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Mrs S’s Soft Fruit Savoury Conserve

This is the time of year when there is so many fruits and vegetables on offer that you wonder what on earth you are going to do with more figs, peaches or nectarines.

Apart from drying the figs in the open air in the sun (which is fine until the damp mornings and evenings start), these are three fruits which all make tasty chutney or conserves – either separately or together.

The days when I have stood over a preserving pan, waiting for vinegar to boil away are long gone – particularly in the wonderful warm weather which we experience in Portugal.

So, here is a short cut to a ‘conserve’ which I hope you will find useful and tasty. Use it with cold meat, white fish, cheeses and even add a little to some good mayonnaise for a really tasty dip. And don’t forget that small pots of home-made goodies make lovely gifts!

*The principle: The principle here is to preserve some fruit to be used within a year, in as speedy a way as possible.

The ingredients: Figs, peaches, nectarines (a mix or just one type – according to your taste and what is cheap or growing in your garden or that of your neighbour), sugar, garlic, wine vinegar. Optional: onions, root ginger, cloves, chilli, cinnamon stick, smoked paprika.

The method: It is always preferable to make smaller batches of these conserves – it is quicker and cooler and you can alter your ‘recipes’ as you go along.

1. All the fruit should be washed and dried with the stones removed from peaches and nectarines. Leave the peel on Cut all fruit into small bite-sized pieces.

2. Heat a very large frying pan and when hot layer sugar across the bottom – just enough so that you cannot see the metal of the pan any longer. Sprinkle two tablespoons of cold water over the sugar.

3. Turn the heat down and add a single layer of fruit. Allow the sugar to melt completely before you stir the fruit.  Once stirred, sprinkle over two crushed or finely chopped cloves of garlic. Allow the fruit to cook for a further 10 minutes before your stir again. This allows the garlic to soften slightly in the steam and juice of the fruit (darkened garlic tastes bitter and does nothing to enhance your finished conserve).

4. Now raise the heat under your pan and pour in 200 mls of white or red wine vinegar. Stir through carefully using a wooden spoon so as not to break up the fruit.

5. Cook for five minutes and then remove from heat. The conserve should be thick and syrupy. If the fruit had a high content of water then you may need to cook for a little longer.

6. Taste. It is most important to do this now. If you want to add more garlic, there will be enough heat in the mixture to soften it without having to cook it for any longer – now is also the time to add more sugar or more vinegar according to your taste.

7. When you are satisfied with the flavour – and remember that this will develop as it ages – allow to cool slightly and decant into small plastic boxes or small warmed jars and label.

8. The conserve in plastic boxes should then be frozen, as this will keep well in the freezer.  Jars should be stored in a dark cupboard.

Optional flavourings: Onions – onions are a staple ingredient in a lot of chutney recipes, and are a good cheap vegetable to bulk out more expensive ingredients. They do need quite a lot of cooking. If you want to use them in the above conserve simmer them in the vinegar that you are going to use and add them at stage 4 above.

Root ginger is a wonderful addition to various preserves. If you like your ‘chutney’ spicy add a 5 cms piece which has been grated to the mix at the end of stage 3 above.

Cloves and Cinnamon– both make for a very warming preserve. You can use powdered cloves or cinnamon (add at beginning of stage 3) or whole cloves or cinnamon stick which should be added at the beginning of stage 5.  Be careful cloves are a very strong flavour and remove the cinnamon stick pieces before you store the preserve.

Chilli – I confess to using Lazy Chilli (the stuff that comes in the jar ready chopped and includes the seeds).  Add to your taste – remember that the flavour develops with keeping during stage 5.

Smoked Paprika – a softer choice than chilli and wonderful with apricots or Plums, but also good with figs, peaches and nectarines. Add during stage 5.

*Some chutney, preserves and conserves will last way longer than 12 months, but this does depend on the quality of the fruit, the length of time it is cooked and how it is stored.