Preserving and Freezing Fruit
For the gardener who has a bountiful harvest, a few simple steps can help preserve fruit for year-round use.
For many fruit crops, even more so than vegetables, the harvest is fast and furious in summer and fall, often presenting you with a glut. Fortunately, there are ways to even out the harvest, and by using simple preserving techniques, you need not waste a single berry.
Even Out the Harvest
All types of fruit have their own cropping periods, but with careful planning you can aim for a selection that gives a steady, mixed harvest, from gooseberries and strawberries in early summer, to late apples and grapes in fall. Most fruit is also available in early-, mid-, and late-season varieties, which extends their season by several weeks. You can also extend the growing season of certain container-grown fruit, such as ever bearing strawberries, by moving them under cover in the spring or fall.
Store Apples and Pears
Established apple and pear trees tend to be bountiful and most likely to give you a surplus crop. Early-fruiting varieties should be eaten fresh, but late croppers will last for weeks or months if stored correctly.
Harvest apples when they pull away in your hand; pick the pears when still under-ripe. To store, select only unblemished fruit, place them in single layers in shallow containers or on shelves. Store the fruit in a cool, frost-free, well-ventilated spot under cover, and check them regularly for signs of decay.
Freezing freshly picked fruit is the best way to preserve the flavors, colors and textures while at their peak. All sorts of fruit can be stored this way, whether frozen whole like gooseberries, pitted like cherries or first cut into usable slices, like apples and peaches.
Some soft fruits have a tendency to clump together when frozen, especially small berries, and are best frozen individually on trays. When frozen, they can then be placed into bags and containers. You can also use this method to prevent sliced fruit from sticking together when frozen. Date all frozen fruit, and use within three to six months to enjoy it at its best.
Jams, Sauces and Cordials
The traditional approach to preserving fruit is to boil it in sugar and water to make thick-set jams or syrupy cordials. This is a simple way of preserving many types of fruit, including currants, strawberries, gooseberries, blackberries, raspberries, apples, and plums, either as single or mixed flavors.
Jams will last for up to six months. Fruit sauces often contain spices, and are cooked until thickened but still runny. They keep for a few weeks. Cordials are strained to a thin syrup, which is then diluted with water to drink right away. The syrup will last a few days or can be frozen in ice cube trays as individual portions.
Canning is a traditional method of preserving fruit (either whole or in large pieces) and can be used for a wide range of tree and bush fruit. There are various ways to can fruit, but all involve putting the fruit in jars with hot or cold sugar syrup, heating, then sealing them with air-tight lids. The jars should be stored in a cool dark place, and used throughout fall and winter.
Fruit can also be preserved in alcohol to produce flavored alcohol, such as raspberry vodka, or steeped in wine or cider vinegar to make fruit-flavored vinegars. Only can clean, undamaged fruit. Sterilize all jars by washing thoroughly in hot, soapy water before drying completely in a warm oven.