Each year, as summer turns to autumn, I find myself facing a period of particular psychological stress. My days are tense from morning through till late at night. I rarely find time to put my feet up, and at night I lie in bed, thinking over what I’ve done that day, worrying over whether I’ve done enough and fretting about what I need to do tomorrow. I am completely consumed by a simple four-letter word: GLUT.
My problem, you see, is that I’ve been taught never to let anything go to waste and that, if you can’t eat something today, you must do something with it so you can eat it another time. And what do I see everywhere I look at this time of year? I see abundance. I see our neighbour selling piles of gorgeous tomatoes, tempting me at a ridiculously cheap price. I see my apple tree laden with beautiful sharp coxes that I have never been able to store fresh successfully. I see the grass around my allotment covered with the prettiest little yellow plums that have fallen from the tree in the garden at the back. I am given carrier-bags full of Bramleys from my sister who knows I’ll be good at using up everything she can’t get through herself. The grapes are ripening and the figs falling off the tree in abundance. The rose bushes on the green near my house call me with their brightly-coloured rosehips. And at the back of my house are brambles laden with glistening, plump purple blackberries and a hedgerow full of sloes. What on earth am I going to do with it all?!
So, I set to in a wild frenzy. I make copious amounts of roasted tomato passata. I lay up jars of apple sauce to go with my pork over the coming year, and not a few jars of heavenly Bramley lemon curd to slather all over our toast. I bake plum cakes and put them in the freezer and make layer upon layer of blackberry-and-apple leather. Jars of rosehip syrup adorn my shelves, and as the weather turns colder my thoughts turn to sloe gin. The one thing I don’t do, despite the title for this piece, is make pickle: I can’t stand the stuff!
Actually, if I’m really honest, I quite enjoy myself at this time of the year and spend most of my time in a haze of self-contentedness: the kind of smugness that only comes from knowing that you have a larder full of nature’s finest. The art of preserving seems to me to be the epitome of green living. For one, of course, it is generally free. To me, it is an act that takes us away from our society’s emphasis on money and shows me that some of the nicest pleasures are found in things that have cost very little. For another, it stands against our culture’s appalling embrace of waste, and it fosters a greater appreciation of the local and the seasonal, and a connection with the land that has produced it. So, we’ll eat lots of it while it’s available; store lots of it for eating later, and then be brave enough to go without it until the season comes round again (and that’s fine because we’ll be enjoying something else by then anyway). It is a wonderful inspirer of generosity: what can be better than sharing something delicious that you’ve made with those around you? And, in a society obsessed with speed, taking the time to preserve makes a powerful statement.
Here are my top tips to get you going:
- If you’ve never done any preserving, try one thing and see how you get on (Pam Corbin’s River Cottage book on Pam Corbin preserves is my Bible at this time of the year).
- Don’t be fooled into buying lots of expensive preserving kits. Whatever the books say, you really can re-use jam jars, just make sure they’re scrupulously clean.
- Keep your eyes peeled for free produce. You’ll start seeing the world around you in a new way!
- Ask around to see who may have a glut of something you can use.
- Take your time, and enjoy the experience!