A Guide to Preserving the Harvest / HOMEGROWN KITCHEN

*In my new cookbook – Homegrown Kitchen – Everyday recipes for eating well I include more in-depth instruction about preserving including no-added sugar and low sugar recipes. Plus a comprehensive sub-section on fermentation (the traditional technique of food preservation). Homegrown Kitchen is available in bookstores and retailers around New Zealand, and personally signed copies HERE.


When I was growing up we had a large walk-in cellar off the kitchen. My parents loved to preserve and store food in this cool dark room and I can still see the rows of jars lined up on the shelves. Peaches, plums, tomatoes, plum sauce, gherkins, pickles and the like. Maybe this is where my love for getting back to the basics came from. Just as Mother’s came from her memory of growing up with a large garden and pantry full of preserves to last the winter.

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 seconds 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 links to preserving recipes I have shared on this blog. Here is my guide to how I preserve the harvest…

A Guide to Preserving the Harvest / HOMEGROWN KITCHEN

A Guide to Preserving the Harvest / HOMEGROWN KITCHEN


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 on the inside of the lid is in good condition they can be used over and over again. 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. And store sealed jars of preserves in a cool dark place i.e. pantry, cellar, laundry, shed etc.

*It is essential the lids are correctly sealed before storing so no air can get in. 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 concave – curving into the jar. If the lid is not sealed properly then do not store the jar.

Homemade Plum & Tomato Sauce | HOMEGROWN KITCHEN


If you use the ‘water bath’ or ‘oven’ methods explained below you can use scrupulously clean jars straight from the dishwasher or hand washed. The jars will be heated to boiling point during the process to kill any bugs. If you are using the ‘open pan’ 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. Oven Method (follow the link for an instructional video)

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

3. I mostly use a slightly abridged version of the boiling method. First run jars and lids through a hot cycle in the dishwasher. While the jars are still hot set them on a wooden board or bench. Fill jars with boiling water and leave for 1 minute. Place the lids in a bowl and cover with boiling water for 1 minute. Use oven gloves to pour out the water and air dry jars inverted on a dish rack (do not use a tea towel to dry as lint can contaminate the jars). I have used this method for 8 years and never had a jar of chutney or apple sauce [used within 6 months] go off, however, if you are concerned then use either the Oven or Boiling Method.

Homemade Plum & Tomato Sauce | HOMEGROWN KITCHEN


When making chutney and jam I use as little sugar as I can and often use alternative sugars such as coconut sugar and dehydrated cane juice (rapadura). When preserving raw fruit pieces using the methods below you can either use water or a light sugar syrup [heat 1 part sugar with 4 parts water until the sugar is dissolved]. I find fruit pieces without a little sugar end up being very watery and bland to taste. So for our plums pictured I used a light syrup made with rapadura (unrefined cane sugar) and water. These are our ‘premium’ preserves that we save for special occasions, usually when we have guests so I like them to taste fabulous! Our regular ‘everyday’ preserves that we enjoy on our muesli or porridge is mainly stewed fruit (plums, peaches, figs) or apple sauce that we always make without any added sugar. We simply fill a large pot with roughly chopped fruit (skin, pips and stones included) add 1 cup water, cover and cook over a moderate heat until the fruit is soft. The cooked fruit is then passed through a mouli (pictured above) to remove skin etc. then poured into clean jars and preserved using the water bath method – read on to learn more.

*Note: The methods I explain below are only for fruit and tomatoes, preserving non-acidic vegetables, meat or fish requires more attention and correct timing. It is also recommended to always add salt when preserving tomatoes.



This is my favourite way to preserve and the one I use the most. However you really 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 score of a life-time!). If you are serious about preserving it is worth the investment, but it is an investment (new about $150). You can also fashion your own water bath using a 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 BIG pot.

HOW TO: 1. Either fill jars with stewed fruit/tomatoes OR pack the jars snugly with raw fruit, halved or quartered and cover with cold water or ‘light sugar syrup’ (see directions under the sugar header above). Use a 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 tightly and place in the water bath – ensure there is a little space between each jars for the water to circulate. 3. Fill the water bath with cold water to cover the top of the jars by 1cm. 4. Secure the lid of the water bath and switch 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 height of your jars), turn off the heat. Leave to cool before removing the jars. Check the lids, making sure they have sealed, removing the rings if using, and store jars in a cool, dark pantry or cellar. Store in the fridge once open.

A Guide to Preserving the Harvest / HOMEGROWN KITCHEN

2. OPEN PAN METHOD [similar to the overflow method]

I use this method when I made a small batch of chutney or plum & tomato sauce and don’t want to fill up the water bath preserver.

HOW TO: 1. Prepare your jars using one of the sterilising methods explained above. 2. While the jars are still too hot to handle (hold with oven gloves) fill with steaming hot chutney/ sauce/ stewed fruit/ tomatoes to within 5mm from the top of the jar. 3. Screw on the lids tightly and leave to cool completely. As they cool the lids will invert or the button will pop down indicating the lid is sealed correctly. This method can also be used for stewed fruit such as apple, plums and homemade tomato pasta sauce (salt added). Store jars in a cool, dark place and keep in the fridge once open.

*This is similar to the overflow method (where you fill jars right to the top so the sauce/ fruit is just overflowing), however the open pan method is less messy and I find it works just as well.

A Guide to Preserving the Harvest / HOMEGROWN KITCHEN


This is the preserving method often used if a water bath is unavailable. I have only used this method several times before I got my water bath preserver so I have also checked with friends and referred to the awesome ‘Preserving’ booklet pictured below [published in 1957 : Department of Adult Education – University of Otago]. *If you use this method and I have missed something please comment below.

HOW TO: First preheat the oven to 130C/ 265F [not fan bake]. Prepare jars, cleaning thoroughly as for the water bath method. 1. Either fill jars with stewed fruit/tomatoes OR pack the jars snugly with raw fruit, halved or quartered and cover with cold water or ‘light sugar syrup’ (see directions under the sugar header above). Use a chopstick to remove any air bubbles and top up the liquid to within 1cm from the top of the jar. Screw on the lids tightly. 2. Place the jars directly onto the oven rack in the middle of the oven – place a tray on the rack below to catch any drips. Make sure there is space between the jars for the air to circulate. 3. Once the last jar is placed in the oven time for 40 – 70 minutes. The time will depend on the size of jars used, the number of jars, and the size of the fruit being preserved. 4. After 40 minutes [then every 10 minutes thereafter] check to see if the liquid at the top of the jars is bubbling gently. 4. Once the liquid is bubbling very carefully (the jars will be burning hot) remove the jars from the oven and cool – or if you don’t need the oven you can turn off the heat and leave the jars to cool in the oven. Once cold check lids are sealed correctly and store in a cool dark pantry. Once open store in the fridge and use within 5 days if no sugar is added.

NB: there is some concern about the oven method being dangerous as it may not completely cook the food. For that reason it is only recommended to use this method for fruit and tomatoes (with salt added) not non-acidic vegetables, fish or meat. And ensure the liquid bubbles as explained above to properly cook the fruit and sterilise the jars.

*I would love to hear your stories and tips about preserving, please comment below. I am sure there are other methods and techniques used to preserve the harvest (and I have more to share). I by no means presume to know it all, I just love sharing what I do know and hope you enjoy following along. Nicola x

A Guide to Preserving the Harvest / HOMEGROWN KITCHEN

LINKS to more of my preserving recipes.

Plum & Tomato Sauce

Slow-Cooked Fig & Lemon Conserve

Preserved Lemons

Cortido: South American Sauerkraut

Nana’s Malayan Plum Chutney

Beetroot Pickles



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