Preserving food at home used to be common place. It was not unusual for our parents and grandparents to have a few fruit trees and a vegetable patch in their backyard. The surplus would be ‘put up’ to avoid waste and increase variety. Out of season foods, stored in preserving jars, was used to supplement a mostly seasonal diet. Back then, a well-stocked home pantry was a source of pride, saving money, travel and shopping time.
The increased availability of relatively cheap, mass-produced and imported fresh food has meant that many people no longer consider food preservation a necessity. This is a shame because, apart from other advantages, preserving surplus local or backyard produce is an important aspect of living sustainably – reducing waste, energy use associated with long-term cold storage, and long distance transportation of unseasonal produce.
We started preserving food many years ago and initially practiced using the simplest methods and preserving small amounts. Gradually, we challenged ourselves to experiment with more complicated methods and larger amounts. We now preserve a large quantity of fruit, either home-grown or purchased from local farmers. We use these all year round to supplement fresh fruit from our back yard.
Preserved plums using the Fowlers Vacola method
Apart from fruit, we also preserve surplus vegetables, tomatoes, olives, mushrooms, herbs and spices, pickles, jams and chutneys. Our home-made preserves contain no additives or preservatives. Because we have control over the preserving medium, we can decide the amount and type of sugar we use in our fruit preserves or use no sugar at all. By using simple processing methods, we also maintain most of the original taste and nutritional value.
Local farmers’ markets often sell surplus seasonal produce in bulk, and at heavily discounted prices
Preserving food at home does not need to be difficult or complicated. Drying herbs, freezing lemon juice, or cooking and freezing left over vegetables is easy. If you want to give preserving a go, it’s a good idea to start with quick and easy methods and focus on foods which you and your family like to eat. Remember this is not a competition or a performance test. Making a start, enjoying successes and learning from failures is what matters most.