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I have chilis, lots of chilis, and not enough lemons ripe yet to make Chili Jam.  I’ve made some Pickled Chilis so as to have some chilis for curries and spicing up winter dishes, but I’ve still got chilis. And this year, the tamarillos have been really prolific.

I’m not a big preserve maker, nor do I freeze vegetables. I sun-dry tomatoes and make passata if I have enough, but I am lucky enough to live in a climate where,  if I plant sequentially and we eat seasonally, we can eat fresh all year. So preserves tend to just sit on the shelf looking decorative.

So if I make preserves, it’s not to preserve things but because the result is worth making all of its own account and not just to keep something for later.

The Recipe:

This recipe made these four jars – about 1.4 kg altogether.

The first thing to do is de-seed your chilis. I used about 40 medium sized chilis, but the recipe is forgiving. My chilis are medium-hot, and 40 sounds like a lot, but the resulting sauce is pleasantly spicy, not blast your socks off hot.  To de-seed them, chop the tops off  and swivel the point of a fine knife blade round inside them to loosen the seeds.  Use gloves or really, really remember not to touch your eyes for hours afterwards! Rinse under running water to remove most of the seeds.  There is no need to be very diligent about this. The more seeds you miss though, the hotter the resulting sauce will be.

I use a blender to make quick work of finely chopping the deseeded chilis, along with

  • 1½ cups of malt vinegar
  • 1 dessertspoon of salt
  • 1 cup of raw sugar
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic
  • a thumb of ginger, peeled
  • a thumb of fresh turmeric (or a teaspoon of dried)

Many metals will react with acid fruit and vinegar, so use a stainless steel or enamel pot.

Simmer the chili-vinegar-sugar mix with the flesh from 15 tamarillos (leave them chunky – just halve them and scoop out the flesh with a spoon), until the sauce has reduced and gone a bit syrupy – about 40 minutes.

While the sauce is cooking, put your jars and their lids on to boil for 10 minutes or pressure cook for 5 minutes to sterilize them. I just recycle any jars of the kind that the lid pops when you open them.

Ladle the hot sauce into hot sterilized jars. Screw the sterilized lid onto the jar. As the jar cools, the middle of the lid should pop in, showing that you have an airtight seal.  Wait until the jars are cool to wash the outside (cool water on hot jars will crack them).

The sauce will keep for several weeks in the fridge, so any that doesn’t completely fill a jar can be eaten first. It’s great with meat,  anything with cheese, lots of kinds of vegetable patties or fritters, on sandwiches ….

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Back in May I raided the spice rack and propagated a few brown mustard seeds, just from a packet of seeds from the supermarket.

It’s hard to plant just one of something!   You can eat a few young mustard leaves in salads and stir fries, but most of the harvest is in the seeds, and one mustard plant, one of those tiny little seeds, will grow over a metre tall, dominate most of a square metre of space, and yield enough mustard seed to keep us going all year. I still have another five or six plants in the garden.  This mustard recipe is good, maybe even good enough that  I will still have enthusiasm for processing it by the time the last one is ready for harvest!

The Recipe:

Wait until the seeds are fully mature and the seed pods going yellow, then cut the whole plant off at the base. Hang it upside down with the head in a paper bag in a sunny spot for a week or so. The seed pods should go brittle and easy to crush.

Tip the seeds into a baking tray and blow gently to winnow out the pods.

Mix together and allow to soak overnight:

  • a third of a cup of brown mustard seed
  • a dessertspoon of black peppercorns
  • ¼ cup of vinegar
  • ¼ cup of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon  salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

The next day, strain the seeds and lightly crush them in a mortar and pestle.  Put the lightly crushed seeds along with all the liquid you soaked them in in a food processor with:

  • a small handful of fresh thyme leaves and
  • 2-3 dessertspoons of lemon juice.

Blend until it goes creamy.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  It will taste quite sharp – it needs to mature a bit to develop the taste – but you should be able to decide if it needs more salt, sugar or lemon juice.

It will last several months in the fridge and will get better as the flavour mellows and matures.  Great on a cheese and tomato sandwich, in kangaroo stroganoff, in cauliflower cheese soup.

(If you’re up for another recipe, Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial blogged hers last week too – it must be mustard season!)

