Despite the fact that there are perfectly passable jams and chutneys on our shop shelves, Delia believes that home-made preserves 'give that pleasurable edge ot everyday life'. And, as she says, there is something intensely satisfying about squirreling away summer's finest fruits and vegetables to enjoy on dark winter days.
Why would anyone want to make preserves in these modern times? After all, in the shops, there’s a wealth of real jams with high fruit content, and chutneys and pickles from around the world. It was okay when our ancestors grew too much for their immediate needs and had to put things by to liven up the dreariness of winter. But our problem now is too much choice, too much food every single month of the year. My answer is that for all the choice available, not a lot of it measures up to home-made.
I hate over-sweet chutney and factory-made piccalilli (I’ve not found a good commercial one yet), and no manufacturer has ever been able to make Seville Orange Marmalade with all the chunkiness, depth and tangy flavour of the home-made. Yes, there are a few exceptions and I confess to being a keen fan of farmers’ markets, where you can buy some fabulous preserves. In fact, I have an excellent recipe for runner-bean chutney, but now that my local farm shop (Alder Carr in Needham Market) sells one every bit as good, I never bother to make it.
Nevertheless, there are exceptions and there’s a great deal of creative satisfaction in seeing a row of shiny jars filled with good things stored away ready to enliven all kinds of meals. I particularly love it at Christmas, with all those cold cuts crying out for what has become a ritual in our house – chunky sautéed potatoes and an array of lovely pickles and chutneys. I’m a romantic and confess to wanting to keep alive our country’s great tradition of preserving, so I am anxious for you to learn the basic techniques, which are not difficult once you understand them. If you’ve been strawberry-picking and have an over-abundance or (as I did once, honestly) climbed a tree and hand-picked a basket of damsons, then a mouthful of summer in the depths of winter in some strawberry preserve spread over hot, buttered crumpets, or a bowl of Spiced Damson Chutney to dip your jacket potato skins into will give that pleasurable edge to everyday life.