When fruit season is in full swing, most of us would rather buy too much produce than pass up a good deal on delicious-looking fresh fruit. (Perhaps this sort of ingrained behavior stems from our primeval past, when a cache of goodies ensured our clan's survival.) But once the food is procured and piled on the kitchen counter, then what? Smoothies and raw fruit will only take you so far before fresh produce begins to degrade.

One solution is to make small-batch preserves, a cooking strategy designed to extend the shelf life of produce that hits the sweet spot between thriftiness and decadent abundance. Salt, alcohol and the acid found in tart fruit are effective tools in the cook's arsenal to preserve food well past the sell-by date. This method is also ideal for occasions when there's more fruit to be had than there are mouths to feed.

Equipment you'll need

  • Colander
  • Chef's knife
  • Cutting board
  • Mixing bowls
  • Slotted spoon
  • Tongs
  • Sterile glass jars with lids

To sterilize, place jars in tall cooking pot, cover with water to 1 inch above the top. Cover pot and bring contents to a boil for 10 minutes. Add lids. Remove pot from heat. Use tongs to extract items or allow water to cool before removing jars with clean hands. Invert jars on rack to air dry, about 5 minutes.

Salted Lemons

Salted lemon preserved in a jar next to a salted lemonPhoto: Enrique Gili

Bored of lemon chicken? Spike the dish by making a marinade out of salted lemons.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 1 month to pickle

Yields: One 16 oz. jar

Ingredients

  • 7 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 6 lemons plus extra
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tablespoons pickling spices, fennel, coriander, black peppercorn seeds

Cooking directions

  1. Wash lemons, cup off woody stem, then quarter to about 1/2 inch from the bottom. Combine salt and pickling spice in a mixing bowl.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon. of salt mix to jar. Pack lemons with 1 tablespoon. of mix. Place lemons cut side down in jar, adding a bit of mix between each layer. Mash down lemons to release the juices, packing as tight as possible. If needed, add fresh and lemon juice to cover ingredients, not water or concentrate. Add bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Leave 1/2 inch headspace. Set jar in a cool dark place to pickle for 1 month. Use preserved lemon peel in marinades. Upon opening jar store in fridge.

Bourbon Soaked Cherries

Bourbon-soaked cherries in a ramekin on a cutting boardPhoto: Enrique Gili

Many a good meal start with bourbon and ends with cherries, so why not put two great ingredients together?

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yields: One 16 oz. jar

Ingredients

  • 1 cup mid-priced bourbon
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 orange wheels seeds removed
  • Juice of quarter lemon
  • 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup cherries, rinsed and stemmed

Cooking directions

  1. Combine bourbon, orange wheels, orange juice and vanilla extract in saucepan. Bring to a low boil over medium heat. Slowly add sugar and stir until it dissolves. Allow syrup to cool, about 2 minutes.
  2. Place cherries in pint-sized jar. Pour syrup into jar leaving a 1/2 inch gap. Seal and refrigerate for up to a week. Once jar is opened, cherries will last up to 30 days.

Fig Preserves

Fig preserves spread on an English muffinPhoto: Enrique Gili

Few fruits fare worse than figs in terms of shelf life. When in doubt, make jam!

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 60 minutes

Yields: Three 6 oz. jar

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. figs, rinsed and stemmed
  • 1/2 cup cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Juice of half lemon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Pinch of salt

Cooking directions

  1. Place figs in sauce pan with sugar. Add water and stir. Bring ingredients to a low boil over medium heat. Mash contents until blended, about 2 minutes. Then add lemon juice, zest and vanilla extract. Stir. Add cinnamon, ginger and salt. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
  2. Using a slotted spoon scoop preserves into a glass jar. Top with syrup that remains in saucepan. Stir to remove air pockets. Seal and allow jars to cool before placing in fridge, keep up to 30 days.

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