A Guide to Preserving the Harvest / HOMEGROWN KITCHEN

*In my new cookbook – The Homemade Tablefind a chapter on preserving and fermenting. Including, troubleshooting for my most asked questions. The Homemade Table is available in bookstores around New Zealand and personally signed copies HERE.


Every year I like to fill our pantry with the excess from our summer garden harvest. This includes apricots, black boy peaches, omega plums, yellow plums, granny smith apples, figs, tomatoes, zucchini, and berries. I also look out for boxes of second fruit and tomatoes at the produce markets. By the end of autumn, our pantry will be full of fruit preserves, stewed fruit, conserves, chutney, pickles, jams, and plum sauce. On a good year (when the garden has been generous) this will last us until the end of the year, coinciding with the beginning of next summer’s fruit. And so the cycle continues. At the end of this post find a list of preserving recipes on this website.

A Guide to Preserving the Harvest / HOMEGROWN KITCHEN

A Guide to Preserving the Harvest / HOMEGROWN KITCHEN

First Jars – you will need lots of them!

I mostly use 1 litre Agee jars for preserving fruit pieces (as pictured) while if I am preserving stewed fruit I use smaller jars (600ml) as the fruit goes further when it is stewed. Gherkin and tomato passata (puree) jars are my favourite for smaller batches. As long as the rubber seal on the inside of the lid is in good condition it can be reused. For jams and chutney, I use small 300ml size jars as I like to use less sugar. And less sugar means shorter shelf life, once a jar is open always keep it in the fridge if you use less sugar. Always store sealed jars of preserves in a cool dark place i.e. pantry, cellar, laundry, shed etc.

*It is essential the lids are correctly vacuum sealed before storing. The best way to tell is to check the ‘button’ on the lid is down or if there is no button (such as Agee lids) the lid will be concaving (curving) into the jar. If the lid is not sealed properly then do not store the jar.

Homemade Plum & Tomato Sauce | HOMEGROWN KITCHEN

Sterilising Jars

If you use the ‘water bath’ method explained below you can use scrupulously clean jars straight from the dishwasher or hand washed. The jars will be heated to a boiling point during the process to kill any bugs. If you are using the ‘hot jar, hot sauce’ method, often used for smaller quantities such as chutney and jams, then properly sterilising jars before using is essential. There are several options here;

1. Place cleaned jars and lids onto an oven tray and place the tray into a cold oven. Heat the oven to 120C, and once the oven reaches heat time for 10 minutes then remove one hot jar and lid at a time to fill with hot sauce/jam/chutney.

2. Boiling Method: Place jars and lids in a large pot, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil for 10 minutes. Carefully remove with tongs and air dry on a rack. [Do not use a tea towel to dry as lint can contaminate the jar.]

Homemade Plum & Tomato Sauce | HOMEGROWN KITCHEN

*Note: The methods I explain below are only for temperate fruits and tomatoes (with the addition of lemon juice or citric acid for tomatoes). Preserving non-acidic vegetables, meat or fish requires more attention to acidity and high heat processing. Note: when preserving tomatoes it is recommended to add, per litre jar – 1 teaspoon salt, plus 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar, or 1/2 tsp citric acid.


1. Water Bath Method (for large jars and high quantity preserves)

This is my favourite way to preserve and the one I use the most. However, you need a proper ‘water bath’ preserver to do this successfully. I have a Fowlers Vacola (pictured above) that I picked up brand new from a secondhand market for $20 (I know the score of a lifetime!). If you are serious about preserving it is worth the investment (new they are about $150). You can also fashion your own water bath using a tall large pot with something in the base (a wire rack) to hold the jars off the bottom of the pot – the jars need to be completely submerged in the water so it needs to be a tall pot.


1. Either fill jars with stewed fruit OR pack the jars snugly with raw fruit, halved or quartered, and cover with a light sugar syrup. Use a butter knife or chopstick to remove any air bubbles and top up the liquid to within 1cm from the top of the jar.

2. Screw on the lids (not too tight) and place them in the water bath – ensure there is a little space (1-2cm) between each jar for the water to circulate.

3. Fill the water bath with cold water to cover the top of the jars by 1-2 cm.

4. Secure the lid of the water bath and switch it on / or heat over a moderate heat.

5. Once the water just reaches a boil, about 30-60 minutes (this depends on the size of your pot and the height of your jars), time for a minimum of 10 minutes for jars of pre-cooked fruit/sauce, or 20 minutes for large jars and fruit pieces. After this time use jar tongs to carefully remove the jars and cool. Once cool, check the lids, making sure they have vacuum sealed. Remove the rings if using, and store jars in a cool, dark pantry or cellar. Once open store in the fridge.

