Saturday, 14 February 2009

Preserving to Recession-Proof

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 ( 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.

love and light


goddess in the groove said...

Greetings! Your blog came into my computer today :), and I am happy to meet you. This entry is so fitting. I live in California, and have vowed to turn my backyard into our micro farm. It is a shame to waste such good weather and pay so much for food. I started experimenting with making jam last summer, and we are enjoying it now. This year, I want to can.

I was so sorry to see all the loss of lives and land due to the fire...and hope the healing has started.

naturewitch said...

Hi Goddess

The healing has started, but it will take a long time for people, animals and plants to get over it. They say that the soil will take about six months before it can be used and will need a green manure crop before fertility can be restored.

With the way the planet is going at the moment (and we only have ourselves to blame), it is best if we can grow as much of our own food as we can.

But it is also fun! I still get a thrill out of each batch of bottles we process. Hope that you do too. xx

TheCrone said...

Darlin' NW

Thank you for posting a visual! I notice that you use two clamps on each bottle, that's a trick the book doesn't share ;)

Will call you in a bit, life got crazy yesterday.

Louise said...

Thanks Naturewitch,
I have been comtemplating preserving some of our produce for a while now. This has inspired me to get a collection of jars happening.

naturewitch said...

Hi Crone

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. xx

naturewitch said...

Hi Louise

Glad you got something out of the post. Will keep my fingers and toes crossed for you finding a good source of cheap bottles and lids. Oh, and be sure to include the children in your bottling adventures (except for the hot water bit, of course!) - it's a great way for them to learn another life skill. xx

karenmc said...

Hi NW - Our mutual friend The Crone has been trying to get us together for some time, so I might just take you up on your bottling demo offer - thanks :)

naturewitch said...

Hi karenmc

Yep, it's probably about time we did that, so we can shut her up! (no offense, darling Crone!)

Let me know when you are available. I'm just about done with our own produce for the mo, but all it takes is a trip to Farmer's Market early on a Saturday to find more produce to bottle ;)

Oh, I'm starting to do some wine again, too, if that interests you. xx

Mama1 said...

Wonderful blog and great information on preserving food. I always feel like I am so wasteful when it comes to food and throwing out things in the fridge that have seen better days. I need to "train" myself to be more furgal in this area. I look forward to following your blog!

naturewitch said...

Hi Mama1

Welcome! I know what you mean - I used to have the same problem, throwing away food at the end of the week; now I sometimes have the opposite problem - preserving too much of our fresh food! LOL

One thing I've found helpful in reducing the throwing away of food is to plan a menu for the week. That way, you buy only what you need. Then if you do see something on special, you can buy up and preserve.

Have fun on your journey - you'll soon be addicted to the challenge. xx

Didi said...

Hi nature witch!

Thanks for adding some times to your post! I have been trying to reach my Dad all week (because he has a FV preserving book) but couldn't reach him and there was only so long the 13kg of pears would wait!

I have a question - have you seen any guides to bottling (either FV or otherwise) juices or home made ciders?

milecar said...

Are you traveling to France and could use a portable French food dictionary menu decoder that will fit in a coat pocket or a purse?  Do you just need a concise dictionary for those French recipes you make at home? The A-Z of French Food is a 4000+ entry, 142 page, lightweight, compilation of French cuisine gastronomy terms translated into English and augmented with explanations and historical anecdotes.