The one problem with water bath processing is that it involves a whole lot of water and power. Often, a person who has a small home garden may find it hard to justify using a water bath; when you seem to have enough produce for only one bottle, there's no point getting out the preserving machine.
Then again, getting out the machine can motivate you to look around and see what else is available, even in a little garden.
Take this week. A friend dropped by with two quinces. They were windfalls she had found on the footpath, and she thought I might know how to use them. True. But by the time I cut out the wormholes, there wasn't really enough to bake or make marmalade or paste. Perhaps there was enough for one or two bottles of poached quinces, not enough to justify a water bath.
But then I noticed a dozen fat figs on the tree going begging, also not enough for jam or paste, but too many to eat in one go.
And our pear tree had a few pears on it, very ripe.
And our little espaliered apple trees were starting to drop their several fruits.
And our veggie box had delivered a big bag of black grapes last week, but my fussy kids hadn't eaten them.
And there were some roma tomatoes sitting in the fruit basket, and they're good for canning.
And my four-year-old is going through a chopping stage, and wants to spend all day cooking.
So this is what we did.
I made a honey syrup for the quinces and lightly poached them. Then we packed them across two jars; they came two thirds of the way up the sides. We topped them up with apples from the garden, aiming for a casual layered look.
My daughter halved all the figs while I warmed a little leftover red wine with some sugar and spices. We barely poached the figs in the fragrant syrup, then packed them in a jar.
According to the Fowlers Vacola book, preserved grapes are 'excellent'. I have my doubts, but I'll try anything once, so my daughter carefully halved all the black grapes and we bottled them in water with a tablespoon of blackberry honey.
We peeled and cored the pears, and packed them with a tablespoon of sugar and a cinnamon stick.
Finally, my daughter quartered and packed the tomatoes.
A bit over an hour and six jars later, we had enough to justify running the processor and my daughter was beaming. And so was I. Now we have five desserts ready for winter, plus a bottle of tomatoes, to add to our stash in the hall cupboard.
Bottled Figs in Red Wine and Spices
For each Fowlers #20 jar:
- 12-15 fat black figs
Gently warm the wine, sugar and spices with 150ml water in a medium sized saucepan, shaking until the sugar has dissolved.
Cut off the fig stalks, and halve each fig. Place the figs in the saucepan, and cook for 4 or 5 minutes, gently shaking from time to time. Allow to cool.
Pour much of the liquid into a #20 Fowlers jar, holding back the figs with a slotted spoon. Now gently pack the figs into the liquid, using a packing stick to release any air bubbles. Seal and process according to instructions.
Note: This doesn't look like a lot of liquid. However, as the figs soften they will release ample liquid, which should be sufficient to cover them in the bottle. If you do find yourself a bit short, however, just top up with a little cold water.
You might also like to add a long strip of orange peel, or perhaps a few drops of orange flower water, to each jar.
PS – I'm sure a real food blogger would manage a nice photo. The figs are ugly and the glare from the glass is terrible. But trust me, they're good!
(Backyard: black figs. Healesville: wine. Not so local: sugar, spice.)