Bottling the summer bounty

What do you do on a long weekend in March? Sort out all the tomatoes in the vegie patch and preserve a heap of fruit.

The tomatoes grew exceptionally well but were later than previous years due to the mild and wet spring and early summer. Unfortunately I didn’t get around to staking the Grosse Lisse and they ended up all fallen over. Combined with the extended period of 30+C weather the majority of the fruit ended up severely sunburnt or cooked on the vine. I still managed to harvest about 3kg and they went into a relish.

The Roma tomatoes faired much better but the bushes have been looking pretty ragged the last few weeks so it was a complete harvest. Collect about 10kg of fruit off half the plants and the remainder will be completed tomorrow. A few kilos went into semi sundried tomatoes. It’s amazing how that many tomatoes ends up filling a single jar.

The remains Roma’s will be used for more relish and my Nan’s tomato sauce (a few batches have already been made) – she was a massive influence on my love of cooking!

As if the tomatoes weren’t enough I figured it was a good time to break out the Fowlers preserving kit which mum gave me five or so years ago. I have fond childhood memories of a pantry full of preserved fruit sustaining the family through winter. Nothing better than preserved fruit covered with a crumbled Weet-bix along with a dollop of cream or scoop of icecream (perhaps both if we could get away with it!).

So I ordered 5kg of organic plums from Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens. I also bought about 5+kg of pears and a few kilos of peaches and nectarines from the local discount fruit shop. More than enough, in fact too much for the preserving jars I had. Luckily a call out through the social network yielded some more jars.

There’s probably a great opportunity to offer a preserving service to people who don’t have the time. They provide the jars and fruit while I provide the time and effort. What would you pay to have a jar of fruit preserved?

Time is the biggest challenge with preserving. Preparation in terms of pealing (pears), slicing, dicing, packing and then into the hot water bath for 1.25hrs or more (depending on size of the bottle). Luckily I had some willing young helpers who were interested in seeing what this “preserving” thing was all about. Enjoy pairs of hands made light work of all the fruit and will result in a good portion of the bottom shelf in the pantry filled. We opted for the low sugar option with only a couple of tablespoons in a size 36 jar.

Even after all the preserving there were still more plums so jam was the order of the day. 2kgs of fruit, a cup of water, 2tbsp of lemon juice (or in our case lime juice) and 1.5kg of sugar. An hour later you have about 2kg of sweet plum jam.

So a very productive Saturday and Sunday (even if you don’t count all the kilometres of running) with more sauce and relish to come on Monday. All worth the effort for a pantry full of preserved fruit in preparation for winter.

Now the tomato plants are out I need to get some autumn/winter vegetables planted. Pumpkins are going strong with 10 Queensland Blue’s harvested along with 1 butternut. If the weather holds up there will be 2 times that amount by April.

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