Everything You Need To Know About Food Preserving At Home

It's actually pretty easy.

Have you ever had a wishful desire to be that person who turns up to a social gathering bearing a jar of tomato chutney or pickled fennel?

Yep, so have we. They're delicious -- not to mention incredibly impressive.

But whilst a jar of homemade goodies screams hospitable guest, this age-old craft goes much further.

"For me, preserving just makes sense. It's about knowing what's going into your food, reducing waste and making food last longer. That's the real crux," Alex Elliott-Howery, co-owner of Sydney's Cornersmith cafe and picklery told The Huffington Post Australia.

I think extending the life of something is a much bigger issue.

"It's something that has gotten lost these days because we have so much access to cheap food. People used to preserve because they couldn't afford to throw food away, but these days we can all afford to and it doesn't affect us that much."

It's also a craft that forms the cornerstone of Elliott-Howery's family-run cafe turned thriving business.

"We're always coming up with new ways to preserve food that's going off," Elliott-Howery said.

Amid chatter around vinegars, sterilisation and use-by dates, we'd forgive you for thinking it's more trouble than it's worth. Think again.

"Everyone gets terrified and feels like they're going to poison their family. This is a home-food craft that people have been doing for years. We need to leave our fear about use-by dates and things going off to the side," Elliott-Howery said.

Once you've done that, here's what you need to know.

Get those jars ready.
Get those jars ready.

Only preserve what's in season.

Whether you're preserving or pickling, this is Elliott-Howery's most important message.

"A lot of people don't even realise that there are seasons because we have so much access to so much produce," Elliott-Howery said.

"We don't need to be eating pears and apples right now... we need to be eating the plums and stone fruits because that's what is growing. That's what is abundant and delicious."

Only preserve stuff that is in season -- don't buy and use imported or frozen goods. Otherwise you're defeating the entire process."

Not only is seasonal produce more economical -- food growing in season will cost you about the third of the price of something that isn't -- it is ethical.

"If there are mountains of tomatoes around, that's what farmers are growing and that's what we need to be buying. Otherwise, this produce isn't used. Where is it going?" Elliott-Howery said.

"People should buy what they can afford and what they have access to."

Tomatoes are so this season... so is passata

You may have seen a whole range of tomatoes popping up at your local grocer. Contrary to popular belief, 'tis the season.

As such, Huffpost Australia heard from Elliott-Howery about Cornersmith's popular 'Tomato Day' that is taking over Marrickville. We're talking everything from whole bottled tomatoes, to chutney and bottled passata.

How to make passata:

1. Roast the tomatoes before starting with garlic, onion, salt and pepper to intensify the flavour. Pop them into the oven to brown.

2. Run them through a mouli (a type of sieve) to squash them through a grate. This takes any bitterness out the skin, seeds or any ugly bits. At this point, add things like basil and oregano.

3. Pour the tomato mix into a pot, bring it to the boil and pour into hot, sterilised jars.


"This process goes for any kind of preserving. Give your jars a hot, soapy wash and a rinse and put them into a low oven at about 110 degrees for about 15 minutes," Elliott-Howery said.

"The best method is to boil the lids and let them air dry for 15 minutes."

4. To heat process, put all of your jars into a big pot of water, bring it to the boil and boil for one hour.


"This is a crucial process -- especially for passata containing no vinegar nor additives -- that brings your preserve up to a high temperature, rendering the jars hostile and allowing no bacteria to grow," Elliott-Howery said.

"You also need to force all of the oxygen out of the jar to build up the pressure inside. As the oxygen is forced out, the lids start to puff up. As they are cooling, a little vacuum will form inside which sucks the lids down and seals the jar."

5. Take the jars out of the pot and let them cool down.

5. Store your passata in the cupboard and it will last for about one year.


Enjoy what you're doing

The world of pickling and preserving is diverse -- and so it can become daunting. Elliott-Howery recommends finding one craft that works for you.

"If you love jam, make jam. Find someone else who likes making pickles and do a swap," Elliott-Howery said. "I think the pressure to try everything can be a little overwhelming."

Learn as you go

"Start with smaller batches of one thing when you're starting out and go from there," Elliott-Howery said. " Once you understand the process, then try something else."

Search for advice

There's a lot of picklers out there, according to Elliott-Howery.

"Talk to your neighbours or come to a workshop. It's surprising how many people know how to preserve. This is the best way to learn -- it can be hard to get your head around it by a book."

So goddamn cute! Tomato Day wouldn't be the same with these two dreamboats. 🍅💖🍅💖

A photo posted by Cornersmith cafes and picklery (@cornersmith) on

Nobody's perfect -- especially when it comes to preserving.

"Bumps, bruises and a bit of squishy is fine," Elliott-Howery said. "The farmers are struggling with all of this hot weather this season, so if you see a box of tomatoes, grab it."