Jelly Stools and Jam Jars

Last weekend was extraordinary.

I’ve always been interested in learning how to preserve, cook, store and bottle food but the only type of food preserving I’ve done is a little bit of jam making and home dehydrating. We’ve had an Ezi Dri food dehydrator for some years now, bought purposely for drying food for bush walking and we’ve experimented with a range of easy foods such as dips, hommus  and fruit including pears, peaches, chocolate dipped oranges and dried bananas. I can assure you these chemical free real food treats are fantastic when you’re out in the bush.

Setting out figs, bananas and fruit leather for drying

Preparing and storing food is easy, sustainable and has many advantages. It’s a great way to use surplus produce, is affordable and at times free. It minimises waste, is energy efficient, is a great way to recycle bottles and jars and is enjoyable and creative, healthy and chemical free. Preserving is another long-forgotten homeskill that not only promotes self-reliance but stocktaking preserves, jams, chutneys and dried produce can provide a household with food security and resilience when times aren’t so good.

Just before Christmas I was looking at the Fowlers Vacola preserving kits but decided to hold off until I found out a little more about it. I didn’t even know what size bottles to get or what was involved in the process. I’m also a person who makes a conscious decision when purchasing stuff, especially when it comes to kitchen appliances. The last thing I want is a kitchen full of big expensive gadgets I’ll never use.

Bottled plums ready for the Vacola

Only a matter of weeks later, I came across a preserving course being held at a Permaculture retreat not too far from home. It sounded ideal and as serendipity would have it, I got the last of 20 allocated places.

Our instructors, Kathleen and Leslie, are renowned for their preserving accolades and between them they provided an action packed, comprehensive, hands-on, two day workshop.

Leslie and I pouring the apple and chilli jellies

We cut, we peeled, we sliced and chopped. We stirred and poured and sorted fruit. We learnt about scrumping and testing pectin, bottle sterilisation and jelly stools. We preserved dozens of plums and nectarines, made 12 kilos of boysenberry jam, about the same amount of tomato, chilli and herb chutney, a range of vinegars and several batches of apple jellies with chilli and mint.

For me the course was a very good investment because I came away excited, prepared and confident and as a bonus, got to keep some of the bottled produce.

All the produce made by the group over the weekend

As I learnt on the weekend, preserving is also a very enjoyable process to share with other people. You can split the work, share the costs and still have ample supply for your pantry. And what beautiful gifts bottles of preserves make.

The course was held at the Bandusia Country Retreat nestled in upper Maconald valley west of Wiseman’s Ferry. The venue itself is a rustic hand built retreat and has a great energy which emanates a sense of calm and relaxation. The surrounding Yengo National Park only adds to this and the place is perfect to get away from it all  and learn new skills alongside others with mutual interests.

One of the owners of Bandusia, Penny has mapped out an amazing array of  Permaculture courses for 2012 including Introduction to Permaculture, wool dying, weaving and spinning, cheese making, straw bale and bamboo construction. There’ll be natural bee keeping, chook raising and over Winter another PDC course. We’ll definitely be getting in to some of them.

In the meantime, I’m on the hunt for a 2nd hand Fowlers Vacola preserving kit and I think I better be quick. There’s a definite change in the air with a lot of people talking about preserving and other home making skills and the recent announcements of price cuts to fruit and veggie from Coles and Woolies might just be enticing enough for some to give preserving a go.

A box of plums scrumped from the side of the road

It’s not my intention to buy in extra produce for bottling and preserving but rather I’ll be using any seasonal surplus from my Permaculture garden and freebies from friends and roadside trees. What would be better than having access to a home made batch of pasta sauce made with your very own tomatoes from the garden, or dried banana chips or fruit leather, or bottled peaches, lemons, plums, nectarines on hand throughout the year.

That’s it! I’m on my way down to the garden right now to pluck the next batch of juicy tomates from the vine. I recon I’m pretty close to having a spare kilo so I can get on with my first batch of chutney. I’ll be using the recipe from the course and will definitely share it with you along the way.

And I’ll also tell you more about Jelly Stools!

Stay tuned for my next post….living with eucalypts

A jelly stool

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