Bottling battles

‘Why do your bottles have too much airspace at the top?’ says hubby.

‘I don’t know. It doesn’t seem to matter,’ say I.

‘Why don’t you process them in the pressure cooker, then open them up and add some more liquid?’ says hubby.

‘Because that’s NOT how preserving is supposed to be done!’ snap I. ‘You don’t understand the preserving process! You’re supposed to seal it, then sterilize it all thoroughly by heating it, then let it cool, SEALED, so no contaminants can get in.’ Grump grump.

Sometime later…

‘You did WHAT?!’ shouts hubby, with some alarm.

‘I filled the bottles right up, then put the lids on tightly so none of the juice would come out during processing, and you wouldn’t be able to complain that my bottles weren’t full enough.’

‘Don’t you understand the heating process? Things get BIGGER! You’ve probably cracked all your bottles because the pressure would build up too high inside them,’ grumps hubby.

‘No – I heated the bottles, lids and all the contents, so everything was as big as it was ever going to get,’ I replied, with a somewhat wavering conviction.

Sometime later – I slipped the top off the pressure cooker, with trepidation.

Yeah! I was right! All is well. Everything has to be really hot before you start processing with the pressure cooker, and I’m now working my way through bottling the huge sack of pears we picked from our dinky little pear tree.

Bottled pears and cook books

Bottled pears and a couple of my preserving 'bibles' - 'Jams, Preserves and Chutneys' by Marguerite Patten, and The River Cottage Handbook, 'Preserves' by Pam Corbin.

Bottling time!

Best bit of the year is upon me. Time to gather courgettes and French beans by the bucketful. I love the way you never know how many you are going to get. If you plant a cabbage, you know you’re going to get just one cabbage. Planting a courgette plant, you could have one or dozens (usually dozens!).

The only problem is that hubby only likes a couple of courgette recipes. One is battered and deep fried, with a crispy batter full of fresh curry spices. The other is fried with bacon and onion.

That leaves quite a few kilos of courgettes unaccounted for.

Then, why do so many French beans come at once? I’ve tried freezing them but I don’t like the watery result.

I can’t bear to throw anything away, so I’ve devised a few recipes for preserving them so we can eat them through the lean winter months. These have been evolved from the wonderful Margeurite Patten’s book of ‘Jams, preserves and chutneys’.

My own cook-in sauces

Dhansak sauce and Greek Beans, awaiting their labels.

Important points

  1. This can be a dangerous operation because of the enzymes in vegetables and the lack of acidity, so you must ensure that the jars are pressure cooked (gently) for 40 minutes, no less. Fruits, including tomatoes, can be sterilised in much less time, but vegetables must go through the full process.
  2. You’ll notice I’m not using posh Kilner jars. Firstly, they’re expensive. Secondly, the stoopid things are the wrong size to fit in my pressure cooker!  Amazingly, recycled ‘cook-in’ sauce jars work just great. I’ve looked into buying new ones on the internet, but they are colossally expensive if you want less than 30,000, and I can’t find the all-important tops with the safety buttons. I did experiment with some VERY cheap jars last year, when our Sainsbury’s was offering it’s ‘Basic’ curry sauce for a staggering 4p a jar. (We actually ate the sauces, though my original thought was to throw them away and just use the jars. Not bad….) It didn’t work too well because the jars and lids were flimsy, and I didn’t have a great rate of lids sealing properly.

Slightly acidic sauces work best, hence the tomato in the beans. The curry sauces are good with the addition of lime or lemon juices, and tamarind seems to have enough natural acidity to help out.

Potential disasters

I was experimental last year, and had a couple of disasters. I made a curry sauce with a cashew nut paste in the sauce. Delicious when made fresh, but cashew nuts really don’t like being tortured in a pressure cooker for 40 minutes. The result was a bitter mess. The aubergines stuffed with coconut, peanuts and spices and cooked in a tamarind sauce taste good, but look like bottled poo, so I won’t be doing them again.

Bottled, stuffed aubergine

Bottled, stuffed aubergine - tastes great, looks like sewage.

Please excuse the haphazard nature of quantities in these recipes. It’s a question of eyeing up how many veg you have available and how many bottles you think they’ll go into!

Greek Beans – so called because they are based on beans I remember eating in Corfu on one of my first holidays abroad. They were meltingly tender, heavy with garlic and oil, and some tomato. This is one of those recipes that probably tastes nothing like the original, but has been filtered through my memory banks and has popped out like this.

Vegetable dhansak. When you want a curry in a hurry, fry some meat in spices, cook until tender and then add this sauce for the last ten minutes. You’ll notice there’s a lot of spices in the sauce itself. It needs to be tasty and pungent to because all the vegetables will absorb the flavour. Also, the preserving process itself seems to quieten down the flavour, so you need to make it really zing.