WHAT a bottler!
Now you all know what’s growing right now in this truly wonderful part of Aussie land – and soon it will be ripe for the picking.
Yep, stone fruit! Cherries and apricots, greengage and other plums, peaches and nectarines. Some of you may be lucky enough to have a fruit tree or two. If you don’t, avoid the supermarkets. Buy ’em cheap and fresh at farmers’ markets or from growers along the road – that’s if they have time to sell as well as pick.
But of course summer fruit doesn’t hang around forever. In winter it will just be a memory ... unless you’ve taken the time to bottle the best fruit for the cooler times.
You need a basic bottling kit. I don’t want to sound like a commercial, but you can’t go past Fowlers Vacola gear. This Aussie company has been around since 1915 and they know a thing or two about preserving fruit – vegies too!
When buying the kit, wait for the catalogue sales. The basic preserver (for heating the bottled fruit) will drop from $200 to around $120, so why not share the purchase with a couple of friends. It could be a Christmas present to share. You need to buy bottles, lids (preferably stainless steel) and spring clips. This is a one-off purchase. Once used, the bottles, lids and clips can be washed and put away ready for refilling next summer. The only gear you need to buy for each bottling are the rubber rings, and they’re cheap.
Tip shops, op shops etc often have secondhand bottles, clips and lids on sale at less than half the retail price.
There are varying sizes for the bottles.
I prefer the No. 20 size – it holds 600ml and is ideal for a family of four.
Be careful to ensure your bottles and lids are thoroughly sterilised before each use. Also, when using the lids for the first time make sure you use plenty of soapy water and a scrubbing brush to remove a thin film of oil, then rinse thoroughly.
You can reduce the amount of sugar when bottling with a preserver, or even preserve without any sugar.
I shouldn’t admit this, but I’m rather proud of my rows of stone fruit smiling at me when I open the pantry door in the dead of winter. And I like to show off a bottle or two of sunshine on the kitchen bench when guests drop in.
“Like some apricot crumble?” I’ll ask them in autumn, winter or spring. Of course they would.
I pry open a bottle and in next to no time (well, around 30 minutes) they’re slurping it up.
DO the maths
When investing in bottling gear, wait for retailers to have a sale on the items you need. Even better, hunt for second-hand gear, but make sure it’s not damaged.
Let’s say you shared the purchase of a new preserver with two friends. A basic Fowlers Vacola preserver costs around $120 when marked down for sale – so that’s a one-off outlay of $40 for you.
If you are buying one dozen new bottles, stainless steel lids and clips at a retailer you would be paying an extra $80.
But op shops and tip shops often have them on sale for less than half the retail price. Just make sure the lids and clips are a perfect fit for the bottles, and also ensure that the lids aren’t out of shape or damaged in any way. Stainless steel lids are best because they don’t rust.
You and your friends can keep using the preserver year after year. The bottles, clips and lids can be used for ever, as long as they’re not damaged. After the initial purchase, the only new outlay each year is rubber rings – at a cost of $4 for a dozen.
So the one-off outlay for you taking a one-third share in a new preserver and buying a dozen of the rest of the hardware that is pre-loved will be around $80. Year after year you use the same gear – you pay only for the fruit and new rubber rings.
Buying fresh fruit direct from the grower or a farmers’ market should cost around $4 a kilo – that’s $40 for 10 kilos of delicious fresh fruit.
Ten kilos of fruit (once the stones are removed) make eight kilos when bottled. The No. 20 Fowlers Vacola bottles will hold 600ml of fruit, so for 12 bottles you would need 7.2 kilos of de-stoned fruit. The other 800 grams goes straight into the mouth, or makes chutney or can be poached and frozen.
So by my guestimate, in the first year, purchasing the gear at the best price and choosing picture- perfect fruit, would cost $120 for 12 bottles. In the years to come those 12 bottles of goodness would cost $44.
Of course if you grow your own fruit or have a friend who does, you bring the costs right down.
And this is not just fruit out of a can, folks. It’s fruit that you have personally selected and given the right amount of sugar (or no sugar at all!) and a touch of spice. It makes sense ... in dollars and cents!
SUMMER . . . the season for stone fruit
Summer begins with cherries – just in time for Christmas, and I like to eat them fresh.
Then come the apricots, which I reckon are the best fruit for bottling.
Then come the peaches and nectarines, which can be sliced or halved. If bottling peaches, clingstones are best.
Make sure the fruit is firm, but ripe. The ripening process won’t continue once the fruit is bottled.
STERILISING bottles and lids
Be careful to ensure your bottles and lids are sterilised before each use.
Wash bottles thoroughly in hot soapy water, then rinse under cold running water. Drain dry and then place aperture down in the oven. Heat at 130C for 20 minutes, and allow to cool before handling.
