Every summer when we were growing up, my mother would spend several weeks bottling the season’s harvests for the pantry. Our tiny kitchen was transformed into a full-blown canning and pickling production line, and just getting in the door involved clambering over cases of produce and navigating your way carefully around masses of glass jars, lids and bags of sugar.
In the early mornings my mother would head down to the auction markets, returning with a bootload of loot before we were even up for breakfast. I used to love going with her on these early morning expeditions, which felt like a cityside version of hunting and gathering. We would zoom into town in the big red Plymouth, and I remember whizzing through the empty streets during that soft, almost surreal time of the morning before the city wakes up.
Arriving at the markets was like entering another world – wide awake, brightly lit, noisy and packed with greengrocers, growers, trollies and the rallying calls of deep-throated auctioneers.
My mother had her drill down pat. First to the counter to register and get her number, then a reccie to find the fruit she wanted before the bidding started. There were usually some cases left over from a bidding line, and my mother would be out there with her little numbered card, hollering things like “six cases for 27 on the apricots” or “four for 27 on the golden queens”. This was wasn’t the mother I knew at home, this savvy white lady hustling for a deal in a sea of Asian men.
Even though I don’t go to anywhere near the same lengths as my mother did to fill our pantry (her mammoth efforts allowed us to enjoy home bottled fruit for breakfast every morning right throughout the year), I always like to put up a couple of dozen jars of peaches, apricots, figs and cherries – my emergency stash for those dinners when I need to summon a dessert like Flambeed Peaches out of nowhere.
Even more than preserving jars of fruit in syrup, I love to regularly make little batches of jams, pickles and chutneys. You don’t need big quantities of produce; even a kilo will lend you a handful of small jars, and the results are a fabulous way to feel resourceful at the same time as creating some signature flavours for your table and to give as gifts to your friends and neighbours.
My new favourite is the Really Useful Apricot Chilli Glaze I make in my Simple Pleasures TV series, using apricots I've picked at my friend's Wanaka apricot orchard. It's super handy to keep in the fridge and use as a glaze on pork ribs, chicken pieces or even ham, or as a dipping sauce for spring rolls.
I love seeing my pantry stocked up with rows of Preserved Lemons, Harvest Tomato Sauce, Chilli Jam, Quince Conserve and Paste, Buttercrunch Cucumber Pickles, Strawberry Jam, Red Pepper Sauce, Rosemary Chilli Oil and Grapefruit Marmalade. The satisfaction in these small efforts far outweighs the amount of effort required.