During the great depression in the 1930s in Australia, housewives were urged to bottle their own fruit and make their own jams in order to help their families survive the times. Fowlers Vacola bottles experienced a surge in sales during this time, as their icon, Mrs B Thrifty, helped to spread the message about preserving.
This summer in Australia, we have experienced heat waves, fires, floods and drought, as well as a declining economy. The federal government is implementing policies to hopefully soften the economic blow and the Australian community is rallying like never before to assist those in need. But it strikes me that we all need to ensure we have adequate supplies in our cupboards to get us through potentially tough times ahead.
One way of achieving this is to bottle or preserve food while it is abundant and relatively cheap. Many in our blogging community are already bottling their produce or are contemplating it, so I thought I'd share a couple of tips handed down to me - yes, I'm a second or third generation bottler, depending on the family line.
Vacola bottles and preserving kits can be found from a range of sources: new - online and in hardware and kitchen ware stores; or used - via local classified ads, garage sales, deceased estates, etc. I assembled my collection over a few years by scanning the classifieds every now and then. By all accounts it is getting more difficult to obtain bottles this way because people are realising the value of them. Most importantly, make sure your bottles have chip-free rims and no cracks.
There are basically two types of lids - the cheaper ones and the stainless steel ones. The cheaper type is shown on the left in the photo. These are OK for bottling fruits such as peaches and pears which are not highly acidic, but I wouldn't use them for tomatoes or for anything I wanted to store for a long time. If you can afford them, invest in the stainless steel lids. They may be double the price, but they will last forever. Well worth the investment.
The clips placed over the lid will exert a little more pressure and help the lid to seal better if there is a small coin placed under them. A 2c piece is ideal for this, but if you can't find any, try a 5c or 10c piece.
Now to the seals. These are designed to be single use only. It is important that they are placed in the groove around the neck of the bottle without any twists. Wetting them prior to placing them on the bottle helps and I usually get the twists out by flicking or gently rolling the seal with the fleshy pad of my thumb. Do NOT use any sharp instrument or fingernails, as doing so may damage the seal and compromise your preserves. Also, make sure the groove is clean before you place the seal on and that there is no food caught underneath.
After the bottles have been processed and have cooled for a day or so, you can remove the clips (and the coin). Immediately turn over the bottle and inspect the seal. If all is good, you should not see any leakage. If you spot any leakage at all or there is a break in the seal (which does happen occasionally, although I can only remember a couple times in nearly 20 years of bottling), put the bottle into the fridge and eat within the next few days.
Hopefully, you will end up with a collection of bottles like these.
If you do not have a bottling outfit and cannot afford one, do not despair - you can still bottle food. In this case, use glass bottles that have metal lids with a rubber seal and the pop-up thing in the middle. Prepare the food as usual (with syrup, brine or vinegar) and secure the lid on the jar.
Place in a large pot (eg, boiler) and fill with cold tap water to the neck of the jars or just below. Bring the water to simmering (NOT boiling) point over about 45 to 60 minutes.
For peach, pear and apple slices in syrup, leave at simmering point for about 20 minutes; for tomatoes or tomato based products, leave at simmering point for 50 minutes. Then turn off the heat and leave to cool in the pot before removing. You should find that the centre area pops down when the bottles are totally cooled and you'll have a good seal.
Whether you are using Vacola bottles (or similar) or reusing glass jars, you should hear a hiss or a pop as air enters the bottle when you open it. If you do not, check very carefully for signs of food spoilage and if there are any, discard the contents.
Now here's an offer to any Canberra (or nearby) bloggers who are interested in getting started in bottling. Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we can arrange a time for you to drop over and have a bottling lesson. Over the next couple of months, I'm likely to be bottling from time to time and am more than happy to show you the ropes.
Edited to add: Forgot also to say to make sure the lid is on straight and not skewed to one side. You can use just one clip and I do if I don't have many free because of processing lots of batches on the same day, but my preference is definitely to use 2 clips. With 2 clips you can get the lid on straight in two directions and you get less failed seals.
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