When using the lids for the first time make sure you use plenty of soapy water and a scrubbing brush to remove a thin film of oil from manufacturing, then rinse thoroughly.
Before you re-use lids, wash them in soapy water, rinse, then boil them in a saucepan for five minutes to ensure they are thoroughly sterilised
The steps to SUCCESS
Assuming you have bought the right gear for bottling, a simple routine needs to be followed. For maximum flavour, bottle the fruit as soon as soon as you can.
1. Buy the fruit you need, direct from a grower or farmers’ market if possible. It should be firm, but ripe. Avoid fruit for bottling if it’s too blemished or soft – that’s okay for jam or chutney.
2. Rinse the fruit in cold water and let it dry on a draining board or cake rack.
3. Sterilise the bottles and lids (see next page). Soak the rubber rings in hot water for 15 minutes to make them flexible.
4. When the bottles are cool enough to handle, place the rubber rings in the grooves around the bottle-tops. Make sure the rings are not twisted – I find that flicking the rings with my forefinger helps.
5. Prepare the liquid that will fill the bottles. I don’t like too much sweetness, so I use 2 tablespoons of sugar (I prefer brown, most people use white) for each litre of water. In fact, you don’t need any sugar at all. Artificial sweeteners may alter the flavour of the fruit. I usually add some cinnamon or all-spice and, if I’m bottling peaches, I might add just a touch of star anise as well.
6. Cut the fruit in half, remove stones and pack firmly cut-side down in the bottles. Larger fruit can be sliced rather than halved. A wooden spoon can help you pack them in tightly, without damaging the fruit.
7. Gently pour in the liquid as you pack in the fruit, and leave about 1cm of space above the liquid before you put the lid on.
8. Slide the clip on, making sure it is secured across the centre of the lid.
9. Place the bottles in the preserver (eight of the No. 20 fit nicely), put cold water into the preserver and fill to 3cm above the top of the recessed handles.
10. Turn on the power. The heating process should take one hour. If the water begins to boil, turn the power off and after 60 minutes drain the water and carefully lift the hot bottles with dry tea towels on to a wooden board or cake rack.
11. Leave the bottles undisturbed for at least 18 hours. Then gently slide off the clips.
My bottling mates – especially not-so-silly old Jack – insist the best-preserved bottled fruit is that which is kept in a cool dark place. It can keep that way for a year or even longer.
But I do like seeing a bottle or two of my achievements in full view. I’m a show-off!
It’s so easy to open a bottle. Place it lid-down on a wooden board and use a short sharp knife to pierce the rubber seal, avoiding damage to the lid. Air will penetrate the bottle, breaking the seal.
Carefully up-end and remove the delicious contents. How easy is that!
If you can’t bottle, then FREEZE
The best of the summer harvest doesn’t need to be bottled for delicious breakfasts and desserts in the depths of winter.
Cherries, apricots, plums, peaches and nectarines can also be poached, with sugar and spices to suit your taste, and then frozen.
Wash the fruit under cold running water, then de-stone, halve or slice. Light poaching is the way. You don’t want the fruit to go mushy. Don’t overdo the spices.
When cooled, place the fruit in freezer bags and dispel the air before sealing.
I find that around 150g of fruit is a good serve – so for a family of four I would be freezing the fruit in 600ml quantities.
IN A PICKLE
Now George, the cartoonist, is a very funny man, but don’t tell him I said that – it would go to his head. When I told George about how to pickle beetroot, he came up with this great cartoon and some words to go with it (I reckon the words aren’t his, but I could be wrong).
Pickling beetroot is as easy as pickling onions – except you can do it without the tears.
I like the small beetroot, they’re sweeter and so easy to grow yourself. When you harvest or buy them, leave about 4cm of the stems on and rub the beetroot gently with your hands under running water to clean – you don’t want them to ‘bleed’. Cook in unsalted water until tender.
Cool and remove the skin, using your hands and/or a knife. If the beetroots are small leave them whole, otherwise slice them.
Meanwhile, simmer a mixture of vinegar (malt, white or cider), sugar (white or brown, but not too much) and stir. Throw in whatever ... peppercorns, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, orange zest, allspice, cinnamon stick, bay leaf. You just need a few of these ingredients. Experiment! That’s the best part. Add salt to taste, of course. Stir the mixture thoroughly, drain through a sieve and let cool.
Pack the beetroot into sterilised jars (see fruit bottling section) and pour in the liquid. Seal the jars, but don’t use metal lids (because metal and vinegar make bad chemistry). I like placing a piece of baking paper under sterilised jam jars.
