Gardeners preserve

MANDY EVANS
Last updated 05:00 17/11/2012

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Growing your own groceries is fun, often challenging, but above all rewarding and Lynda Hallinan's workshops reflect this.

When your ginger beer explodes (yep, done that), your jam boils over and your kitchen turns into a sticky mess (ditto), those jars of special fruit you were preserving break and you hate the thought of wasting the produce so much you're tempted, just for a second, to wash the glass off, before commonsense prevails and you bin it (I can relate to that too) there's really not much you can do except clean up the mess then get some laughter mileage out of it.

While to the uninitiated the above might make pickling and preserving your harvest sound like a recipe for disaster, those who bottle and pickle fruit and veges will laugh in empathy, knowing that behind every failure tale there's likely to be a success story resulting in yet another shelf full of delicious produce.

"If you start pickling and preserving you're on a slippery slope to crazydom," Lynda said at the beginning of the workshop.

She's right, but I'd add for the hoarders amongst us that pickling and preserving can also lead to some distinctly Gollum-like moments.

While giving away your products is fine and can even be as rewarding as crooning over the shiny bottles in the cupboard, there will come a time when you realise you're never going to eat the 20 jars of peach jam you made several years ago after a bumper crop and then couldn't give away because everyone else had heaps of peaches too.

From there, your eyes will skip to the next shelf and you'll wonder why you thought you actually needed seven different kinds of chutney back in 2009.

"And did you need to make such big batches of each? As your newer bottles start to crowd the shelves, the logical part of your brain will reason that you must weed out the oldest or the average-tasting ones.

Meanwhile, a small, prehistoric corner of your mind will cause you to begin clutching bottles to your chest muttering, "Precious, my precious. . . "

The sensible part of your brain will then put its foot down and swear that next season you will absolutely only make what you can consume or give away.

Then you'll hear someone like Lynda talking about cool recipes you haven't tried yet and that's it; you're lost again, making lists of ingredients and salivating over new flavours.

Tastebuds and hoarding instincts aside, there's something comforting about preserving your harvest. Lynda spoke of the parallels with her grandmother's generation - she uses some of her grandmother's preserving jars - and the bonding experience of mothers and daughters preserving together.

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I have happy memories of my grandmother's garden and her gifts of food.

I also enjoyed spending hours with my mother when I was younger, preparing fruit for bottling.

Now Mum has a smaller (although still incredibly productive) garden, she has passed her preserving knowledge and her Vacola, a purpose-built preserver, on to me.

Preparing fruit and veges for pickling and preserving can be time-consuming but I'll share my secret; I work at the picnic table outside on our deck enjoying the fresh air, with my telephone headset on so I can chat to friends or family.

My hands are busy so the must-keep-working part of my brain focuses on that and lets the rest of me enjoy a good old goss without muttering that I really should be getting on with things.

When the cupboards start getting too full, Lynda has a suggestion I fully agree with, although if you're not careful it can lead to another, slightly old-fashioned definition of the word "pickled": You can add most fruit to some kind of alcohol and the resulting liqueurs, gins and brandies will taste so good you won't have to worry about your grog cabinet overflowing.

mandyevans.co.nz

- The Marlborough Express

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