Storing Vegetables & Fruit

If you have a large vegetable garden or an allotment, you will probably come across the problem of having a glut of vegetables and a need to store them. There are various ways to store your fruit and vegetables, from freezing to bottling to storing in sand. Choose the methods best suited to your circumstances and that you have the room for. Then you will have a supply of fruit and vegetables throughout the ‘hungry’ winter months.

There are countless websites offering advice, so we’ve put together some of the most common methods for you to compare. Remember to research your chosen method of preservation thoroughly, as no one wants to be faced with fruit and vegetables that have not been stored properly and are only fit for the compost heap. Never eat any stored food that you are unsure of.

Whatever your chosen method of storing, remember to preserve them as soon as possible after harvesting – before they start to deteriorate.

 

Storing Root Vegetables in Boxes

Suitable for: beetroot, carrots, celeriac, parsnips, swedes, turnips and winter radishes.

Most root vegetables can be left in the ground until needed, but can be damaged if there is a particularly harsh frost. If you intend to store your root vegetables, only store ones in good condition. Remove foliage and shake off any loose dirt – do not wash.

You can store your vegetables in boxes in layers of moist sand or peat-substitute. Make sure none of the roots are touching and cover with another layer of sand before adding another layer of roots. If using plastic boxes, make sure you add some holes to the lid. Store in a dark, cool, frost-free place such as a shed or cellar. Periodically check your roots for signs of rot and remove any rotten ones before the others are affected.

 

Storing Main Crop Potatoes

Potatoes should be stored by mid-October to prevent weather damage.

Lift potatoes when the tops die back and the skin resists gentle pressure. Lift on a dry day and allow potatoes to dry on the surface of the soil for two or three hours. Handle the potatoes gently so as not to damage them which could prevent them from storing well. Making sure they are completely dry, store in hessian or paper sacks or in boxes in a frost-proof shed. Avoid plastic materials, including plastic-lined paper sacks, as these promote condensation causing the potatoes to rot.

You can store early and second early potatoes in this way, but they have a short dormant period and will sprout earlier and so keep for a shorter time than main crop ones.

 

Storing Onions

Onions can be harvested when the foliage turns yellow and starts to topple over. Two to three weeks after this, carefully lift with a garden fork. The ones you plan to store must be firm, disease-free and then dried for two to three weeks, either laid out in the sun or in a shed if the weather is wet.

When ready for storage all the foliage should be papery and dry. You can either tie the bulbs into plaits, hang in net bags, or store in trays in a single layer. Store in a dark, cool, dry and well-ventilated place.

 

Freezing Vegetables

You can store many vegetables by blanching and freezing them if you have ample freezer space.

Blanching is briefly boiling or steaming (not completely cooking) and then plunging in to iced water or letting cold water run over the vegetables to stop the cooking process.

Once blanched, drain as much water as possible

Blanch for the following times:

Artichoke (hearts) - 6 minutes
Asparagus - 2-4 minutes (depending on how thick the stalks are)
Beans - Broad beans – 3 minutes
Beans - French beans – 2 minutes
Beans - Runner beans - 2 minutes
Beetroot - (whole) 10-25 minutes depending on size (peel skins and cut up large ones before freezing)
Broccoli - (1-inch pieces) 2 minutes
Brussels Sprouts - 3-5 minutes (depending on size)
Carrots – (sliced) 3 minutes
Cauliflower - (1-inch) 3 minutes
Celeriac – (cubed) 3 minutes (add 1 tbsp lemon juice to water)
Celery – 3 minutes
Courgettes – 1 minute
Fennel – (quartered) – 3 minutes
Kale – (whole leaf) – 1 minute
Kohlrabi – (cubed) – 2 minutes
Leafy Greens - 1-2 minutes (use the longer time for collards and cabbage)
Leeks – 2 minutes
Mangetout – 1 minute
Marrow or squash – (ringed or diced) – 2 minutes
Onions – 1 minute (chopped), 2 minutes (sliced), 3 minutes (whole)
Pak Choi – (quartered) – 2 minutes
Parsnips – (sliced) 2 minutes
Peas – 1 minute
Radish, winter – (diced) 2 minutes
Spinach - (whole leaves) 1 minute (squeeze out excess water, then chop or leave whole)
Spring greens - (whole leaves) 1 minute
Sugar Snap Peas – 1 minute
Swede - (diced) 2 minutes
Sweetcorn – (whole cobs) – 5 minutes
Swiss Chard - (whole leaves) 1 minute (squeeze out excess water, then chop or leave whole)
Turnips – (whole if small or diced) 2 minutes

After blanching, drain well and remove as much excess water as possible. Place fruit and vegetables on a non-stick baking tray, separated apart, and open-freeze until solid. Then place in to freezer bags and label. Open-freezing stops the vegetables from sticking together in the bags once frozen. Instead of open-freezing, you could freeze in convenient quantities that you would normally cook in one go.

