Preserving is Tremendous Fun

A few weeks ago I ran a course here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School called ‘How to keep a few chickens in the garden’, it was totally over-subscribed – I was thrilled because keeping hens has been one of my great passions ever since I was a child. Later in the year in October we have a course called ‘Everything but the Squeal’ with Frank Krawczyk, Frank will show how to use every bit of a pig – making brawn, pates, salamis, sausages, kassler, dry cured smoked bacon – even how to construct your own simple home smoker.
I’ve also had a request for a course on bee-keeping, how to rear a few turkeys for Christmas, how to make butter, simple cheese, how to grow a few simple vegetables – suddenly there seems to be a craving to learn forgotten skills which is music to my ears. I’ve always felt that we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater in our headlong rush to forget the hard times and embrace modernity. Now that we are a bit more prosperous we’re determined to show the neighbours that we can afford to buy anything we like and don’t have to grow it or make it ourselves.
Well – guess what arrived on my desk this week – a book entitled ‘Preserved’ by Nick Sandler and Johnny Acton with a foreword by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, which is completely perfect for those of us who are becoming more and more disenchanted with the quality of mass-produced food and who are craving slow foods, cooked or preserved in the time-honoured way.
We are unquestionably witnessing a backlash against additive-heavy, mass-produced foods. Home-preserving – whether smoking, drying, salting, fermenting or infusing – is a hugely satisfying and often surprisingly simple process that enables you to prepare food just the way you like it, enjoying the fuller flavour that results from traditional techniques. For example, many shop-bought ‘smoked’ meats have merely been infused with ‘liquid smoke’, a process that undermines their rich taste. As more of us seek greater involvement with our food in the garden and the kitchen, a new generation is being seduced by modern interpretations of the age-old methods that produce the most delicious and rewarding results. Above all, preserving is tremendous fun. 
This book combines a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to the techniques of home-preserving with lots of exciting recipes to showcase the results, Preserved includes international favourites such as biltong, pickled eggs, herbes de provence and pancetta as well as familiar delicacies: smoked salmon, kippers, sloe gin and exquisite jams. Regaling us with anecdotes from the history of preserving – the practice among American World War II pilots of tying cartons of the ingredients to their planes to make ice cream, for example – Nick and Johnny show how to build your own smokehouse, bottle fruit in alcohol, dry herbs and cure ham. Preserving is alchemy. It is about transforming food, creating dishes that you will enjoy not only because they are cheaper and more flavoursome than shop-bought products, but because you will have crafted them to your own palate. It is also – as Nick and Johnny’s families will testify – addictive: once you have tasted your own efforts, you will be increasingly reluctant to return to inferior, mass-produced food.
Here are some of the many recipes from the book.

Goose Rillettes from ‘Preserved’
Rillettes consist of seasoned meat slowly cooked in fat, then teased apart and preserved in it.
1 goose, weighing around 4kg (9lb)
800g (1¾ lb) pork shoulder, boned
600g (1¼ lb) pork belly fat
3 bay leaves
3 thyme branches
8 black peppercorns
6 juniper berries

Remove the skin from the goose. De-bone the bird, then cut the meat into chunks, reserving any fat you come across.
Mince together the pork shoulder, belly fat and goose fat.
Combine all the ingredients in a large, heavy-based pan. Cook slowly 3 hours with the lid on, stirring occasionally. Don’t let the mixture stick. If it starts to, add a drop or two of water.
The goose meat will eventually start to fall apart. You can hasten the process by teasing it with a fork.
Sterilise some pots*. Take out the goose meat with a slotted spoon and press it down firmly into them. Pour the remaining fat on top, cover and leave to set in the fridge.
Serve with warm French bread and cheap rosé wine. The rillettes will keep for at least 2 weeks in the fridge.
*To sterilise the pots:
To sterilise jars or bottles, wash them in soapy water, rinse thoroughly, then immerse them in boiling water for 10 minutes before drying in a cool or recently switched-off oven. Ditto lids, seals and funnels if using. 

Dried Tomatoes

In recent times, sun- and semi-dried tomatoes have become indispensable to cooks wherever they happen to live. But unless you can reliably predict several days of breezy weather with low humidity and daytime temperatures in excess of 32C/90F, which is roughly never where we live, you’ll have to fall back on other options.
The chief options are using a dehydrator, a low oven with the door ajar or your home-made drying box. An ingenious alternative is to place a rack of tomatoes on the shelf under your car’s rear window on a hot day.

