Photo: Florence Charvin

I have an overwhelming urge to gather fresh summer produce. 

I shop for ripe summer fruit with the urgency of a honey bee gathering pollen during the late afternoon. The first flush of field-ripened abundance triggers an ancient gathering instinct that results in a twenty kilo still-life arrangement on the kitchen bench that ultimately attracts fruit flies and a feeling of guilt.

I put it down to a genetic compulsion … an innate need to reap the harvest. Revelling in the thrill of overloading myself with bags stuffed with way more produce than I could hope to deal with in the limited time available between ripe and rot. I am conscious of overdoing it whilst plundering, but I can’t help myself. The allure of a replete display gets me every time.

Then what? 

Buy jars and spices, sugar, vinegar and preserving pans in order to cook the life out of baskets of abundance before squirrelling the chutney-fied summer harvest away in a cupboard for the winter? In the process I’m probably spending more money than I’m saving. 

That’s not the point and to be honest I rarely buy jars, reusing instead. I note that jars and lids have the same unstable partnerships as socks do on wash day but I’m happy to try and re-marry lid to jar whilst squinting and crying through a haze of chilli sauce fumes.

The well-established motto, “If you can’t hunt it, gather it,” is as true today as it ever was. 

Sitting on the fertile Heretaunga plains, we are a short walk from the summer surfeit. Just past the ever encroaching fifty shades of greige subdivisions lie the fields of plenty. Fruit and field crops abound. We should pay better tribute to these horticultural gems and to the growers who tackle the seasons like wily poker players by creating delicious delicacies. Add the home-grown plums, citrus, lemons, ubiquitous ‘freejoas’, and a load of rhubarb into the pot and we have preserves and pickles for a large continent. 

Or more accurately, we could. In truth, we still buy bananas in the middle of summer and grapes from Chile all year round.

Abundance is a challenge. Both on a commercial and a garden scale. Whether bottling, canning, freezing, or dehydrating it all takes time and a degree of diligence. We must prepare ourselves. 

I’m a frequent preserver because I love to share a jar of something that I’ve made. I taste frequently as I cook rather than following a recipe so no one ever gets the same thing twice. I freeze produce and have dabbled in dehydrating, but I find those cheap and noisy machines ineffective so use the oven instead.

I’ve come to the conclusion that while a certain amount of preserving and conserving is beneficial, so is swapping or giving away fresh fruit and vegetables. Make the glut someone else’s problem! I was asked recently by a friend if I liked rhubarb. A “well, yes, I guess so” response was enough to see me travelling home with a bunch. With one simple question she had made her rhubarb problem my rhubarb problem. And I made my rhubarb problem into rhubarb and tangelo marmalade.

 To roll your sleeves up and save the summer bounty, here are my tips:

• Aromatise spices by dry frying them before you grind them.

• Be social. Work with a group of friends. Share equipment. It’s fun. Post pictures on social media, you could be famous!

• Wash your jars and make sure they’re clean, fill them with piping hot preserve and put the lid on straight away. The preserve will sterilise the jar so you don’t need to. As the product cools the lid will be sucked down tight.

• Freeze basil leaves in a ziplock bag for use in cooking during the year.

• Try different vinegars and citrus juice in chutneys and pickles.

• Try different sugars such as palm sugar, honey, apple syrup.

• Add citrus zest for flavour and appearance.

• Get a good stick blender for sauce making.

• Jar fresh raw cherries with the same weight of sugar and leave the jar in the sun. The cherries will preserve themselves in their own alcohol. Keeps for years. 

• Add cherries to gin or vodka and store.

• Consider getting a vacuum packer to extend freezer life and save space.

• At the end of the season, slice up green tomatoes and salt them to draw water. After a couple of hours drain the tomatoes and then boil them in vinegar for one minute.Pack them into jars with herbs and garlic and then fill the jars with a good quality olive oil. It’s a cheeseboard winner.

• Make apple or pear tarte tatin. It’s quick, easy and well loved.

• Make kimchi.

• Make fruit-infused vinegars.

• At the season’s end, pull chilli bushes out and hang them up to dry the fruit.

• Add rhubarb to your marmalade. 

Photo: Florence Charvin


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