and savoy cabbage and broccoli. But summer is a different matter and there are certain fruit and veg that need dealing with as they are harvested, either over a prolonged period like tomatoes and raspberries, or all in one go like currants. 

Blackcurrants, cherries and raspberries

All of these freeze extremely well, but the main question is where to put them! Up until recently I have frozen everything including tomato sauce (the passata kind, not the ketchup kind) but last year I started to have the problem that faces most of us in the end - too big a harvest or not enough freezer space! I already had an upright freezer when we moved here plus a kitchen fridge freezer which has 2 drawers in the freezer bit and by year 2 year had installed a chest freezer as well. I'm lucky to have a 'cellier' - that's not a cellar in the English sense (called a 'cave' in French) but more of a mud-come-laundry room with space for all the extra fridges and freezers and my old office filing cupboard which serves to store all my jam jars and plastic freezer tubs and basically everything I need for my preserving.

As I eat a lot of fruit I freeze tons of it - last year alone I froze nearly 8kg of blackcurrants and 4kg of redcurrants, tons of raspberries and several kilos of elderberries! I use them in such things as jellies, cordials and ice cream base/coulis or just plain being ate as is for raspberries. However whilst I've just about got room for everything in the freezer, they need occasional defrosting, and therein lies yet another problem!

Thankfully, my English neighbours have come to the rescue as they have a spare freezer I'm going to borrow so that at last, after 6 years I can defrost the chest freezer which I have never been able to do before. I can just about do the upright one in about May before major harvesting starts again by cramming it into every nook in the chest freezer.

So now I'll be able to make more apple puree from those stored apples which are threatening to go off - and make elderberry cordial, which I couldn't do before, because it uses more freezer space than just the fruit alone!

I have not yet dared try to bottle cordial - I might try next year with the elderflower cordial which does have citric acid in it which acts as a preservative and hopefully just putting the cordial into sterlised bottles should work (as most recipes say to do this!) but the one thing I don't do is any of this water bath malarky (way too complicated/time consuming/scary and anyway, I just don't have anywhere to do it as it involves using a small dustbin sized steriliser which would have to go on a special gas ring on the floor somewhere).

What I have done though is bottle tomato sauce without the need for water bathing. A friend told me how, and she swore it was good for a year or more, and I've found the same. We haven't been poisoned but I do understand that tomatoes contain a natural preservative in their acid so that helps - the same method won't work for other fruits or veg so this is limited to tomatoes only.

I wait until I've got a load of tomatoes (freeze some whilst waiting for 'a load') as it's all a bit time consuming and better to make a complete mess of the kitchen only a few times during the season..... then put them in my biggest pans and cook down until they have softened. 

Frozen toms about to be cooked down
(plus apple puree being made at the same time -
this is the limit of my multitasking skills!)

Then mash up with a potato masher and then pass the mush a little at a time through a mouli type sieve - you can use an ordinary sieve and wooden spoon but you'll be at it all day. Once you've got rid of the skins and seeds from the toms put the sauce back into the cleaned saucepan/s.

In the meantime sterilise your jam jars by whichever means you normally use - I put them in the oven at 120C for 30 mins. Bring the strained tom sauce back up to the boil, then leave on a low simmer whilst you bottle up - one jar at a time and seal asap. Bottling the tomato sauce whilst still boiling, into extremely hot jars, seems to do the trick and keeps the sauce for an indefinite period. If any jars don't go pop - place in the fridge when cold and use up as soon as possible.

This is also a good way to use up those
jam jars with narrow tops which aren't
very suitable for jam

The same friend did try apple puree this way and reports back that it doesn't work, so either use the French much loved water bath method, or just do what I do - bung it in marge tubs in the freezer. (Then freak because you have used up all your freezer space and/or need to defrost the freezers). Happy preserving!


  1. You are making me envious looking at all your produce. We have always been pretty self sufficient in fruit and veg and are looking forward to developing out "potager" over the coming years.
    I agree about most things not tasting so good after freezing with one exception. I actually think sweetcorn tastes every bit as good and sometimes better after freezing.

    Some lovely photos.

  2. Thanks Colly - just out of interest are you freezing whole cobs or taking the kernels off the cobs first? I didn't have much success trying to get the kernels off (neatly!) but that year it had gone a bit tough by the time I froze it anyway so ended up giving it to the chickens!