A Guide to Preserving the Harvest / HOMEGROWN KITCHEN

2. Hot Sauce, Hot Jar (for small batch preserves)

I use this method when I make a small batch of jam or chutney and it isn’t efficient to fill up the water bath preserver. Use for small 200-300ml jars, and ensure everything is hot and sterilised – jars, utensils and sauce/jam.


1. Prepare your jars using one of the sterilising methods explained above.

2. While the jars are hot fill them with steaming hot chutney or jam to within 2-3mm from the top of the jar.

3. Screw on the lids tightly and leave them to cool completely. As they cool the lids will concave into the jar, or the button will pop down indicating the lid is vacuum sealed. Store jars in a cool, dark place and keep them in the fridge once open.

*This is similar to the overflow method (where you fill jars right to the top of the jar so the jam is just overflowing). This method is less messy, filling to just within the top of the jar to allow room for the lid to suction into the jar as it cools.

A Guide to Preserving the Harvest / HOMEGROWN KITCHEN

LINKS to more preserving/fermenting recipes.

Plum & Tomato Sauce

Spiced Slow-Roasted Plum Jam

Slow-Cooked Fig & Lemon Conserve

Preserved Lemons

Cortido: South American Sauerkraut

Join the Conversation

  1. Great instructions and tips. Thanks!

  2. Really generous tips, thanks so much. Now to get my hands on an abundance of fruit in Wellington-we’re still waiting for Summer to arrive!

  3. I have been using the oven method for 50 yrs + and never had a failure.

  4. Hi Nicola, I use the overflow method in the Edmonds Cookbook but every time I bottle fruit I get so worried that I may not have done it properly and something will go wrong with the fruit. Yesterday I bottled some big jars of Blackboy peaches. I always make sure the liquid is right to the top of the jar but today I see several of the jars’ liquid is about 1-2cm from the top and some of the fruit is out of the liquid at the top. And in one jar there are some air bubbles part way down (I use a knife to release air bubbles). Do you think they’ll be ok?

    1. Hi Little Blessings, they can happen as the fruit absorbs some of the liquid and creates space and bubbles in the jar. The main thing is to check the lids, they need to be concaving into the jar, if you are unsure place a pencil on top to check there is a space between the pencil and middle of the lid. If the lid is properly sealed and there are no signs of dribbles or dis-coloration of the fruit when opening the jar in a few months it sounds like they are properly preserved. I hope that helps 🙂

  5. Nicola, I have some of the Agee jars with glass tops held tight with wire clips but am unable to find the rubber rings for sealing them.
    Do you know who supplies them?
    I would be most grateful if you can help.

    Thankyou, Eric.

    1. Hi Eric, unfortunately I haven’t come across the rings for those – they are lovely jars. I mostly use Agee metal seals or reuse pasta sauce/gherkin jars. You could try contacting Country Trading Co. they have a lot of preserving supplies and might know where to get them (or even have them). Good luck!

  6. Hi Nicola
    I made some plum preserves using your recipe using Agee 1l jars with new seals & lids….but two of the seals on my jars haven’t worked – what do I do next?

    1. Hi Sally
      I do find this happens occasionally with agee lids when the seal is either too tight or not tight enough. The best approach is to screw the lids on hand tight to into the preserver and then once I remove the jars from the water bath I tighten them a little more – not too much or the seal can get pinched and won’t seal at all. Also, make sure to wait until the jars are cold before checking the seal as the cooling preserves create a vacuum to seal the lid. If it still doesn’t seal you can either run them through a second cycle of the water bath (if using) or if I have space I freeze the fruit as they will be perfectly cooked at this stage. I do find reusing gherkin and pasta jars more reliable than agee seals for some reason. I hope that helps.

  7. Thank you, Nicola, that’s great intel.
    I also made your chutney – same issue with two of the jars again. Maybe easier to transfer the produce to gherkin jars as you suggest. Unless a good seal is not so important for chutneys because of the vinegar? hmm…

    1. Hi Sally, you still need a vacuum seal for chutney to keep well out of the fridge for many months even with the vinegar and sugar added. I think keeping an eye on the tightness of the lids will make a difference.

  8. Thanks Nicola
    I’m just starting out preserving, and your post is just the simple and clear guide I needed! I have a few preserving jars – not Agee brand but same idea. But I also have some screw top jars that I’ve saved from kimchi, pestos etc bought at the farmer’s market. Do you think I can use these? What does the jar/ lid need to have to be suitable to use for preserving?