Fully dried tomatoes
Drying times will vary according to the size of your tomatoes, but as a rule of thumb, 15 hours in a low oven or 30 in a drying box is about right. However, tomatoes in any given batch will not dry at exactly the same rate, so you need to remove them individually as they become ready. This when they are firm but no longer juicy.
Whichever method you use, you have two main choices. The first is to cut the tomatoes in half and lay them face up on a fine-meshed rack, sprinkling a few grains of sea salt on each face. The second is to dry them intact on the vine. This involves lying the tomatoes on a similar rack, vine stalk down, before cutting a small cross in the top of each and filling it with a pinch of salt.
Once dried, tomatoes can be stored at ambient temperatures in sealable containers for up to 6 months. Before use, they will need to be rehydrated by soaking in warm water for half an hour. They should always be cooked before they are eaten.

Semi-dried tomatoes

As the name suggests, semi-dried tomatoes are removed from the source of heat half way through the drying process. They are then packed into sterilised pots which are filled with olive oil. These will keep in the fridge for up to 6 months. They are moist and more than good enough to incorporate in stews, sandwiches and sauces without further ado. We’ve achieved our best results using various varieties of cherry tomatoes.

Candied Peel
Candying can transform things you wouldn’t normally want to eat – in this case sour orange peel – into luxurious delights. Try dipping one end of the finished peel in molten dark chocolate and the other in granulated sugar.
One of ingredients here is glucose syrup. Its function here is to give the candied orange peel lustre and to prevent is surfaces from hardening.

1kg (2¼lb) navel orange skin* (this equates to 4-5kg (9-11lb) whole oranges)
1.8kg (4lb) caster sugar
200g (7oz) glucose syrup

*Try to get hold of unwaxed oranges. To skin them, cut into quarters and gently peel away the flesh. Alternatively peel them whole and use the fruit to make ‘Oranges in Brandy’.
Cut the skin into strips and simmer them in water for about 30 minutes until soft. Drain the strips, then place them in a saucepan along with 1kg (2½lb) of the sugar.
Cover with water so that none of the peel is protruding, then simmer for half an hour. Remove the syrup from the heat and leave it to cool with the saucepan lid on.
Next day, remove the strips of peel with a slotted spoon, then add a further 200g (7oz) sugar to the syrup and heat it to boiling point, making sure that all the ‘new’ sugar dissolves. Remove the syrup from the heat and replace the peel. Then leave the pan to cool for another 24 hours, again with its lid on.
Repeat the process three more times, adding 200g (7oz) of sugar to the syrup on each occasion until you have used it all up. On the fifth day you add the glucose syrup instead. Bring to the boil as before, then pour over the peel.
Leave the peel covered for 24 hours, then remove it and lay it out on greaseproof paper. Allow to dry for 24-48 hours until all moisture has disappeared but the peel is still soft.
Dip in granulated sugar and store between layers of greaseproof paper in an airtight container for up to 6 months.
Candied Orange Segments
You can also candy entire orange segments in this way, with the skin still attached to the flesh. Proceed exactly as above, simmering the segments for a time before combining them with sugar. When ready, they are wonderful dipped in chocolate.


Bresaola is soft, salted and air-dried beef eaten raw. The original and best examples hail from the Valtellina mountains on the borders of Italy and Switzerland. Cut into thin, succulent , almost translucent ruby-red slices and served with olive oil, lemon juice and parmesan, bresaola is one of the classic Italian starters.
To make bresaola.

1 large lean top rump (around 2kg/4½lb) tied tight with string
500ml (18fl.oz) red wine (eg Chianti)
2 teaspoons ground red chilli powder
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
6 bay leaves, shredded
750g (1lb 10oz) coarse salt
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
10 sprigs of rosemary, roughly chopped
10 sprigs of thyme, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons sugar

enough muslin to wrap the beef
red wine vinegar, for washing

Place the beef in a large Tupperware container and cover it with all the ingredients bar the muslin and vinegar. Massage them well in. Leave the meat to marinate in the fridge for 1 week, turning it over every day to ensure an even distribution of marinade.
After this period, brush the marinade off the beef and wrap it in muslin. Hang it in a dry, cool place for 1 month. It will drip for a day or two, so take appropriate measures to protect your floor.
The bresaola has matured when it feels firm to the touch. Once it is ready, wash it down with red wine vinegar, then dry it with a cloth. Store in the fridge, preferably in a container, for up to 1 month.

