Harvesting Soft Fruit and Fruit Preservation
PICKING AND PRESERVING
Once soft fruit has been picked, it tends to deteriorate quickly. If you are not going to eat it straightaway, the best alternative is to preserve it.
Logic suggests that fruit should not be picked until it is ripe, and with most this is true, although Kiwi fruit and to some extentcan be picked when slightly immature to prolong their keeping period. But it’s because the period of optimum ripeness is often rather short before the fruit deteriorates, that choosing a range of varieties for sequential cropping makes sound sense. In the notes for each fruit type, 1’ve suggested when and how they should be picked as this isn’t always obvious. Confronted with Kiwi fruit for the first time, for instance, people are uncertain whether to use scissors, fingers or secateurs. And while gooseberries are cut individually with scissors, blackcurrants are best picked by hand in bunches. But must strawberries be fully red before they are picked? And how many gardeners have wondered if loganberries can be ripe when it’s impossible to separate the fruit from the core?
Once picked, soft fruit will fairly soon moulder; only the Kiwi fruit remains firm and palatable for more than a week or so. For as long as they have been grown however, soft fruit have been preserved in some way and although I confess to not knowing when strawberry jam was invented, I suspect it has been with us for a very long time. The value of fruit for jam making and similar types
of preserving is largely related to their pectin content which dictates the consistency of the finished product. This declines as the fruit softens with ripeness so they are better picked, for this purpose, slightly under- rather than slightly over-ripe. But pectin content does vary with each variety.
JELLIES, BUTTERS, CHEESES
Other traditional types of preserving which are also possible include jellies; red currant and blackcurrant being the most popular ones today. And there are also fruit butters and cheeses, which are made using puréed fruit and contain slightly less sugar than jams. If stored in properly sterilized jars, they should all remain palatable for some time.
OTHER METHODS OF PRESERVING
Other techniques are possible with particular types of fruit and have been used extensively in the past. Juice production, and its obvious consequence wine making, are familiar enough, especially with grapes, but grapes, probably alone among soft fruit, can also be preserved by the oldest method of all, drying. Sauces, pickles and chutneys can be made with soft fruit, either alone or in combination with other types of fruit or vegetable. But until recently, there has been only one method of preserving that maintained the fruit in something approaching its original shape, texture and flavour, and that was bottling. The principle is easy enough to understand for it simply comprises packing the fruit in a glass jar, covering it with a syrup or similar liquid and then heating the whole to a high temperature to sterilize it before sealing. Almost all types of soft fruit can be bottled with varying success and it is equally effective with all varieties. As a devotee of bottled produce, I can personally only lament its gradual fall from favour in the face of competition from the food preserving technique of modern times, home freezing.
All types of soft fruit can be frozen but some are a great deal more successful than others, mainly because they maintain their texture and shape better. Strawberries are difficult to freeze well and, I think, are really only satisfactory when they are to be re-used for cooking afterwards. There are several methods of freezing — in sugar, dry frozen with no additives, in a syrup, as a purée or pre-poached being the commonest. By and large, dry freezing and sugar freezing are the best methods to use for soft fruit and, again, I have indicated in the individual entries which varieties are particularly suitable for preserving by freezing. But whichever method is used, do be sure to use only the very best, blemish-free fruit at the absolute peak of ripeness; and try to pick sequentially in batches so that the fruit are frozen as soon as possible after picking.
A QUICK METHOD OF BOTTLING FRUIT
1 kg (2.2lb) bottling jars with lids
Large saucepan, big enough to hold the jars with a close fitting lid
Fruit (raspberries, blackberries, hybrid berries, blackcurrants, gooseberries, red and white currants, blueberries or cranberries)
Prepare syrup by adding 450g (1 Ib) sugar to ½ litre (17 fl oz) water, bring slowly to the boil, stir continuously and boil for two minutes. Add a further ½ litre (17 fl oz) water and two dessert spoonfuls of lemon juice.
Remove all the stalks from the fruit. Ensure that the jars are scrupulously clean, rinse in warm water and allow to drain briefly. Carefully fill the jars with the fruit, using a wooden spatula to pack them but take care not to crush any. Fill the jars to the brim and then pour the prepared hot syrup over them, filling to the top. Shake the jars gently to remove any air bubbles. While the jars are still hot, seal them and then place them in the pan with small pieces of cloth between each to prevent cracking.
Add hot water up to the level of the liquid within the jars and heat very slowly so that simmering temperature 88°C (190°F) is attained in about 30 minutes. Simmer for two minutes and then allow the jars to cool for 24 hours. Carefully remove the sealing clip or band and hold each jar by its lid to ensure that a vacuum has formed before replacing the seal and storing the jars.