Extend the shelf life of those fruit and veges

We are all in such a pickle lately, so it is high time that we put a lid on our boredom and bottled it up to savour another day.

Extending the shelf-life of the fresh fruit and vegetables we either grow ourselves or source from the greengrocer makes good sense if it leads to fewer trips to the shops, reduces food waste and also helps chew up an idyll hour or two.

The simple skills grandmothers and great grandmothers put to great use to feed their broods when food rationing was the order of the day. They are especially good if enjoying seasonal favourites all year round strikes you as appealing.

PINT-SIZED PRESERVERS: Charlotte, Eddie, and Johnny MacManus enjoying their homemade preserves.
PINT-SIZED PRESERVERS: Charlotte, Eddie, and Johnny MacManus enjoying their homemade preserves.

Prior to the 20th Century, householders were stuck in the ice age. Blocks of ice (where obtainable) were used as the go-to cooler.

Faced with interminable summers, Australians naturally relied on proven preservation techniques, handed down through the generations, to garnish mealtime dishes with healthy serves of staples such as asparagus, beets, bell peppers, blueberries, cauliflower, carrots, cherries and the like.

And while canning, drying and pickling were a necessity in the past, nowadays there is virtue in stretching everything just that little bit further.

Add the firepower of your typical household chest freezer into the mix, and your favourite fruit and vegetables can be on the dinner table menu all year round.

Emily MacManus from Toowoomba says she makes preserves to encourage her children Charlotte, 9, Eddie, 7 and Johnny, 4 about seasonal produce and cooking.

"We try to teach them that strawberries for instance aren't available all year round, you have to wait until the right season as that when they are at their best and affordable," she says.

"I'm not sure it saves us money but I think it's important for children to learn what is in their foods, where they come from and also how different plants fruit at different times of the year.."

Saved by Michelle found a range of experts from local fruit shops and asked for simple tips on preserving.

They are a guide only and you should research the specific variety you wish to preserve but it's a start.

CANNING

The most popular foods to can are fruits, vegetables and meats. While it is called "canning", it is much easier these days to use glass jars for your canned preserves.

The first step is to sterilise your jars with boiling water, then fill them with the produce and a liquid - usually water or sugar syrup.

Once full, the lid is placed on the jar, firmly but not too tight and the jars are placed in a pot covered in water are then brought to boil.

After about 10 minutes, pull the jars out of the water and let them cool, which creates a vacuum seal.

FREEZING

Freezing is one of the best ways to keep food for longer. Most fruits freeze well, and you can even use ice cube trays to make handy additions to smoothies. Most vegetables can be frozen, but many need to be briefly blanched in boiling water and then dunked in ice cold water to preserve them properly.

Cyril Erbacher, an independent retailer from Erbacher Fruit and Vegetables at Diddillibah on the Queensland Sunshine Coast, recommends cooking in bulk and freezing the results.

"With milder temperatures and people staying at home, now is the perfect time to cook some of your family favourites as freezing also works well for meals," Mr Erbacher said.

"If you make a big batch of food, you can keep the leftovers in the freezer for a couple of months and they're still good to go."

DRYING

Drying is a great way to preserve fruits, vegetables and herbs.

While many households now have dehydrators to make things easier, it is also very simple to use your oven on a low heat to dry fresh produce. Thinly slice your produce, place a single layer on a baking tray, set your oven to 50C and leave for six to eight hours.

PICKLING

Pickling vegetables allows you to prolong their life and to enjoy them all year around.

All you need to make this technique work is salt and acid. Create your pickling fluid by boiling a mixture of salt, vinegar and water, along with sugar if you want them slightly sweet.

Place your prepared vegetables in a jar and add your favourite herbs and spices.

Then just cover the vegetables with the pickling liquid, seal with a lid and put them in the fridge.

Originally published as Extend the shelf life of those fruit and veges



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