Keep in the fridge or store in a cool dark place. Shake the jars occasionally to ensure that the mixture penetrates the beetroots. A few weeks later you have a great addition to summer salads.
SAVE your bread . . . use your loaf!
I grew up in a small bakery in Switzerland, and my father was a fourth-generation baker as were some of my uncles. Two of my brothers followed the tradition.
In our household we always had to eat the day-old bread that did not get sold. Fresh bread was out of bounds, to the annoyance of my sister and me.
The only way to solve that problem was to buy fresh bread from another baker and eat it on the way home from school. That way we could find out what fresh bread tasted like. But in our little town, everyone knew everybody else’s business. It didn’t take long before the other baker told our father that we had been buying fresh bread from him.
Well, you-know-what hit the fan. Sitting down was not very comfortable for a little while. But it has taught me a lesson – bread doesn’t have to be fresh out of the oven to make a great meal.
The recipes below use old bread and are for four people. I call them toasties. Remove crusts before using them. Serve toasties with a fresh garden salad.
8 slices bread
8 slices ham
2 tablespoons butter
100 ml cream
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
pinch of nutmeg and pepper chopped parsley
2 tomatoes in cubes
50 g parmesan or cheddar cheese
Toast the bread lightly in a 220C oven. Spread with some of the butter and place a slice of ham on each slice of toast.
Melt the rest of the butter in a pan.
In a bowl, break the eggs and add the cream, salt, nutmeg and pepper and mix well. Add parsley and tomatoes and cook in the buttered pan and when still a bit sloppy, divide amongst the bread and spread with some parmesan and bake in a 220C oven for about 5 minutes.
8 slices bread
4 tablespoons white wine or sake 2 tablespoons oil
400 g sliced chicken meat
2 cloves garlic chopped
250 g spring onions sliced
250 g soya bean sprouts
2 carrots peeled and sliced
100 ml stock
1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornflour
2 tablespoons sake or sherry
Toast the bread, and then sprinkle with wine or sake. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the chicken meat, remove the meat. Add the garlic, carrot, sprouts and spring onions to the pan and fry till limp, add the stock, then the sugar and ginger. Mix the soy sauce and cornflour together, then add to the pan and cook for about 2 minutes.
Add the sake or sherry and the chicken meat, mix well and when hot distribute amongst the prepared toast and serve while hot.
CURRIED leek toast
8 slices bread
butter and grainy mustard mixed
1 tablespoon butter or oil
1-2 tablespoons curry powder
400 g leeks chopped in rings
2-3 tablespoons brandy
50 ml water
1⁄2 stock cube (beef or chicken)
100 ml cream
salt and pepper to taste
100-200 g shrimps (usually bought frozen)
Toast the bread and cover with the mustard and butter mix.
Heat the butter or oil in a pan, add the curry and the leek and fry until the leeks are soft and limp. Add the brandy, then the water and stock cube and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Mix in a bowl the cream, eggs, salt and pepper and add this mixture to the leeks in the pan. Add the shrimps and cook until firm, like scrambled eggs. Divide amongst the toast and sprinkle with a bit of curry powder for garnish.
SMOKED trout toast
8 slices bread
200-250 g horseradish cream
8 slices smoked trout or salmon fennel bulb
butter as required
freshly ground pepper
Toast bread in 220C. oven, spread with the horseradish cream, add slices of trout or salmon, slice the fennel very thinly and put on top of the smoked fish, season with fresh pepper. Bake in a 220C oven for 5- 10 minutes.
1 tablespoon butter
4-6 slices ham
250 g mushrooms
1 tablespoon lemon juice
sprig of fresh thyme or teaspoon dried thyme
250-300 g ricotta cheese
1⁄2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper
Toast bread in a 220C oven, melt the butter in a pan and add the finely sliced ham. Keep some for decoration. Grate the mushrooms and add to ham, add thyme and lemon juice and cook for about 3 minutes. Let it cool down without any liquid, then add ricotta and salt and pepper to taste, mix well and spread evenly on the toast.
Bake for 10 minutes in oven at 220C. Garnish with the leftover ham slices.
8 slices bread
4 tablespoons white wine
1 tablespoon oil
400 g lamb from a leftover roast sliced into small pieces
400 g celery sliced
1 onion chopped
100 ml stock or bouillon
2 chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoon cream
Toast the bread and sprinkle with white wine while still warn. In a pan heat the oil, add celery and onion for 3-4 minutes, add stock and simmer for 5 minutes, add the ready-cooked lamb, tomatoes and cream and when hot divide amongst the toast and serve.
