Preparing the fruit
The fruit should be fresh and just ripe, and free from the slightest sign of disease or decay. The importance of carefully inspecting the produce cannot be over emphasised. All types of fruit are suitable for storing in this way, provided they are prepared correctly before being packed in the bottles.
Peel, core and slice, and put straight into lightly salted water to prevent discoloration. Rinse before packing; or blanch for 2–3 minutes in boiling water until pliable, then pack.
Either bottle the fruit whole or cut them into halves and remove the stones. Bottle quickly after preparing, and include a few kernels. These will help to bring out the flavour.
Bottle whole fruit, or stone them first and add juice to the syrup. They are low in acid, so add 1?4 teaspoon citric acid to every 600 ml of syrup.
Damsons and plums
As a general rule, bottle these and other stone fruit whole after washing. Very large plums may be halved and stoned, if preferred.
These may be peeled or left with their skins on. Add 1?4 teaspoon citric acid to every 600 ml of syrup, and use equal amounts of syrup and fruit.
Only unripe gooseberries are suitable for bottling. Top and tail with scissors.
Halve and stone. Blanch, then peel off the skins. Pack into bottles without delay.
Pears and quinces
Peel, halve and core dessert pear varieties. Put them straight into cold, lightly salted water with 1 teaspoon citric acid. Rinse and pack quickly. Treat cooking pears and quinces similarly, but simmer in syrup until soft before packing.
Cut trimmed rhubarb into 5 cm pieces. This fruit will pack better if soaked overnight in hot syrup.
Fruit such as currants, blackberries and raspberries should be picked over, hulled or stripped from the stalks. Rinse and then drain well. You can enhance the flavour of strawberries to be bottled by soaking them overnight in warm bottling syrup. A few drops of red food colouring added to the syrup will also improve the appearance.
Clean ripe, firm tomatoes and bottle in a brine solution made from 15 g salt to 1 litre of cold water. They can also be peeled and packed tight without liquid; just sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and 1?2 teaspoon sugar for every 500 g of fruit.
Making the syrup
Water can be used, but syrup gives a better flavour and colour. The syrup’s strength varies depending on the type of fruit, and averages about 200–250 g sugar to every 600 ml of water. Boil half the water. Add the sugar and boil for 1 minute, then add the rest of the water. Sometimes the syrup is simply poured cold over the fruit and sometimes it is used hot.
Packing the fruit
Choose fruit of uniform size, and use a bottling spoon or wooden stick to pack it in tightly without damaging it. A 500 g bottle will hold up to 350 g of most types of fruit. If syrup is to be added before processing it can be poured in when the bottle is full of fruit. It is easier, however, to pack the fruit and syrup in layers. Release any air bubbles by jerking the jar. Top up with syrup until the fruit is covered. Put on the tops.
Sterilising the fruit: There are three methods.
Slow water-bath method – Slacken the screw caps off a quarter of a turn to allow the steam to escape during processing. Spring clips are designed to permit this without being loosened. Place the bottles on the false bottom of a large pan – a wire grid or thick layer of newspaper – and put folded cloth or newspaper between the bottles to prevent them touching when the water boils. Fill the pan with cold water until the bottles are completely submerged, cover the pan with a lid and heat slowly. After 1 hour the water should just be reaching 55°C. After a further 30 minutes the water should reach the recommended temperature. When the bottles have been kept at the correct temperature for the exact time, remove them from the pan with bottling tongs, or bale out water so you can pick the bottles up with a cloth. As each jar is removed, place it on a dry, wooden surface – it is liable to crack on a metal surface – and tighten the screw caps at once. As the bottles cool, screw down further if necessary.
Quick water-bath method – Fill the warm bottles with prepared fruit and pour in hot syrup up to the brim. Cover the bottles and place them in a pan in which a false bottom has been created, as described above. Pack further layers of newspaper or cloth between bottles to prevent them banging together. Add warm water to cover the jars. Heat the water slowly so it reaches simmering point after 30 minutes, then simmer for a further 2–50 minutes. Remove the bottles using tongs and tighten the screw tops.
Pressure cooker method – Pack the fruit into warm bottles and cover with boiling syrup to within 1 cm of the top. Put on the tops, leaving the screw caps slightly loose. Pour about 2.5 cm of boiling water into the pressure cooker and add a little vinegar to prevent staining. Set the bottles on the false bottom and separate them with cloth or newspaper. Fasten the lid and heat gently with the vent open until steam jets out in a steady stream. Close the vent and bring up the pressure to 0.35 kg/cm2 (low). The time that it takes from the start of heating until pressure is reached should not be less than 5 minutes, nor more than 10 minutes. For apples, rhubarb, all soft fruit, cherries, damsons, green gages and plums, hold the pressure for 1 minute. Extend this to 3–4 minutes in the case of apples if these are tightly packed, and also for halved apricots and whole or halved plums. Figs, pears and whole tomatoes need 5 minutes; solid-packed tomatoes, 15 minutes. Remove the pressure cooker from the heat, then leave it to stand for 10 minutes before opening the vent. The sterilising process is still going on during this time. Use tongs to carefully lift the bottles out onto a dry wooden surface. Tighten the screw caps.
Testing the seal
Allow the bottles to cool down completely, preferably leaving them overnight. Remove the screw caps or spring clips and test each bottle. To do this pick it up with your fingertips, holding it by the lid only. If the seal works, the vacuum that has been created inside the bottle will hold the lid securely. However, if the seal is faulty, the lid will come away.
Storing bottled fruit
Wipe off any sticky marks and label the bottles to show the type of fruit, the date of bottling and the covering liquid used. Store in a cool, dry, dark and well-ventilated place. To open bottled fruit, stand the jar in hot water for a few minutes and then gently prise off the lid using the tip of a knife.