Bottling It Up

G Magazine

Preserving fruits is back in vogue as a way to prune food miles and savour seasonal flavours

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The art of preserving the seasonal bounty of fruit and vegetables is a skill that pre-dates refrigeration and has been being practiced in every culture for millennia.

The drying of fruit, making of conserves, salting of meat and storing vegetables under vinegar or oil was an annual event, bringing together entire communities.

Every culture has its specialty, whether it's the Italians' giardiniera (pickled vegetables), French confiture (conserve), or Korean kim chi (fermented cabbage).

It was only very recently, with the rise of industrialised food production that these skills have been made redundant.

The tide, however, is turning. Many younger Australians are readopting these skills from their own, and other, culinary heritages to fill their larders with bottled fruit, tomato sugo, berry jams and sun-dried tomatoes.

Driven by a concern about food miles, the sustainability of food production and the integrity of flavour, families across the nation are hoarding jam jars and scouring op-shops for preserving bottles to make their own food stores.

Every year we use the same Fowlers Vacola jars we inherited from various aunts and grandmothers to bottle towers of boxes of peaches and tomatoes. Family and friends gather to share the work. In the kitchen there's a blur of knives as cases of fruit are cut into slices, packed into jars and covered with a light sugar syrup.

Utilising a great pot of near boiling water, the sealed jars are heated to just below boiling point for around an hour - a process that would make Louis Pasteur proud.

The jars are stored in our cool, dark cupboard; great rows of golden fruit almost glow when we open the door. The tomatoes are cut up outside, generally by the men and the boys, pulped and poured into bottles. Some add a little salt and a few basil leaves, others prefer their sugo (a plain tomato sauce) unseasoned.

As with the fruit preserves, these sugo bottles are sealed and pasteurised. This sugo becomes the basis for pasta sauces and an essential ingredient in meat dishes.

Home preserving means buying local fruit, using backyard vegetables and recycling the same jars year after year, cutting carbon inputs in a very real way.

Home preserving also brings together family and friends of all generations that makes for a very fun, albeit hectic, day.

At the heart of the operation is another type of preservation - the preservation of family recipes and techniques, a simple process that values older members of the family, the people who keep and pass on the recipes and the knowledge.