I’ve been looking at my dad’s old gardening book; his copy was from 1949 but it had been written several years earlier, maybe even before the war. Its Practical Gardening and Food Production’ – in those days, and certainly when my parents had their garden, growing your own fruit and vegetables was really vital. Nearly every vegetable we ate, apart from tinned, was grown in the garden. We also had apples and pears and maybe some currant and gooseberry bushes, but I can’t remember them.
One of the last chapters is Storing and Preserving, because of course a productive garden had more in it than could be eaten so finding ways to keep fruit and vegetables for later was really important. The first part of the chapter is abut root vegetables, some of which could be left in the ground, some clamped, and some stored in other ways; as well as the regular items like potatoes, onions, carrots and turnips and parsnips, there’s Jerusalem artichokes, celeriac, salsify and scorzonera. There’s detailed instructions on how to dig up and gather the vegetables to keep them in good condition and not to spoil or waste them.
Drying vegetables and fruit begins with “except for beans, the drying of vegetables is not recommended.” There follows detailed instructions on how to satisfactorily dry them, blanching and then leaving in a slow oven. Dutch beans are particularly recommended – “it should be noted that Dutch beans are rich in protein, fat and carbohydrates, and have a calorific value of approximately seven hundred per pound. They provide an excellent substitute for meat.” Drying fruit is much more successful, apparently, apples, pears an plums in particular, and also herbs.
Preserving produce by bottling has several pages and illustrations of methods and equipment and detailed instructions – apples, pears, stone fruits, soft fruits, blackberries, currants, gooseberries, loganberries (my mum’s favorite) strawberries, tomatoes can all be successfully stored in bottles and jars – and how wonderful they must have looked on the cupboard shelves! At the end there is a section on ‘Faults in Bottled Fruits’ – faulty sealing, poor flavour, cloudy covering liquid, fruit rising in the bottles, air bubbles, fruit turning brown and poor colour.
Bottling vegetables has its own section, asparagus, beans, carrots, celery and peas – these days people may still bottle fruit, but I can’t imagine anyone bottling vegetables – freezing would be the popular option! Last of all is salting – which sounds so simple but I can tell you from experience it’s not – I tried and the result was disgusting and disappointing! And finally, pickles and chutney – now there I have had success!