The preserving of fruit in sugar started in the Middle East several thousand years ago. It began with earthenware or fired clay pots that were then sealed tight with bees wax. This was by no means a perfect process and could be a rather a hit and miss affair if the seals were not totally air-tight.
At the beginning of the 1700s, Denis Pepin, a French scientist, began experimenting with cooking food in sealed jars, and with putting raw food in sugar syrup in sealed jars.
Nicholas Appert, however, was the first to put the idea into commercial practice: he ran a confiserie shop in Paris from 1789 – 95, where he devised a method of sterilizing food in sealed jars by processing the jars in boiling water.
Prior to that time the production of preserves had been in the sole remit of the housewife, housekeeper or cook.
Right through the Victorian era and well into the early twentieth century virtually every house would have a cellar or pantry with shelves of such preserves in perfectly sealed and labelled jars.
The jars would contain a treasured collection of pickles, relishes, chutneys, jams, jellies, marmelade and other whole fruits, gathered in the summer months, to provide a taste of summer all year round.
The rapid development of the food preservation industry has meant that those old skills have faded as the scope and range of products available commercially at knock-down prices have made them obsolete to the point of making them a quaint, old-fashioned hobby.
But having said that, can there be anything more satisfying to the home cook than to have a selection of home-made jams and preserves on the tea-table, alongside the home baked bread, buns and toasted teacakes?
I think not.