8 slices bread
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot chopped
1 clove garlic chopped
600 g frozen or fresh spinach
250 g mushrooms
100 ml cream
1⁄2 teaspoon cornflour
1 teaspoon salt, pinch of nutmeg and pepper
150 g tofu
200 g sliced cheese
Toast bread in 220C oven and leave on the tray while you heat up the oil. Add shallots and garlic and fry, add spinach and cook for about 5 minutes then add mushrooms. Season to taste. Add tofu, cook for another 2 minutes, then divide amongst the toast, cover with the cheese and bake in 220C oven for 5 minutes.
PEAR and camembert toast
8 slices of bread
cranberry or black currant jam
(as you need it)
2 camembert rounds at 250 g each 2-3 ripe pears unpeeled
walnuts as needed and some currants or cranberries
Toast the bread in 220C oven, spread the jam thinly on the toast, thinly slice camemberts and distribute on the toast. Cut pears in half and remove the core, then cut in thinly wedged slices and layer on the cheese, sprinkle with walnuts and berries, season with some black pepper and bake for 5 minutes in a 220C oven.
Ramekin (also spelt ramequin – means small savoury dish, someone once told me)
350 g sliced white old bread
Spread the bread with butter and toast in the oven until golden brown.
Crush a clove of garlic in a baking dish and rub it with butter.
Layer the toast overlapping in the dish, sprinkle with 50 ml of white wine, cider or apple juice.
In a bowl mix:
300 ml milk
250 g cheddar cheese
pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
Add 200ml thick cream
Mix well and pour over the prepared bread and bake in a preheated oven at 200C for about 20 minutes or until you have a nice golden crust.
Fancy a wolf peach sandwich?
Every summer I start salivating at the thought of wolf peach sandwiches, or a wolf peach anything else. In fact, just the thought of munching into a juicy, fully ripe, au naturel wolf peach on its own gets me twitching.
Which is interesting, because a couple of centuries back many reckoned eating wolf peaches would send you twitching to your grave.
You see, when the wolf peach, better known today as the tomato, was introduced to Europe by the Spaniards (they’d stumbled across it when exploring South America) it was thought to be deadly poisonous. That’s why it was called wolf peach.
The name is from its scientific moniker, Solanum lycopersicum. Lycopersicum is old-time German for wolf peach and has ties to tales of werewolves and spooky doings. In fact, wolf peaches, from the deadly nightshade family, were thought to be handy in attracting werewolves.
Thankfully, that poisonous bit was a lot of rubbish, although I should point out tomato leaves are toxic.
An American bloke, Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson, gets much of the credit for killing off the poisonous tag in 1820. A confessed wolf peach junkie, he gobbled a whole basket of them on the steps of the court in Salem, New Jersey, just to prove they were safe to eat.
And, praise to God, he didn’t die, despite his doctor’s grim warning that he would foam and froth at the mouth and double over with agonising appendicitis before passing away.
But that’s another story. What I want to tell you about now is how to grow the best backyard tomato crops in Tassie. You see, many claim Tassie tommies are the tastiest, so you’re bonkers not to grow them.
If you have done everything right, you will already have your tomatoes in (just after Hobart Show Day is best planting time). But even as you read this advice it’s not too late to plant seedlings.
Tomatoes do best in a high-sun spot in well-worked soil that drains well and has not grown tomatoes for at least two years.
Don’t kill them with kindness. They should be watered regularly, but not drowned. The soil should be moist. Always water the ground around plants, not directly onto them. Try to water in
the morning, not afternoon or early evening.
Tomatoes allowed to dry out and watered irregularly can fall victim to blossom end rot, which causes the fruit to go mushy.
And don’t fertilise them, at least not until plenty of flowers are showing.
Tomatoes are not big feeders and pumping them up with heaps of fertiliser early on will produce lots of weak growth but minimal fruit.
Use one of the fertilisers specifically formulated for tomatoes – or decayed sheep or cow manure. But stick clear of chook poo (it makes ‘em grow too much).
If plants are tall-growing, stake (preferably at planting to avoid root damage) and if they become extra bushy, use two or more stakes. A loose figure-8 with one loop around the stem and another around the stake is my preference.
Whether you pinch out laterals (they’re the little growths that form between the crotch of two stems) is a toss-up. Many now say it’s not necessary, but I reckon it makes plants less crowded and more manageable.
What’s important is cutting away a few leaves close to the ground. This is where disease often gets started, spreading via contaminated water droplets bouncing up when watering.
When the weather warms up, it’s a good idea to mulch. Use pea straw or lucerne hay.
Resist heavy pruning. Tomatoes need foliage about them for protection against sun scorch. Remember, it’s warmth not direct sunlight that ripens tomatoes.
Once tomatoes are still ripening, pick them and store on a kitchen bench. Don’t store in the fridge – that ruins their flavour.
Happy wolf peach growing and eating this summer!