Sweet peppers, onions, corn and tomatoes can all be frozen without blanching. Potatoes do not freeze well, along with some other root vegetables.

Why do you need to blanche? Blanching stops enzymatic activity that decays vegetables. These enzymes can survive freezing temperatures and continue the decaying process even though the food is frozen. Blanching the food in boiling water or steam kills off the enzymes.

 

Freezing Fruit

If you wish to freeze fruit, berries are the easiest. Just wash the ripe fruit and discard any rotten or discoloured ones. Then open freeze for a couple of hours and then place in freezer-proof bags or containers.

There seems to be many methods for freezing apples including part-cooking them with sugar and spices so they are ready to use as pie fillings. The easiest method though, is to peel and slice (or quarter) the apples, keeping them in water as you go (with added lemon juice to stop them browning). Then drain and pat them dry before open-freezing and then storing in freezer-proof bags or containers. You can do the same with pears.

Bananas can also be frozen – just peel and chop. Plums and mangoes need to be stoned and then sliced and frozen.

Remember, fruit when defrosted will be softer than when fresh. Ideal for pie fillings or whizzing into smoothies straight from the freezer.

 

Bottling Fruit – Fast Water Bath Method

Bottling can be a lengthy process but is ideal if you don’t have much freezer space.

Fruit used for bottling must be fresh, firm, and free from discoloration and disease. Small fruits can be left whole but fruit with pips or stones should be halved or quartered and the pips or stones removed. Apricots and peaches should be peeled. Simply blanch the whole fruits in a saucepan of boiling water until the skin appears loose, then drain, leave to cool and the skin should fall off easily. Apples and pears should be peeled, cored and sliced. Firm and fibrous fruits such as apples and pears can be cooked in a sugar syrup solution to make them easier to pack into jars. Soft fruits should be soaked in a salt solution for five minutes to remove any insects or grubs and then left to dry before preparation

The ideal jars to use are the Kilner style jars with the rubber seal and spring clip. Thoroughly clean and sterilise jars / bottles in boiling water for 10 minutes before use. Your jars must be hot when you add the fruit. When placed on top of the bottles, the tops form an airtight seal. During heating, air is forced from the jars to create a germ-proof vacuum. Any flaws in the rubber or fault in a metal lid will destroy this vacuum and spoil the contents of the jar.

Fruit can be bottled in syrup, water or a brine solution, but is most commonly bottled in syrup to preserve the colour and flavour. When bottling in syrup, the addition of ascorbic acid will help to maintain colour with fruits like apples and apricots that discolour easily. By adding 200–300mg (about half a teaspoon) of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to a litre of syrup you prevent discoloration. The strength of the syrup depends on the sweetness of the fruit and how it is packed. For syrups the proportions are generally 250g to 1 pint of water. For thicker syrup, use half the amount of water.

The sugar for use in syrups may be ordinary white granulated or, for a different flavour, honey or golden syrup. Dissolve the sugar in half of the water over a moderate heat and, when the sugar is dissolved, boil for one minute. Then add the remainder of the water. This reduces the cooling time.

Do not fill the jars right to the top – leave about 1.25cm for expansion. Try to dislodge any air bubbles by adding the hot syrup in stages – after you have added fruit to a depth of a couple of inches, add some syrup and shake the jar slightly from side-to-side. Then continue with more fruit, then syrup.

Put on the lids to form an airtight seal. The jars then need to be heated in boiling water. Use a large stock pot with a tea-towel (or folded newspaper) placed at the bottom to stop the jars moving around. Add the jars to the pot and cover with enough warm water (about 40°) so that the jars will sit about 5cm below the surface. Bring to the boil slowly (over about 30 minutes) and then leave them in simmering water for the recommended time. The time the jars need to spend in the water depends on the type of fruit and the strength of syrup.

Apples – in syrup – 2 minutes
Apples – solid pack – 20 minutes
Apricots – 10 minutes
Blackberries / loganberries / raspberries – 2 minutes
Cherries – 10 minutes
Citrus Fruits – orange, lemon, grapefruit etc – 10 minutes
Currants – black, red or white – 10 minutes
Gooseberries – for cooking in pies etc – 2 minutes
Gooseberries – for uncooked use in desserts – 10 minutes
Peaches – 20 minutes
Pears – 40 minutes
Pineapple – 20 minutes
Plums and damsons – 10 minutes
Rhubarb – for cooking in pies etc – 2 minutes
Rhubarb – for uncooked use in desserts – 10 minutes
Strawberries – 2 minutes
Tomatoes – solid pack – 40 minutes
Tomatoes – in brine – 50 minutes

An alternate method is to boil the fruit in its bottling liquid for a few minutes before packing in to the jars to give a longer shelf life. You still need to boil the jars after filling the jars.

