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Anyone with a kitchen garden or allotment should be enjoying a harvest glut in September. Apples are ripe for plucking, courgettes are still coming, onions are ready for drying, tomatoes are ripening on the vine and potatoes are inviting you to dig for their delicious treasure. There are still runner beans hiding amongst the climbing green foliage, autumn-fruiting raspberries and tayberries are luscious, blackberries taste beautiful and beetroot is bursting from the soil. But how do you cope with a glut of wonderful produce?
If you're lucky enough to have a fig tree, be sure to collect your fruit by the beginning of October as they won't tolerate frost. There are late-season plums to harvest too, and damsons which can be picked while slightly unripe as you'll be cooking them.
Giving is great
As wonderful as it is, what can you do with surplus produce at harvest time? Giving some produce to friends and neighbours is undoubtedly a great idea. Then you can pickle, dry, freeze, and make jams and chutney.
Making preserves is easy and you dont need to be an expert! The high sugar content keeps things edible for ages, provided you use clean jars and ensure an air-tight seal. Use less sugar for better flavour, but you'll have to store it in the fridge as it won't last so long. The best jam fruit for this time of the year includes raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, greengages, damsons and even figs. Use slightly under-ripe fruit as its higher acidity will respond well to jamming!
Making jams and other preserves isn't difficult. It's a great way to deal with a glut during harvest time.
How to make jams and preserves
Use a saucepan or preserving pan with the widest top you can find as this helps with water evaporation. Wash the fruit and add to the pan with high pectin sugar, specifically designed for jam making. You can be as creative as you like with flavours, adding herbs, spices and complementary fruits to lend something unusual, should you wish to do so. How about some elderberries; a vanilla pod; ginger; even rosemary?
Mash up your ingredients, heat them in a pan and boil for just a moment and then simmer for around five minutes. You'll know when the jam is ready to pour into sterilised jars if you try the 'wrinkle method'. Cool a side plate in the fridge, then when you think your jam is about to set, take a teaspoonful from the pan and pop it on the cold plate. If the jam wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it will set when cool. If it's not wrinkly, it needs more heat. Then simply pour into the jars, seal with a lid and leave to cool. That's cool!
Chutney is just as easy. Cut your produce into small chunks, pop them into a pan with sugar and vinegar, stir frequently and simmer until everything has softened. Pour into clean, hot jars and seal securely.
What can you freeze?
Much of your home-grown produce can be preserved by freezing as soon as possible after harvest. Some needs a little preparation because the freezing process can change the texture and consistency. Take courgettes, for example. These can be cut into slices and they should ideally be dunked in boiling water for just a minute or so (blanching). Then cool, dry on kitchen paper and freeze on a tray so that the slices don't stick together. They will keep for several months in this way. The same treatment applies to carrots and runner beans. Pumpkins, onions, apples and plums can be frozen raw, but will need to be cut up into small cubes or slices first.
Apples can be peeled, chopped and frozen in cubes or chunks.
How about the herb harvest?
Herbs such as chives, basil, mint, tarragon, rosemary and thyme can be frozen, but remember that many of the softer herbs will be squashy and limp when they defrost.
Avoid freezing these:
Fruits and vegetables with a high water content don't generally respond well to freezing in their natural state. They include melon, which tends to dry out, grapes and tomatoes, the latter of which are far better turned into juice, sauce or puree before freezing. Cucumbers also don't freeze well, but they do respond perfectly to being pickled. Celery and salad are also not good candidates for freezing.
If in doubt, experiment! Just try a small quantity and you'll always remember the results. Enjoy the autumn harvest!
Perfect Plants Ltd is an on-line supplier of garden plants, bulbs, house plants, garden equipment, furniture and gifts for all seasons www.perfectplants.co.uk