Preserving and Canning (bottling)

guide to preserving fruit and veg from

Recipe - Apple and Plum Chutney

Mild Plum Chutney

Recipe - Tomato Salsa

Preserving and Canning (bottling)


No self respecting Italian would want to buy food that was not at the peak of freshness so here in Piemonte the food on sale changes with the seasons. However, most of the top chefs and many Italian housewives, have their own recipes for preserving seasonal fruit and vegetables with little loss flavour. Until we moved to Italy I had never done any serious preserving and consequently believed that it was all a tad complicated and a bit old fashioned. This year with hoards of fresh vegetables and fruit all ripening at the same time, I have got into the canning thing. I also freeze some but alongside but as I always have big tubs of Italian ice cream, I run out of freezer space very quickly. If you want to have a little taste of summer in the winter months get preserving, it’s easy.


A water bath preserving pan [or canner in US speak] is a large cooking pot, with a tight fitting lid and a wire or wooden rack that keeps jars from touching the bottom of the pan. A good designed rack allows the boiling water to flow around and underneath jars for a more even processing of their contents. If you do not have a rack, improvise by using clean cotton dish towels packed around jars. Any large metal pot may be used as long as it is deep enough for l to 2 inches of briskly boiling water to cover the jars. I improvise by using a large stockpot with a wire cooling rack [meant for cooling cakes and biscuits] placed in the bottom. The diameter of your pan ideally should be no more than 4 inches wider than the diameter of your stove's burner to ensure proper heating of all jars. If you have an electric cooker, the pan must have a flat bottom.

Canning/Preserving jars -
Yyou can buy jars designed for preserving; they are not expensive and can be reused for many years. They are available in many different sizes and in regular or wide mouth styles. The wide mouth style is best for pickles and larger pieces of fruit such as peach or apple halves.

Do not use just any jars. Though preserving/canning lids may fit some commercial brand jam jars, the glass is not tempered as it is in Mason or Kilner jars

Canning jars can be sealed with either a two piece self-sealing lid or a complete one piece lid. The two piece lid consists of a flat metal disc with a rubber-type sealing compound around one side near the outer edge, and a separate screw-type metal band. The flat lid may only be used once but the screw band can be used over as long as it is cleaned well and does not begin to rust. The one piece lid comes with rubber seal attached and should be discarded after use.

Pressure Cookers/Canners
A pressure canner is a specially-made heavy pot with a lid that can be closed steam-tight. The lid is fitted with a vent (or pet-cock), a dial or weighted pressure gauge and a safety fuse. Newer models have an extra cover-lock as an added precaution. It may or may not have a gasket. The pressure pot also has a rack. Because each type is different, be sure to read the directions for operating.

Other Canning Utensils

Jar lifter: essential for easy removal of hot jars

Jar funnel: wide mouth helps in pouring and packing of liquid and small food items into jars

Narrow, flat rubber spatula: for removing trapped air bubbles before sealing jars

If you are a beginner it is easier to start with high acid foods that can be safely canned by using the easy boiling water bath method of preserving. This is a basic way to preserve food at the temperature of boiling water, 212 degrees. Tomatoes and most fruits are high acid foods.

Most vegetables are low acid foods, and not all of them are suitable for preserving in a water bath. For some vegetables it is possible to pickle them first, and then process using the boiling water bath method. For others the only safe method is to use a pressure canner/cooker. For example carrots, peas, corn, beets or beans need to reach a temperature of 240 degrees to kill all bacteria and safely preserve them. In a pressure cooker the steam from boiling water is trapped, allowing it to reach the higher temperature needed for safe preservation. This method is a little, more complicated and expensive if you need to buy a pressure cooker.

Hot Pack or Cold Pack

The term "hot pack" in preserving/canning instructions, refers to food which is first cooked in syrup or other liquid. Foods that have been pre-cooked should be hot when they go into the canner.  "Cold Pack" refers to food that is raw when it's packed into the jars. Foods that easily become soft or soggy go into the canner uncooked.

Method for Preserving Using a Boiling Water Bath Canner

  1. Wash jars and lids and throw away any with chips or cracks as these will not seal.
  2. Always start with fruit at the peak of freshness. Fruit and vegetables should be washed, peeled and prepared according to your recipes for preserves, pickles, salsa or tomato sauce.
  3. For preserving, salt should be labelled as preserving or canning salt, pickling salt, or Kosher salt.
  4. Use cider or white vinegar with 5% acidity. Do not use vinegar with 4% acidity for canning
  5. When using pectin for jam making follow the directions for the brand of pectin you're using.
  6. Pack prepared food into hot jars, leaving a head space....usually 1/2" to 1" below the top of the jar rim.
  7. Release trapped air bubbles that form in the jar during preparation and cooking by carefully running a non-metallic spatula or knife down through the ingredients.
  8. Remove all traces of food on the jar rims with a clean damp cloth.
  9. Screw the lid band onto the jar, but do not over tighten.
  10. Place the jars on the rack in the canner or stock pot, and cover with enough water to cover the jars by 1 to 2 inches.
  11. Put the lid on and boil fully for the time stated in your recipe. A rough guide is about 5 to 10 minutes for pickles, 10 minutes for jam, about 20 to 30 minutes for fruit and 30 to 45 minutes or more for tomatoes.  
  12. Carefully remove jars from water and allow to for cool several hours or overnight.
  13. Check the jars are sealed properly.
  14. Label and date the jars, then store them in a dark, cool [not freezing], and dry area.