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I am picking lots of chilis, but it is too early yet for enough lemons to make Chili Jam, so it’s chili pickling time.

Once upon a time, in an effort to be the original Earth Mama I used to spend hours enveloped in steam, making pickles and jams and chutneys and vacola jars of preserves out of everything that could have vinegar, sugar and/or salt added to it.  But if there is a fresh substitute for a preserved food, I’ll choose the fresh every time. Even where I like the sweet, salty tangy-ness of a preserve I know too much of it isn’t good for me.  So these days a pickle has to really earn its place.

Preserves make lots of sense in climates where everything green is covered in snow for several months of the year, but here winter is actually a better gardening season than spring. Preserves as insurance against crop failure make sense, but with enough variety there is generally something that likes the season whatever it is.  Preserves as a way of dealing with excesses makes sense, but a nice little local bartering circle is a lot easier and more fun.

But preserves as a way of having chili in winter and spring – now that makes sense!

I like chili.  Have you noticed?  My partner likes it even more.  This is a nice simple way to preserve chilis for use in curries and stir fries and bean dishes over the season when there are no fresh chilis.  Pickled chilis are also wonderful on the verandah on a hot afternoon with cold beer, nashi pear,  sharp cheese, a backgammon board, and a friend or two. This is a very fast, easy recipe, and the spiced chili vinegar left when all the pickles have been eaten is perfect in salad dressings.

The Recipe:

The object of this is to pour hot, spiced vinegar over raw, de-seeded chilis packed into hot sterilized jars.  If the jars are cold, you risk cracking them when you pour in the hot vinegar.  So you need to have several processes happening at once so it all comes together.

So the first thing to do is to put your jars and their lids on to boil for 10 minutes or pressure cook for 5 minutes to sterilize them.

At the same time, heat your vinegar.

Because the chilis are hollow, most of the jar will be filled with the pickling vinegar.  So you will need enough vinegar to fill the jars about two-thirds full. So estimate how many jars you will fill with chilis and do a little bit of maths to figure out how much vinegar to make.  You can use malt or cider vinegar, but I use just plain white vinegar.

Most metals will react with the vinegar, so use a stainless steel or enamel pot.  For each 750ml of vinegar, add:

  • 2 tablespoons of cooking  salt
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • optional – some spices. I like about half a teaspoon of black peppercorns, half a teaspoon of mustard seeds, half a teaspoon of dill seeds, and a clove of garlic per jar. My local health food shop also sells “Pickling Spices” loose. It’s a mixture of mustard seeds, coriander,  peppercorns, cloves,  ginger, cinnamon sticks, and bay leaves. So a couple of teaspoons of that per jar is also an option.

Bring to the boil and boil for a few minutes, just to dissolve the salt and sugar and soften the spices.

While that is happening, chop the tops off your chilis and swivel the point of a knife blade round inside them to loosen the seeds.  Use gloves or really, really remember not to touch your eyes for hours afterwards! Rinse under running water to remove most of the seeds.  There is no need to be very diligent about this.  The main aim is to allow the pickling vinegar to get inside the chilis.

Pack the sterilized jars full of de-seeded chilis. Try to get them with the open end up, so they fill with vinegar rather than try to float, and leave a centimetre or so headroom.  Before the jar gets cold, pour the hot spiced vinegar over the chilis to fill the jar, making sure the chilis are completely covered.  Screw the sterilized lid onto the jar.

As the jar cools, the middle of the lid should pop in, showing that you have an airtight seal.  This isn’t so critical – the salt, sugar and vinegar will preserve the chilis anyhow, but I feel more secure knowing they are hermetically sealed.

Leave for at least a few weeks before using.

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In the realm of preserves as condiments, preserved lemons are top of the list. Once you have discovered them you will never go back!  They are absurdly easy and cheap to make during lemon season – no cooking involved – and they are so difficult to find and expensive that they make great gifts.  So it is worth bottling them.

You can use any kind, but I find bush lemons with their thick skin and sweetness make the absolute best preserved lemons.

The Recipe

Sterilize your jars (and their lids) by boiling for ten minutes or pressure cooking for five.  This recipe will make about 4 medium jars.

Measure out 250 grams of  salt.

Chop 10 lemons into sixteenths. Put them in a big bowl, sprinkling them as you go with the salt.  Massage in.

