Nectarine season! January and the nectarines are ripening in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales. Unfortunately, the King Parrots ate our nectarines this year, so off we go to a local nectarine orchardist to pick up kilos of nectarines. To eat fresh? Well, of course, but there are only so many nectarines you can eat fresh. To make jam? We’re not really jammy sort of people. Chutneys yes, but jams? No, what we wanted to do with all of the nectarines is make nectarine juice by steam juicing! You haven’t lived until you’ve tried homemade nectarine juice. Add the bonus of pie and tart fillings plus dehydrated chewy nectarine strips from the pulp and you’re only left with the stones!
Here’s what we do with the nectarines. Sterilise bottles (for the juice) and jars (for the delicious pulp) and keep them hot in the water until you are ready to fill them with hot juice and pulp. A quick wash of the nectarines, then quarter and destone them.
Now for the fun part! We put water in the bottom section of our steam juicer and bring this to the boil, fit the middle section onto the bottom section (that’s where the juice is collected), and make sure the tube fits into the notch provided for it. We then put the top section, which is like a colander, on top of the middle section, and fill it with nectarines. If the nectarines are a little under ripe, you can add a bit of sugar at this stage. Now put the lid on, and let the steam juicing begin.
When the juice starts to appear, pour the first litre of juice into a jug, then pour it back over the nectarines in the colander. This speeds up the extraction process. Altogether, it takes an hour to an hour and a half extract the juice from nectarines. Once this time is up, we move our little wooden stool close to the stove and place a hot sterilised bottle in a saucepan on the stool (this saucepan is just to catch overflows), unhook the tube from the middle section of the juicer and fit it into the bottle. And that’s when the magic happens! Juice starts appearing in the tube. Release the clamp and watch the bottle fill. When the bottle is full, screw the lid on, and there you have it – your first bottle of pasteurised nectarine juice.
Now depending on how many bottles you make, you can either drink it all at once or save it for a day in the middle of winter when nectarines are just a dim memory. Whatever fruit you have in your home orchard, you can probably make juice from it. A cherry orchardist near Bendigo told us she gets 6 L of juice from 8 kg of cherries.
We can now put the pulp through a food mill so it is ready for pie fillings and dehydrated nectarine leather.
I walked outside this morning and saw that our plum tree is almost ripe. Now as you know, we can’t eat a tree full of plums and we don’t like jam, so maybe plum juice?
What does steam juicing do?
The steam breaks down the cell walls of the fruit, releasing the juices, which are collected in the middle section for syphoning into bottles. The juice is pasteurised, which means it is ready for bottling in sterilised jars. As you can imagine, the pasteurisation not only kills any
bacteria, it also kills any enzymes in the juice so this juice doesn’t have as many health benefits as freshly pressed and consumed juice, but it serves a different purpose. Steam juicing is for coping with fruit gluts, and for storing fruit juice for leaner times and other juice derived products. It is the difference between eating fruit fresh from the tree and making fruit juice to see you through the non-fruiting seasons. For those who have the preserving bug and the garden to go with it, it is another tool to add to your toolbox.
What can go wrong with steam juicing?
It’s simple, but occasionally things can go wrong. I tend to get easily distracted so one day I put the juicer on the stove and forgot about it. A timer would have helped – one with a very loud bell! By the time I remembered, the water had evaporated from the bottom section and the juice was overflowing from the middle section into the bottom section. I was alerted to my forgetfulness by the smell of burned fruit juice. It tainted the whole batch. So if you are like me and are easily distracted, DON’T BE!! It is a tragedy to have to throw away all of this wonderful juice. And to pay for your sins, you then have to turn around and scrub the bottom section of the steam juicer clean.
The other thing that can go wrong is that you can keep lifting the lid to check how everything is going. This increases the amount of condensation that drips into the colander and thus dilutes the juice. If you have to lift the lid, catch the drips away from the steam juicer. After about three quarters of the time, check the juice in the middle section to make sure you still have plenty of room, and the water in the bottom section to make sure you still have plenty of water. Oh, and don’t steam beyond the recommended time. All you are doing is adding water to your juice and diluting it. If you make this mistake, boil it down a bit to reconcentrate the juice. So what is the key to making good juice? Be patient and alert.
What else can you do with steam juicing?
Certainly you can make grape juice. This we know from a local organic vineyard turning their excess and slightly marked grapes into fruit juice instead of consigning them to the compost heap.
There is a long list of fruit that works well with a steam juicer – apples, apricots, all sorts of berries, cherries, crab apples, grapes, peaches, pears, rhubarb, plums and tomatoes. Once you have the juice, you can drink it as is or make such products as jellies, syrups, cordials, puddings, fruit wine or cider. I’ve heard people juice pomegranates, but you have to get the seeds out of the casing first as otherwise it is quite bitter. You can also make all sorts of vegetable juices, e.g. cabbage, onion, for making vegetable stocks. Some people use the steam juicer as a normal steamer, steaming meat and vegetables in it. If you put “steam juicing” into the search engine on the Internet, you’ll find just how inventive people can be if they are left with such a handy tool.
It’s raining outside, beautiful soaking rain that is filling our soil profile, our aquifer and our tanks, and helping our fruit trees and berry bushes grow. I think Dan and I will sit back with a glass of nectarine juice on ice and enjoy nature’s spectacle.
We wrote this article for the magazine “Home Grown” Volume 3 Number 3, and are reprinting with permission.