Tips for Successful Processing in a Water Bath Canner

  1. Always clean jars and lids before use.
  2.    Use a rack to keep jars from touching the bottom of your pot and to permit heat circulation.
  3. Put jars into a pan that contains simmering water.
  4. After adding jars, add boiling water to bring water 1 to 2 inches above jar tops.
  5. Bring water to a brisk boil and process for recommended time, begin timing after the water begins to boil
  6. Cool jars on a rack or towel.
  7. After jars are cooled, wipe jars, label and date.
  8. Store jars in a cool, dark place.
  9. For best quality, use within one year.

Unsuccessful Preserving

If any jars did not seal, the centre of the cap will be raised, not lowered. Refrigerate the unsealed jar and use the contents within a few days. Unsealed jars may also be reprocessed. Remove their bands and caps and carefully check for any small chips. If the jar rim is okay, add new caps and clean bands. If damaged, replace the jar too, then reprocess in a boiling water bath. Most foods can also be frozen instead of being reprocessed.

When you open the jar if liquids are cloudy or frothy; if food is mouldy or smells bad, do not use. Never taste the contents of a jar of food with a broken seal or even the slightest sign of spoilage.

Apple and Plum Chutney  

This year with so much fruit on the plum and apple trees, I found this recipe invaluable.  It’s sweet but spicy flavour is delicious with duck and mild cheeses. Alternatively serve it as an accompaniment to curries. I hope you will try it.


1 kg or 2 ¼ lb of plums

200g or 7 oz. Demerara sugar

150ml white wine vinegar

100ml dry white wine

1 large onion
1 large strong green apple
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Cooking Instructions

  1. Core, peel and chop the apple coarsely.
  2. Chop the onion to roughly the size of the apple pieces.
  3. Peel and stone the plums.
  4. Put the Demerara sugar, wine and vinegar into a preserving pan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved.
  5. Add all the other ingredients to the hot liquid in the preserving pan.
  6. Cook gently until thick and smooth (normally about 40 to 50 mins).
  7. Pour into warm sterilized jars and seal.

Mild Plum Chutney

A mild plum chutney which is easy to make and tastes great with strong cheeses and cooked/cured meats


  1. 2 lbs. (900g) white sugar
  2. 2 pints white wine vinegar
  3. 1 oz (25g) powdered cinnamon
  4. 1 oz. (25g) ground ginger
  5. 3 oz. (80g) salt
  6. 1 oz. (25g) bruised mustard seed
  7. 5 lbs. (2.25kg) plums, peeled and stoned

Cooking Instructions

  1. Cut the peeled and stoned plums into quarters
  2. Put all the ingredients except the plum and bring to the boil
  3. Add the plums, reduce heat, and simmer until the plums are tender
  4. Remove from heat when the mixture reaches desired consistency
  5. Spoon into warmed jars and seal

Tomato [Pomodoro] Sauce/Salsa

This is a great recipe for using up tomatoes if you suddenly find yourself with hoards of them all at once. The Italians being very resourceful have lots of ways to store and preserve food over the long winter months and of course they do love their tomatoes.


8 cloves of garlic peeled and finely diced or crushed

150 ml good olive oil [I use extra virgin]

1 tbsp oregano leaves [fresh and finely chopped is good but dried also works]

3kg good flavoured tomatoes [plum tomatoes are great for this but any strong tasting ones will do]

1tpsp finely chopped basil leaves [again dried or frozen works but fresh is better]

Salt and freshly ground black pepper [I like to use sea salt because I can use less but still have the strong flavour].

To Peel the Tomatoes

Peeling tomatoes is easy if you follow this method:

Plunge firm tomatoes into a bowl of bowling water and leave completely covered for 2 minutes.

Remove then using a slotted spoon to a bowl of cold water. After a few minutes the skins should be easy to remove with a sharp paring knife.

To Peel the Tomatoes

Peeling tomatoes is easy if you follow this method:

Plunge firm tomatoes into a bowl of bowling water and leave completely covered for 2 minutes.

Remove then using a slotted spoon to a bowl of cold water. After a few minutes the skins should be easy to remove with a sharp paring knife.

Cooking Instructions

  1. Blanch the tomatoes by placing them in a bowl of boiling water for a few minutes to loosen the skin. When they are ready [you can see the skins at the top beginning to split] carefully peel of their skins.
  2. Roughly chop the peeled tomatoes
  3. Gently heat the garlic, oregano and basil in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes without colouring.
  4. Add the tomatoes and bring to a gentle boil. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
  5. Turn down the heat and simmer the mixture for 40mins.
  6. Freeze the sauce in useable quantities or preserve by putting the hot sauce into sterilised Kilner type jars.
  7. Place the jars in a preserving pan or very large pot of water and boil for about 15-20 minutes. Leave the jars to cool in the water. {see the section on bottling and preserving for tips]




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