Why slave over a hot stove preserving summer produce? The cooler option is the microwave oven - perfect for jams, chutneys and bottled fruit.
The fast cooking maintains the colour and enhances the flavour. There is also a lot less cleaning up, it's easier and jams don't catch or burn on the base.
Another great thing about microwave preserves is that while one jar of fruit is cooking, you can prepare the fruit for the next jar, and this can be cooking while you prepare yet another.
However, you can also cook up to four jars at the same time. Allow a space on the turntable of at least 2cm between each jar.
It was once thought that metal jar tops could not be used for microwave preserves as they caused arcing and damaged the oven's magnetron. However, today we know that as long as there is no more than 30 per cent metal - not gold or silver - to 70 per cent of other substances, the oven is not affected.
Fruit, without water or sugar, can be placed in sterilised jars topped with their vacuum seals, then cooked.
This method of preserving fruit is great for those watching their weight.
Jams and chutneys are always more colourful and flavoursome if cooked in small quantities and the microwave is well-suited to cooking smaller amounts. Because cooking is so fast, you can still make two batches in less time than when using conventional methods.
Most traditional recipes for jams or chutneys can be adapted to microwave cooking. Quantities may need to be halved. Because less liquid is evaporated, you may need to reduce the amount of added water or juice.
Check the wattage of your microwave. My recipes have been cooked in an 1100-watt oven. If the wattage of your oven is less, your preserves may require longer cooking. As with conventional ovens there is always a slight variation - the given cooking times are a guide.
RED PLUM JAM
Brown sugar and grated orange rind give extra flavour to this yummy jam.
1kg red-fleshed plums, stoned and chopped
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced
Finely grated rind 1 large orange
White and brown sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
Put fruit and orange rind in a large microwave-proof bowl that holds at least 2 litres. If you use a Pyrex jug it has measurements on the outside that enable you to determine the amount of sugar required.
Microwave on high for about 10 minutes, until the fruit is pulped. Measure 1 cup of sugar for every cup of pulp. This will probably be about 4 cups. Use one-quarter brown sugar and three-quarters white sugar.
Stir well. Microwave for about 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take care near the end of cooking that the jam does not boil over. Use a jam thermometer to ensure the temperature has reached 104C.
Pour into sterilised jars and seal. Makes about 6 cups.
A 500ml jar will accommodate about seven medium apricots. Other fruit can be preserved in a similar way. Vegetables should not be preserved this way, but it can be used for chutneys and pickles.
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
12-14 medium apricots
Bring water and sugar to boil in a heat-proof bowl in the microwave. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Continue boiling for one minute.
Halve and stone apricots. Pack into two 500ml preserving jars or similar.
Pour hot syrup over fruit, leaving a 1cm space at top. Place jars in microwave. Cook on high for about three minutes for each jar - a total of six minutes. When small bubbles appear on fruit, sufficient cooking has taken place.
Top up to overflowing with hot syrup. Cover with a vacuum seal and band. Leave in a draught-free place until sealed.
SWEET CAPSICUM RELISH
6 large red capsicums
1 tbsp plain salt
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 & 1/2 cups sugar
Halve peppers, remove stems and seeds and mince or finely chop. Sprinkle with salt and stand for two hours.
Place in a large microwave-proof bowl. Add vinegar and sugar. Cook on high for two minutes. Stir well, then continue cooking for 10 minutes, until slightly thickened.
Pour into hot sterilised jars and seal. Makes 3 cups.
This apple preserve is excellent for sauces or for combining in bakes or desserts. You can add a little sweetener if preferred. Other fruits can be preserved in a similar way.
1 cup cold water
3-4 tbsp lemon juice
2 large Granny Smith apples
Combine water and lemon juice in a bowl. Peel, core and thinly slice apple into water mixture.
Ensure apple is well coated.
Drain and pack firmly into a 2-cup sterilised preserving jar. Top with a vacuum seal and screw band or similar.
Microwave on 60% power for three minutes. The seal will be concave when properly sealed.
The fruit may shrink in the jar and change colour slightly over time but it is still great for sauces and bakes - and for those watching their weight as well.
Makes 1 & 1/2 cups.