    1. Hi Amanda
      Thank you for your message and great to hear you are getting into preserving. It is great fun!
      You can use any jars and lids with an intact rubber seal such as the ones you mentioned. As long as the rubber seal is not wrinkled or broken it should be good to go.
      I have lots more preserving recipes and info in my Homegrown Kitchen cookbook that can found at most libraries around NZ.

  9. Lily-Rose featherstone says:

    Hi can you use the glass gherkin pasta etc jars and lids? Will they shatter in the water or be ok?

    1. Hi Lily-Rose, you can re-use gherkin and pasta jars as long as the seal on the inside of the lid is still in good condition. The main thing is that the jars and contents are a similar temperature as the water. I generally fill cold jars with cold sauce/puree and lower into cold water in the water bath then bring to a simmer from there. Some instructions include lowering jars into simmering water but I wouldn’t recommend this for thinner glass jars such as gherkin/pasta jars. Even with thick tempered glass such as Agee jars I prefer to start cold (or tepid warm) and bring to heat from there. Much easier and safer dealing with cool jars and sauce.
      All the best. Nicola

  10. Awesome info, it does my head in reading all the (usually US) water bath and oven processing, I preserve everything using overflow and have very few fails. Early seen (within a day or two) I save by reheating and resealing. Have got stuff that’s ok years after preserving. Just make sure lids in good nick when I start. Have discovered plastic lids (vegemite, nutella etc) also work ok with their glass jars.

    1. Thank you Sandi 🙂 the focus of my website is for NZ readers (and quite a few Australian too) as so often the info from other countries is different to the measurements and terms we use here. That is interesting about the plastic lids and jars, thanks for sharing.
      Happy perserving!

  11. Jeremy MIllichamp says:

    Hi Nicola. I have been using the overflow method for ages however I have recently started to use the water bath method as fruit like Apricots doesn’t turn into mush. It has been a bit of a failure at times. The old Agee recipe says to screw on the rings tight however for the newer much thinner (Rubbish) Perfit seals they recommend only light;y screwing them on as the thin metal now easily buckles this usually leads to lots of the syrup leaking our of the jars. Do you have any suggestions? I am getting some Ball seals over from the USA to see if they are thicker and more reisitant to buckling.
    An interesting fact the really old Perfit seals with a picture of Susua Baker on the back probably 40yrs old are 0.228mm thick the new ones are only 0.175mm thick about 30% thinner. No wonder they don’t perform as well.

    1. Hi Jeremy
      Thanks for your comment. You don’t want to over-tighten the screw lids over the seals, I go for hand tight without straining to tighten. If they are too tight, as you mentioned above, the rubber seal can buckle. It is important not to overfill the jar too, I tend to leave about 8mm so there is room for the fruit and syrup to expand in the heat and then settle once they cool. I do find the Perfit seals aren’t 100% successful with sealing, I might get about 1 out of 10 fails and then freeze the contents of that jar. For this reason, I mostly reuse gherkin/pasta sauce jars as the seals are still good to use and they seal well with very little sealing failures.
      That is interesting about the size difference of the seals, they don’t make things as they used too!
      Happy preserving.

      1. Ben MacAran says:

        I have been lucky enough to get an American Pressure Canner so I can preserve non-acid foods, soups, meats, etc. I have discovered that the NZ Perfit Seals are not made for pressure canning so must order either Mason or Ball lids whenever using my pressure canner. Out of a load of 14 pint Agee jars using Perfit lids only 7 sealed successfully, so had to go back using the American lids. Perit lids work very well using water bath bottling method, however.

        1. Hi Ben, thanks for sharing this. I haven’t used a pressure canner before (or even seen one in NZ) so this is helpful if others are looking for info about the lids.
          Happy preserving!

  12. Using the overflow method can I preserve pumpkin soup? Cheers

    1. Hi Carol
      It isn’t recommended to preserve low acid vegetables in this way. Unless you add 1 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice per 500ml jar which will alter the flavour quite a bit.
      I prefer to freeze soup into portions and save this preserving method for fruit.
      Thanks for checking in.

  13. william matley says:

    I have some very old 4 pound kilner jars with glass lids but no screw tops.
    Do you have any suggestions as to how I might provide a seal?
    Would cling film do it?

    Many thanks,
    William Matley

    1. Hi William, I have only used Perfit lids that have a rubber seal. I don’t think clingfilm would be enough and I haven’t used glass lids either so not sure. We have different preserving jar supplies in NZ so you may need to look for options closer to home.
      All the best

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