Pack the lemon pieces into your jars, pressing down to really pack them in and inserting a couple of bay leaves, some splinters of cinnamon stick, and a couple of whole cloves into each jar.

Pour the juice left in the bowl evenly into the jars.  You will be left with some undisolved salt in the bottom of the bowl.  Juice 2 more lemons and try to dissolve the salt in the juice.  Top up the jars so they are quite full and the lemons are covered.  Discard any salt that is left.

Wipe the neck of the jar with a clean cloth dipped in boiled water and seal with a sterilized lid.  Store in a cool spot for at least a month before using, better two months.

The lemons may develop a white mould where they are exposed.  It won’t harm you.  You can throw out the exposed lemon, but the rest of the jar is fine.

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I have a thing about preserves.  I can see the sense in climates where it snows and for several months there is no fresh food, but in my climate it seems like make-work.  Why eat bottled peaches when there are fresh pears?  Why eat frozen peas when there are fresh beans?  Especially given that preserving uses not just work but also fuel and often salt and sugar in quantities too great to be really healthy.

There is a permaculture saying that “the problem is the solution” – as in: you don’t have a surplus of snails – you have a deficit of ducks.  Perhaps a surplus of fresh produce is really a deficit of trade/barter/gift partners? Producing community is more important for living well in lean times than a well stocked cellar.

I see preserves more as condiments than food, and this is the rationale for lime cordial.  It is not actually for cordial but for use in salad dressings and marinades through early summer when fresh citrus fruits aren’t available.  It is because I refuse to buy  imported lemons no matter what the recipe says!  This recipe works for lemon or lime cordial, but limes have a shorter season when fresh ones are available.

The Recipe

Sterilize a 750 ml bottle and its lid by boiling for 10 minutes or pressure cooking for 5, or (given that it is probably too tall for your pots!) baking in an oven for 15 minutes (in which case you will probably need to boil the lid separately because it is likely to have plastic in it).

In an enamel or stainless steel pot, bring to the boil 1½ cups of lime juice, 1½ cups of water, 3 cups of sugar, and the finely grated rind of the limes.  You will find it easier to grate the rind before you juice the limes. You can use any kind of sugar.  I tend to use brown or raw sugar for everything, but it will make your cordial a darker colour and a richer flavour than refined white sugar.

Boil for a couple of minutes, just to dissolve the sugar well.

You need the mix and your sterilized bottle to be a similar temperature – otherwise the bottle will crack. I find the best way to do this is to let both cool slightly before bottling your cordial.

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This is an Indian style oil-based pickle that is fantastic on the side of a vegetable curry, and really really good with cheese on bread.  I think it is probably a classic recipe – my version came from Rod but I don’t know where his came from!  It’s a great way to manage a surplus of limes.  It only takes minutes to make, but you need to start three days in advance.

The Recipe

Three days before bottling day:
• Slice 12 limes into eighths then crosswise into sixteenths.
• Layer in a bowl, spreading each layer with salt (4 tablespoons altogether).
• Cover and leave in a warm spot for 3 days, stirring or shaking occasionally.
On bottling day:
• In a large saucepan, heat 1 ½ cups of olive oil and sauté
4 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon pepper

• Drain the limes and add, along with
¼ cup white vinegar
3 cloves of garlic (crushed)
3 dried hot chillies (crushed)
• Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, then add 2 tablespoons sugar.
• Spoon and pour into hot sterilized jars.
• Store in a cool dark place for at least a month before using
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Chillies and lemons are both glut crops – if you have any, you have too many! For this recipe though, the challenge is that you only have too many of both at the very end of the chilli season and the very beginning of the lemon season.  It’s a moment to pounce on.

The trick with making chilli jam is that chillies don’t have enough pectin to set on their own. Commercial chilli sauce is thickened with gum, but this one uses lemon juice and pulp for its pectin, and also for its flavour. It makes a nice strong chilli jam (or sauce) with a hot-tart-sweet-salty balance. It’s great with cheese on crackers, or with very herby salmon patties, or in salad dressings, or  indeed anywhere you are used to using sweet chilli sauce.

The Recipe

First, put your jars in a pressure cooker or a large pot of water on the stove to sterilize them by boiling for 10 minutes or pressure cooking for 5.

