Posted: 08/09/2013 at 03:31
Zoomer, No one's questions are ever silly, Are we all supposed to know everything?Nobody is an expert on anything, we are always learning, however much we know about a subject. We can pass on our experiences or those of others, but everyone should look for other ideas, all of the the time, and that is why this forum is so good and so busy. ANYWAYS, When I make jams, sauces, pickles etc, if I only have metal lids, they go in the oven with the jars, then I use greaseproof paper(also warmed in oven with jars) on top of the jar and then screw the lid down. You need everything to be sterile, and preferably hot when sealing so as to cause the vacuum that Dove mentions. some recipes state to put the produce in the jar when cool, but I have tried that and then opened them to find mould. Everything should be as hot as poss and bottled quickly.
As far as choosing your vinegar and spices, this depends on your preferences. If you want a consistent flavour, then Sarsons(can get at Tesco, just ordered some) make a pickling vinegar which is 6% acid and already has the spices added. They make a white Distilled and a malt version. If you want to keep the colour, eg pickling beetroot, red cabbage or onions, I would choose the distilled, for chutneys where colour is less important, the malt. There is little difference in flavour.
You can vary the flavour of your produce by using different vinegars and spices, and your ingredients You could use all green toms, or all red, or mix the two. The spices that Dove mentions are quite traditional, and you can buy packets or mix your own, depending on taste. Always use the same measure and record what you did to get any kind of consistency if you like something. I tend not to, and have regretted it, but this yr made the most amazing strawberry conserve (should have been jam but didn't set enough, so was a successful mistake) that everyone wanted more of. Luckily, I DID write it down this yr, so may be able to do it again. I made 12 1lb jars and a few little jars, and they had all been finished 1 wk later (given to people) with requests for more next yr. The prob is reproducing that. Will I get the same fruit? will it be picked at the same time? Will it have the same taste or will it, next yr, be ordinary strawberry jam? A mistake made the best produce I have ever 'produced' My redcurrant jelly was the clearest ever, looked the best, but has not gone down so well. Sorry, going off the point while I brag about my conserve!
Whatever vinegar you choose MUST have an acid content of 5% or above, or it will not keep properly. You can use wine, cider, malt or any other that you can find, as long as the acid content is at least 5%. IME very cheap vinegars can be weak in the acid content, and as not all will give this on the label, it is worth using ph paper to test it first. If you can't get this at your chemist, you can buy it online. All of these vinegars will give a different flavour to your produce, just as much as your choice of spices. When I make mint sauce, I use white wine vinegar as it has a mild, soft flavour that doesn't overpower the mint. You can really taste the mint, whereas bought mint sauce uses malt or distilled malt vinegar, so you may as well just put vinegar on your lamb! My youngest boy doesn't call it 'mint sauce', he asks for 'mum-made sauce'!
Chutneys often benefit from a malt, if you are mixing a few different veg, but experiment with vinegars and spices. The rules are only those of preservation, flavour comes from your imagination, so when you get a good un, I hope you will post it or pm me with it!
I know I go on a bit, sorry, but if I can share what I've learned through my own mistakes, I can learn from others, too. Incidentally, my Nanna made Damson jam some 30 or more yrs ago. Mum died 2 yrs ago and i found a few jars still in her cupboard. I have opened one, and it is lovely, and perfectly preserved, like a fine wine. Comes to something when even ice cubes have a best before date! Can no-one exercise common sense or discertion, these days? BBD are the reason that so much food is wasted now. 30 y-o jam is fine, but Ice cannot be kept for more than a yr! So use your own discretion in storing your produce. And put some in really nice jars for presents.Wouldn't mind a wee sample myself, and i'll send a bit of mine?