Salt Pork

Salt pork is usually made from pork belly and often from the fattier portions thereof. It can be either dry-cured or brined. We prefer the dry-curing method, and here’s how we do it.
To make salt pork

Take 5kg (1l lb) of pork belly and cut it into strips of about 1 kg (2¼lb)
Trim off the bones and make regular incisions in the skin. 
Get hold of a wooden box and sprinkle a layer of sea salt at the bottom.
Lay a single layer of pork on top, cover it with salt and massage it in a little. Repeat the process until all the pork is covered with salt, leaving a layer of salt on the top.
Place a lid on the box and leave in a cool place for 4 weeks. The juices will run from the base of the box as the salt draws them out by osmosis, so you will want to place a suitable receptacle underneath to catch them.
Every few days check to see that the pork is well covered with salt. If it isn’t, don’t be shy about adding some more.
When you remove the pork from the box, wipe it down with a cloth, then wrap it in muslin or in a paper bag and hang it in cool, dark, airy place. It will keep for years, though it will become harder as time goes by. You may want to halt the hardening process by transferring the pork to an airtight container and placing it in the fridge after a month or two.
If it is very hard, salt pork needs to be soaked before you cook with it. You may want to soak or at least rinse it thoroughly anyway, as it is unsurprisingly on the salty side.
Salt pork is delicious chopped up into small pieces and fried until crispy. It goes very well with rice, peas and salt cod
Foolproof Food

Righteous Raspberry Lollies

- from Preserved
These lollies contain no dairy products or refined sugar. You can suck on them with a clear conscience and allow your children to do the same.
300g (10½oz) raspberries
200g (7oz) clear honey
juice of 1 medium lemon
lolly moulds (available in catering shops and department stores)
ice-cream sticks*

*You can buy these in catering shops, alternatively, use wooden kebab skewers cut to size.
Heat the raspberries in a saucepan with the honey and lemon juice until the mixture comes to the boil. Remove from the heat and mash with a potato masher.
Pass the mixture through a vegetable mill or conical sieve to get rid of the pips.
Leave it to cool, then pour into the lolly moulds. Insert the lolly sticks, then freeze.
Hot Tips

Preserved by Nick Sandler and Johnny Acton, has just been published by Kyle Cathie Ltd, London. 
The Authors – Nick Sandler likes to cook while climbing, and unbelievably while playing the piano. A development chef, he comes up with new concepts in food and how to process and preserve them for retail customers such as delis and supermarkets.
Johnny Acton is an entrepreneurial writer/journalist whose career has included driving a mini-cab and writing obituaries for The Times. Johnny and Nick have co-written two previous books for Kyle Cathie Ltd – Soup and Mushroom.

Ballyknocken House and Cookery School, Glenealy, Ashford, Co Wicklow
Set in the beautiful ‘Garden of Ireland’ a charming Victorian Farmhouse famed for its country house cooking - is owned by our past pupil Catherine Fulvio – Catherine reached the top 20 finalists of AA Landlady of the Year for Britain and Ireland of out of over 4,500 B&B owners and also won the Wicklow Porridge Making Championship 2005 - Congratulations!  Tel 0404 44627 

Mna na Mara – early in 2003 Mna na Mara announced their intention to develop a coastal network of women in fishing and farming communities. They held their first of many events last April in Kilmore Quay with a cookery demonstration by former BIM staff member Phena O’Boyle, the evening was supported by BIM. The purpose of the evening was to bring women of the community together to progress their ideas – their objectives demonstrate a clear commitment to the preservation of traditional values while at the same time advancing technology and infrastructure in their localities. Details of forthcoming events will be published in the local press in different areas.

RELAY – research for the food industry is based in the Dairy Products Research Centre in Moorepark, Fermoy, Co Cork. It provides access to the research information and facilitates contact between the researcher and industry. For further information on any of the research products you can contact RELAY on 025-42321 or logon to  Relay is a national inter-institutional research dissemination project funded by FIRM through the Dept of Agriculture and Food under the National Development Plan.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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