De-seed a big basket of chillies – half a kilo of de-seeded chillies will make about 3 medium jars of chilli jam. Hot chillies will (duh!) give you hot chilli jam – I like a mixture of hot and mild chillies, about half and half. Use gloves (or really remember not to rub your eyes for hours afterwards!)

For each half kilo (500 gm) of de-seeded chillies, add one cup water, one cup of vinegar, three quarters of a cup of lemon juice, a good dessertspoon of grated lemon rind, a marble-sized knob of fresh ginger, grated, two or three garlic cloves chopped fine, and a half teaspoon of salt. When you juice the lemons, remove the seeds then scrape the pulp out of the juicer as well – it has lots of pectin and will help your jam set.

Find your largest stainless steel or enamel pot – the jam has a risk of boiling over in too small a pot. Boil this mixture for 10 minutes or so, until the chillies soften, then blend the mixture. (Careful of splashes – it really hurts if it gets in your eyes!) For each cup of chilli blend, add a cup of sugar. (We’re making jam here – it doesn’t have to be healthy). I like the slight molasses-y flavour of raw sugar, but it makes a darker coloured jam.

Cook stirring occasionally until it reaches setting point – the point at which a teaspoonful on a cold plate sets jam-like. This will take around half an hour, depending on the pectin level in your lemons.  Bottle in your sterile bottles.

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Obtain a yield is the permaculture principle, but zucchinis this time of year can be a challenge, not a yield, especially for the kind of frugal people that gardening attracts.

This recipe is not so much a way of preserving them as a way of making them a lot more popular (although it will last a long time in the fridge if someone doesn’t eat it first, which is highly unlikely because it is seriously delicious, for example on rye bread with cheese or in pitta bread with hummus, mmmm.)

You need about 4 cups of vegetables cut into 1 cm thick slices.  A mixture of  zucchini, eggplant and capsicum is wonderful and also looks gorgeous, but just zucchini on its own tastes good too.  For this batch I used green and gold zucchinis, black and red eggplants, red and green capsicums.

Put the zucchini et al in a colander, sprinkle with a good tablespoon of sea salt and let sit for two hours, stirring occasionally.

Don’t rinse, just transfer to a saucepan with 2 cups of water, 1 cup of cider vinegar, and about 4 cloves of garlic.  For all recipes that are acidic (like those with vinegar), it’s best to use a stainless steel, enamel, or Pyrex saucepan.  Bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes.  If you have fresh oregano and basil, add a dozen or so whole leaves of each in the last half a minute, just to blanch them.  Drain and arrange in clean glass jars.  If you didn’t have any fresh herbs on hand, sprinkle some dried herbs in as you fill the jars.

Cover with olive oil and keep in the fridge. To eat, fish the vegetables out with a fork.  You can re-use the oil for another batch or for salad dressing.

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Our mangoes are starting to ripen, and this year there is a bumper crop. The possums, flying foxes, and birds get them as soon as they ripen, but if we pick them just before they start to soften and wrap them in newspaper, they ripen fine indoors, out of range of the creatures.

I remember as a child in suburban Rockhampton mangoes were so prolific in their season that they laid thick on the ground making even the air alcoholic, and even the flying foxes couldn’t get through them.

I’m not big on preserves. I can see the point when you live in a climate where several months of the year the ground is covered in snow. But otherwise it just seems like a huge amount of work to produce something that is less healthy and less delicious than the fresh in-season stuff in the garden. Many years ago I made a rule that I was not going to preserve anything unless:

1. The preserve was tastier than the original.
2. The amount of gas, electricity, or firewood it cost was proportionate to how much tastier.
3. The amount of work it took was similarly proportionate.
This recipe is one that makes it through the test!

Hot Mango and Tomato Chutney

Place in a heavy-based saucepan and bring to the boil

4 medium under-ripe mangoes, peeled, seeded and diced
6 under-ripe tomatoes, sliced
teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 chopped onions
1 cup currants
4 red chillies, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh coriander or culantro, chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups malt vinegar
2 cups brown sugar
salt to taste

Simmer gently for 10 minutes and adjust the salt to taste. Then simmer very gently, stirring, until mangoes are soft and mixture is jam-like.
Bottle in sterilized jars.

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