These past few weeks were spent preserving the last fruits of summer – pears, peaches and nectarines. Our neighbourhood enjoyed a fruit glut and we received over 100 kilos of fresh-picked, pesticide-free fruit which would otherwise have gone to waste.
I started using the Fowlers Vacola bottling method 5 years ago when we ran out of freezer space and I now put up over a hundred jars per year. The method is energy-efficient and convenient (no need to defrost). The preserves are delicious and have a long shelf life.
The procedure is relatively simple. It starts with a clean, uncluttered kitchen and a couple of hours of undisturbed time. The fruit needs to be processed within a maximum of two hours for safety reasons. The main risk is foodborne botulism (see Botulism, General Information), preventable primarily by proper food preparation and high temperatures. Instructions must be carefully followed and strict hygiene maintained.
I prepare jars and rubber rings by washing the former and soaking the latter in hot water before fitting the rings on the jars’ rim. The fruit is washed, blemishes and soft spots cut out and stones removed before being added to the jars. I don’t use syrup and never add sugar to the bottling liquid, preferring to use filtered rain water. Once the lids and clips are in place the jars go into the preserving unit, are covered with water and processed according to instructions. I leave the jars to cool overnight and the next morning remove clips and check for air-tightness and bubbles. They are then stored in a cool, dark pantry.
Food preservation is less about technique than it is about respect for food and the resources that have gone into producing it – human labour, water, land, energy. This point simply cannot be overstated. One important message from the 2010 Australian government report, Australia and Food Security in a Changing World, is the need to raise the importance and awareness of food in public consciousness.
In Australia food is often treated as a bulk commodity which is cheaply and readily available. Yet the report stresses the need to regard food as a valuable resource, to make the link between food and health, and to reduce the high levels of food waste. The report also emphasises we can no longer rely on increased water, land and energy use to drive the required transformation of food production systems:
“The world is losing arable land at an alarming rate and inputs, such as phosphorus, are finite. Furthermore, future food production will be subject to the vagaries of geopolitical tensions and climate change.”
Although it takes time, forethought, commitment, knowledge and skill, the advantages of learning to preserve surplus food at home and in our local community are many. They include reducing food waste and food miles, making healthier food choices, providing variety to a local, seasonal diet, and enhancing our food security by adapting to shrinking resources and an unstable climate. Choosing to preserve surplus food rather than wasting it also reflects our capacity to value the finite resources on which our survival depends.