Emma Macdonald is a trained chef, founder of The Bay Tree preserves which are now sold into all the major supermarkets and multinational stores, as well as independent delis across the UK. It is safe to say that Emma is a preserving queen so we asked her to teach us a few things about how preserving can help combat food waste.
The Bay Tree is now possibly the finest and most popular quality brand provider of pickles, relishes, jams, marinades and chutneys in the country, and Emma is also the author of The Bay Tree Home Deli Recipes for Nourish.
I grew up in the country, and my family had a garden where we grew vegetables and fruit. Inevitably, we always had a glut of something to pick and use up.
The fruit was often frozen and used in puddings during the winter, and we made the veg into chutneys with all those unripe tomatoes you get if you do not have a greenhouse. I remember fondly the jars lined up in the pantry, which came out with certain meals or was given to friends who came to stay. This memory has been with me ever since and was probably one of the key drivers for how I got into making pickles. I have always been concerned about waste and struggle to throw anything out without saving it (although this does not always work!). I remember my brother being constantly amazed at how I could make a meal out of nothing when he was living in London.
The early days of The Bay Tree
I started my preserve and jam company, The Bay Tree, alongside three children, which has kept me reasonably busy over the last twenty years! I used the business to develop innovative chutney and preserve recipes like Banana and Date Chutney and Grapefruit and Earl Grey Marmalade.
But I have struggled to find time to be creative in the kitchen at home. Writing this book allowed me to get creative again since the book aims to inspire other types of preserving that we cannot make as part of The Bay Tree. For example, the homemade gravlax I learned when I worked in France and the chorizo sausages and chocolate-dipped orange and lemon peel that we made years ago are key ideas to someone looking to preserve all types of food.
I hope I can inspire others who may have time to learn and gain confidence in something really quite simple yet so alien to so many.
All you need is time, a few empty jars or bottles and a simple understanding of preservation principles to produce some delicious items you can keep for later, give away to friends, or eat for yourself and feel proud of. Preserving may not seem easy if you live in the city and have no garden, but if you have a local market, you can often get a great deal at the end of the day to be able to make a few jars of something for the larder.
The problem of food waste
In today’s world, we all need to look at how we use food and the waste associated with packaging and convenience. Much of the destructive waste is created by our busy lives, in which there is little time to spend cooking and feeding ourselves properly, and there are so many other exciting distractions. But I am not convinced that by being so busy we are very satisfied, and maybe enjoying the simpler things would help us have healthier diets and more general life satisfaction.
Saving food and waste is becoming, and probably has been for some time, critical to our climate, so one way to do your part in helping the climate crisis is converting food for long-term use and finding ways to use up the food in your fridge before it goes bad. There are so many ways to reduce waste, including freezing leftovers or making them into another meal. Don’t buy what you do not need, and make time to cook properly, which will reduce the amount of packaging thrown away from readymade food. Buy from your farmers market, local market stalls or greengrocers, where there is less packaging, and you are likely to find a great deal on some ripe produce which you could turn into a jam or a sauce for a pasta dish. All of these ideas are little ways that accumulate to help benefit your diet and save the planet.
I know that it is hard to change the way we live, but small steps lead to big change.
Perhaps most critically of all, we need to teach the next generation how to cook, to inspire them to live healthy and tastier lives.
Emma’s top tips
Here are my five quick and essential tips to reducing waste through preservation:
- My favourite food to preserve has got to be raspberries. There is nothing more sublime than homemade raspberry jam – with just the right acidity to bring out the best flavour. I can never make enough; it is eaten directly from the jar with a spoon in my house. If you’re at all tempted by the idea of making your own jam or finding out more about preserving, I recommend starting with raspberry jam. All you need is some raspberries and sugar; make sure the sugar melts before you start boiling your mixture, and then keep stirring until you start to get a set when you take a bit out. And if it does not set perfectly, it will make a delicious fruity mix on yoghurt. You’ll never look back!
- Marinating Salmon is also a great way to produce a 5-star product out of what has become a commodity. It is incredible what a bit of salt and sugar can do to transform a side of salmon into a real treat. It requires equal amounts of granulated sugar and rock salt mixed together and laid over a side of salmon to cover. Leave in the fridge for up to 24 hrs then wash off and dry. You can then flavour your salmon with the zest of lemon and ginger or dill and lemon, whatever you like the taste of.
- Chutneys and relishes are simpler to make than you think and very versatile. I love being creative with vegetables to make a chutney or relish. I like to challenge myself to make something from nothing using what is left over, as it always makes me smile to see what I have saved from the bin. That sense of triumph makes it taste even better, so feel free to be as inventive as you like!
- Confidence is everything with preserving, so make time to understand a bit of biology and what makes food spoil. This knowledge will go a long way in helping you get it right. In simple terms, sugar, vinegar, and salt help stop yeast, moulds, and bacteria spoiling food. Investing in a pH meter and a thermometer will help significantly overcome some of these. Still, in most cases, any recipe you use will have a high acid or sugar content to allow something to last. But always fill your jars over 85 degrees C and do not open them once the lid is on until you need them.
- Never leave a boiling pot of anything on the heat, as the moment you do, it will catch on the bottom. The flavour of burnt ingredients can permeate a whole batch, so be careful to keep an eye on boiling product!
If you are interested in learning more about the art of preserving with Emma MacDonald, take a look at her website The Bay Tree who are also on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Plus you can buy her brand-new book, The Art of Preserving here.
You can also find Emma’s article in the Creative Impact Magazine July-August issue!