The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Still laid up but I’ve been bottling foraged fruit

Photo: Bottled cherry plums

Photo: Bottled cherry plums

I’m getting to the end of my third week being in bed. Finally last week my doctor discovered that I have a problem with my kidneys. I was beginning to wonder whether I’d just fade away like one of Dicken’s heroines.

So now we are waiting for more test results. Meanwhile I languish in the big spare room bed feeling lousy. I get up for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I’ve been out on two mini foraging trips to harvest wild plums and have bottled (canned) six kilos to eat in the winter months. I’ve also been harvesting the chubby wild blackberries that grow in our garden for wine and bottling with sliced apples. Gentle satisfying exercise.

We usually make jam, jelly and chutney with the wild cherry plums but this year I wanted to try bottling this fruit. When I was a child my mum bottled a lot of fruit (freezers were rare in those days) and I loved looking at the jars lined up on the larder shelves. Comfortable, squat, their fruit suspended in the coloured syrup.

There’s lots of good advice about bottling on the internet. I found the site very useful. In the end I rang my mum and she looked up her old method in her ancient Ideal Gas cookery book. Here are the instructions for bottling plums.

  • Make a syrup of anything between 4ozs (113g) to a pound (454g) of white sugar to one pint (568ml) of water. My mum tipped to use the minimum sugar as too much can make the syrup taste sickly.
  • Sterilise jars, rings and caps. Always use new rubber seals.
  • Wash fruit and discard any bad or bruised  fruit.
  • Set the oven to Gas Mark ½ (120°C, 250°F).
  • Pack the jars very tightly with the plumbs pushing them firmly down.
  • Put several sheets of newspaper into a deep baking tray (to absorb any liquid that bubbles over)
  • Place the jars two inches apart on the baking tray. Fill to the makers mark (about an inch below the rim) with boiling syrup. Lids on very loosely (not tightened or clipped shut).
  • Bake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes. (Times change depending on the fruit used).
  • Remove the baking tray and seal the topsof the jars firmly using a thick oven cloth.
  • Leave for 24 hours before testing the seals.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Evie

    I’m pretty sure that you can still use them. I’m going to use mine anyway 🙂

  2. So can I still use them or correct them in anyway or are they rendered useless 🙁 … Oh well, at least i’ve still got lots of plums!

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Evie

    This has happened to me when I’ve forgotten to press the fruit/tomatoes down hard with the back of a wooden spoon. The faulty jars are now in our storage area in the barn and each time I see them I kick myself.

    A boring learning curve.

  4. Hi, wonder if you can help me – i’ve just bottled some plums for the first time following your instructions except I slow water bathed them as per One problem and I can’t find an answer to it on the internet – the fruit has risen to the top of the jars leaving a 2 cm gap at the bottom of syrup – what did i do wrong?? Many thanks

  5. kate (uk)

    Tess- google Gooseberry Relish recipe- loads of recipes come up, the first four I read were very similar to the Hulme and Downes one. Problem solved I hope!

  6. Many thanks for your contribution..I will keep looking.

  7. kate (uk)

    I know this sounds bonkers, but the winning jelly at our village show was gooseberry and mint. It was stupendous.Would be lovely with meat of any sort.
    The only gooseberry relish recipe I have come across is in in the penguin Cordon Bleu Book of Jams Preserves and Pickles by Rosemary Hume and Muriel Downes. This is an excellent book by the way, if you can find a second hand one cheap, do so ( the one on amazon is an OUTRAGEOUS price…)…not sure I can post the recipe on here without infringing copyright, otherwise I would! I suggest keeping the Goosegogs in the freezer until you get hold of a sensibly priced copy the book!

  8. I have some beautiful red gooseberries in the freezer at the moment and I am looking for a Gooseberry relish recipe to eat with pate….any suggestions?

  9. Hi all,

    Has anyone ever made jelly using haws?

    I was given the recipe last year and it is a beautifully fragrant jelly and tastes delicious.

    Put 3 lbs. of washed haws and 3 pints of water in a saucepan and simmer for 1 hour. Strain thru muslin and to each pint of juice add 1 lb. of sugar and strained juice of 1 lemon. Boil until setting point is reached, etc etc. Heavenly!! Go on, try it. You know you want to!!

  10. Dear Paul and Fiona,

    Rowan Jelly
    Makes: 1.4 – 1.8kg (3 – 4lb)

    900g (2lb) Rowan Berry
    900g (2lb) Crab Apples
    1.8lt (3 pints) Water

    Pick over the rowan berries, removing any stalks, wash if necessary, drying well.
    Wash the whole crab apples, removing any bruised parts.
    Place the fruit and just enough water to cover into a heavy bottomed saucepan.
    Bring to the boil and simmer, covered for 20 – 25 minutes, until tender.
    Strain through a jelly bag or muslin cloth, allow about 4 hours for this, do not squeeze as this will cause the jelly to become cloudy.
    Measure the volume of the liquid, add 450g (1lb) of sugar for each pint (600ml) of liquid.
    Place the sugar in an ovenproof bowl and put it in the centre of a pre-heated oven for 10 – 15 minutes.
    Place the juice back into a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the sugar, stirring until fully dissolved.
    Bring to the boil and cook rapidly for 10 – 15 minutes until the setting point is reached.
    Skim the surface if necessary, allow to cool slightly then pot.

    This is the Mrs Beeton recipe, and you can substitute cooking apples for crabs. Actually, all of Mrs Beeton’s preserve recipes seem to be up on the Foody website which is quite useful if you don’t own an ancient copy (which I do). They are invariably reliable in my experience (have just made delicious damson jam from here). I would also highly recommend her Indian Chutney (at which I made as a way to use up my surplus apples in 2007. I used curry powder instead of the spices and it worked very well.
    Thanks for the muslin bag tip — I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself!

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