How to not bottle it…

With all the lovely green things around us, people are starting to think about ways to preserve the harvest. This question usually starts being asked when the fruit season starts but I’m overjoyed to see that other people too have cottoned on to the fact that green things make tasty preserves too!

The foraging basket on the right is one I filled earlier this week. From the bottom we have Daisy flowers, Flowering Currant flowers, Coltsfoot and Dandelion Flowers, Hogweed Shoots, Ground Elder, Wild Marjoram, Bramble Leaf Buds, Garlic Mustard/Hedge Garlic, Cleavers/Goosegrass, Wild Garlic and Nettles. You can make dandelion and currant flowers as well as all the herbs into sweet or savoury jellies, wild garlic into oil or pesto and nettles into syrup. So really, the preserving season starts now!

This morning I went out and picked some lovely wild garlic to make into various yummies. First on the list is Wild Garlic infused olive oil, followed by wild garlic puree and pesto. Given that it’s now 4pm I probably won’t have time to make Wild Garlic Jelly (Think mint sauce/jelly but made with that delicious flavour of wild garlic) but it’s also on my list of stuff to make.

The question I often get asked though tend to be about how to reuse old jars, when to water bath/pasteurise and how to sterilise jars. So here are some useful hints and tips for you!

Unlike myself, you probably haven’t gone out to buy loads of new glass jars for jam making. I do this professionally so I am not allowed to reuse jars. But for years before I started selling preserves, I made them for my own use. The first foraged fruit season I had I made about 200 jars of jam and jelly! I raided the recycling bins on my whole street and went door to door asking for jars in exchange for jam. I was having so much fun I didn’t want to stop!

Over 2000 jars of jam/jelly later, I think I know a thing or two about jam! For example, I know that when you cook jam too long it turns into toffee in a jar and you need an ice pick to get it out, that cherry jam is an absolute nightmare to get to set, that jelly in a bottle is not fun, that when straining fruit through a jelly bag, it will always splatter and you need to clear at least a metre of space all around where you’re working or it will get covered in fruit, that you cannot scrub elderberry juice off your kitchen walls without also removing paint, that a steam juicer is sooooo much easier to use than a jelly bag and that you always need more blossom than you think you will when making flower infused jams (e.g. strawberry, redcurrant and meadowsweet with fruit grown in my garden/allotment and wild blossom). And that’s just the things I learned from jams and jellies going wrong. Don’t get me started on fruit butters, cheeses, ketchups, chutneys, cordials, syrups, bottled fruits, candying or curds.

So here goes…I have never used a water bath for jams or jellies and I make vast quantities of preserves for sale. The risk of spoilage in jam is pretty much nil if your jars (by putting in oven at 125C for minimum 30 minutes) and lids (by boiling for min 5 mins) are properly sterilised and you put the jam/jelly in hot. Botulism can happen when you put low acid/sugar things, in particular those which have been in contact with soil (which is where botulism spores are more concentrated in nature) into anaerobic environments and exposing them to warmth or leaving for long periods. For example by putting cloves of garlic or wild truffles in olive oil then storing them in the kitchen cupboard. Getting botulism poisoning from a jar of jam is about as likely as me walking on the moon.

What must be water bathed however are ketchups (they’re thicker and you don’t bring them to the same rolling boil that you do with jam/jelly/cordial so they do have a tendency of going off in your bottles), bottled fruit or veg (so that’s things like plums apples etc that are bottled whole in syrup or juice) and sauces (e.g home-made pasta sauces).

The general rule of thumb is if it comes to a rolling boil, you don’t need to use water bath, if it just simmers, you need to use water bath. The exception to this rule is chutney and pickles which have a lot of vinegar and sugar in them and this preserves them too.

With respect to reusing old jars, this is fine and my mum in law and I do this all the time. I believe MIL is still using jars her mother used! There is a caveat with this though. The glass will always be fine but the lids may not. Discard any lids that show signs of corrosion, rust etc or where the plastic coating on the insides of the jars is worn. If you have lids with poppers, split them up between your other jars and use one or two of these per batch of jam you make. This way, you will get that reassuring ‘pop!’ that lets you know that all is well.

In the meantime, here is a recipe for a delicous tomato sauce that you can make with all that fabulous wild garlic that’s in season. Bottle it and you’ll have supplies to last you all year!

Wild Garlic & Tomato Sauce

2 tins chopped Tomatoes
1tbsp Tomato Puree
1 chopped Onion<
1/2 cup finely chopped Wild Garlic
1/4tsp Black Pepper
1 cup water


Saute your onion in olive oil until translucent. Add in your chopped tomatoes, wild garlic, tomato puree and pepper. Rinse out the tins with the water and add this to your pot. Simmer on a gentle heat until thick and delicious. If you will be preserving the sauce, you want it to be a bit thinner than if you’re using it straight away *.

While your sauce is cooking, you should be sterilising your jars and equipment. I do this by washing with warm soapy water then heating the glass jars in the oven at 150C for about half an hour, and boiling my lids for at least 5 minutes. I tend to just put them on when the jars go in the oven as that way I don’t forget! In the same pot you put your lids in, add your ladle and jam funnel so they’re sterile too.

Once the sauce is ready, remove your ladle and funnel from the boiling water and use them to fill all your jars. Put the lids on immediately and transfer to a pot of boiling water. The pot should have something in the bottom to stop the jars from rattling. An old tea towel works well. I bought a proper pasteuriser to use for my work and it has a plastic frame much like a cake cooling tray that sits inside. Place the jars on that. Bring the water back to the boil and boil for 20 minutes. Remove your jars from the water and leave to cool before storing. It will keep indefinitely although the flavour will decline over time.

*The reason you want your sauce to be thinner if you’re preserving it is because you will need to put this in a water bath and the heat will travel through the jar and its contents more easily if the contents are thinner. This is also why it’s better if you don’t puree the sauce at this stage if you want to use it on a pizza for example. Wait until the time of use, cok it down to thicken to taste then puree.

Muhaimina Said-Allsopp