Remove the jars from the water and tighten any screw lids. Allow the bottles to cool down completely, preferably leaving overnight.

To test the jars / bottles for a vacuum, release the spring clips and test each bottle. Pick up the jar 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. If you are using the thin metal lids, check if the centre of the lid can be depressed. If it is flexible then it has not sealed correctly. Tighten the lids.

Store in a cool, dark place.

 

Bottling Vegetables – Pressure Bottling Method

Vegetables do not bottle as well as fruit due to their low acid content. You also must use a pressure cooker capable of maintaining the required pressure very accurately instead of just using a large pot with boiling water as for fruit. This is necessary to kill off the botulism bacteria which can survive in boiling water.

You can also use this method for bottling fruit.

A brine solution is best for bottling tomatoes and vegetables. Make it with 150g of salt to 1 litre of water. For peas, add the same amount of sugar.

Pick your vegetables when they are young and tender. They should be thoroughly cleaned or peeled as if preparing them for cooking. Cut into appropriate sized pieces or leave whole if small. Vegetables need to be blanched before bottling just as if you were freezing them.

The ideal jars to use are the Kilner style jars with the rubber seal and spring clip. Thoroughly clean and sterilise jars / bottles in boiling water for 10 minutes before use. Your jars must be hot when you add the vegetables. When placed on top of the bottles, the tops form an airtight seal. During heating, air is forced from the jars to create a germ-proof vacuum. Any flaws in the rubber or fault in a metal lid will destroy this vacuum and spoil the contents of the jar.

Pack your blanched vegetables into hot jars and add the boiling brine. Loosely fix the lids onto any screw top jars.

Pour 600 ml of cold water into the pressure cooker, along with a little vinegar to prevent staining. Carefully stand the bottles on folded newspaper or a cloth in the pressure cooker. Make sure the bottles do not touch each other or the sides of the pan (use another cloth to separate them). Fasten the lid of the cooker and turn on the heat, with the valve or vent left open. When a steady jet of steam has been escaping for 10 minutes, set the control to a pressure of 0.7 kg/cm2 and maintain this for the required time (different cookers have different methods so check your manual).

Vegetables:
Asparagus – blanch for 2-3 minutes, pressure cook for 35 minutes
Broad beans – blanch for 3 minutes, pressure cook for 30 minutes
French & runner beans – blanch for 3 minutes, pressure cook for 35 minutes
Peas – blanch for 2 minutes, pressure cook for 45 minutes
Sweet peppers – blanch for 3-5 minutes, pressure cook for 40 minutes
Sweetcorn (blanch on the cob) – blanch for 6 minutes, pressure cook for 50 minutes
Low acid tomatoes – solid pack – no blanching, pressure cook for 25 minutes
Low acid tomatoes – in brine – no blanching, pressure cook for 20 minutes

Fruit:
Apples – in syrup – 1 minute
Apples – solid pack – 3-4 minutes
Apricots – 1 minute
Blackberries / loganberries / raspberries – 1 minute
Cherries – 1 minute
Citrus Fruits – orange, lemon, grapefruit etc – 1 minute
Currants – black, red or white – 1 minute
Gooseberries – for cooking in pies etc – 1 minute
Gooseberries – for uncooked use in desserts – 1 minute
Peaches – 3-4 minutes
Pears – 5 minutes
Pineapple – 3 minutes
Plums and damsons – 2 minutes
Rhubarb – for cooking in pies etc 1 minute
Rhubarb – for uncooked use in desserts – 1 minute
Strawberries – 3-4 minutes
Tomatoes – solid pack – 15 minute
Tomatoes – in brine – 5 minutes

At the end of the processxing time, remove the cooker from the heat and allow it to cool gradually. When it is cool and the gauge is showing zero, open the valve and remove the lid. Lift out the bottles carefully, as they will still be very hot. Stand them on a dry wooden surface or cooling rack and tighten the screw caps immediately.

Allow the bottles to cool down completely, preferably leaving overnight.

To test the jars / bottles for a vacuum, release the spring clips and test each bottle. Pick up the jar 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. If you are using the thin metal lids, check if the centre of the lid can be depressed. If it is flexible then it has not sealed correctly. Tighten the lids.

Store in a cool, dark place.

You need to be very careful when bottling foods. Hygiene and attention to detail are critical. If you are unsure whether your bottled food has stored properly, do not eat it. Always read manufacturing guidelines when using pressure cookers.

 

 


Sources

Royal Horticultural Society - https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=666

http://foodpreservation.about.com

http://www.growveggies.net/

http://www.allotment-garden.org

http://allrecipes.co.uk

http://www.readersdigest.com.au

http://www.fruitexpert.co.uk

http://www.allotment-garden.org

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