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Home Preserving With Vacola

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Home preserving with Vacola

Whether you call it bottling, canning or preserving, Vacola make a great range of products for storing seasonal fruit and veg for the off-season.

Learn how to use this inexpensive method for preserving and fill your cupboards with delicious food that everybody will love. I've been using this stuff for years. It's great fun, great tasting and very economical.

Table of contents

grouped by category

Bottling Process

Step 1: Gather your equipment

Step 2: Fill the bottles

Step 3: Boil your bottles

Step 4: Test the seals


Questions

How does vacola work?

Why home preserving?

How long will it last?

How the heck do I open this thing?

Recipes

Recipe: fruit in natural juice

Recipe: tomato and herbs pasta sauce


Tips

Safety tip: Savoury bottling

Recipe tip: natural juice

Bottling tip: salt

Scroll to Continue


Equipment

Equipment: What pot?

Vacola equipment on eBay

How does vacola work?

Boiling your vacola bottles kills the food-spoiling bacteria. However, for the food to stay fresh, it needs to stay in a completely sealed environment - so that it cannot be re-infected. This is where the special vacola vacuum seal comes in.

How does it work?

Heating the bottles causes the air trapped under the lid to expand - the clip holds the edges of the lid up so the excess air can escape between the lid and the rubber ring.

When the bottle cools down, the air shrinks, pulling the lid tightly onto the top of the bottle, and the clip can be safely removed. This vacuum force holds the lid onto the bottle very strongly, creating the seal.

The sealing method is strong enough that you can easily pick the whole bottle up by the lid and pull hard, without it coming off.

Why home preserving?

Four reasons why it's worth preserving at home

To start with, I'm sure you know that it's much more economical to buy food in bulk. With a bottling kit, you can buy your fruit and veg by the boxful - which means you can really take advantage of bulk rates.

You'll also know that when you buy fruit and veg at the height of season, it's not only at it cheapest, but also its most ripe and flavourful. You can take advantage of this and have your favourite fruits and veggies at a time when they are dearer and more scarce.

It's also extremely convenient to bottle a lot of food all at once. This means you only need to set aside half a day on one weekend to have a cupboard full of food to use for months to come.

Finally, the recipes you use have a great taste - eg sauces and poached fruit. That fresh-cooked flavour is something you just can't get any other way.

Safety tip: Savoury bottling

Fruits are the perfect food to preserve, and can safely be bottled just in water, or with some fruit juice. It's the high acid content of most fruits that allows you to do this. The same goes for bottling tomato sauces. The acid keeps harmful bacteria at bay.

However, most vegetables don't have much in the way of acid - which means that if you use the same technique, you are leaving yourself open to botulism - which is an extremely dangerous organism that produces an especially dangerous toxin: botulinum. Which is both deadly and can neither be smelled nor tasted.
You want to avoid that wherever possible.

I'd recommend reading more about how to preserve vegetables safely, but some safety tips are below. You will want to do *all* of these to make things safer for you to eat.

Add your own acid

Adding vinegar is the most common way to safely preserve vegetables - hence the popularity of pickles! Adding vinegar brings the pH of the bottle up to the same level of acidity (or more) as if it were done with fruit.

Boil it longer!

Bring the pot up to temperature slowly, and then leave it to simmer for at least an hour to make sure you get all the nasties.

Double-boil it!

This is the most important safety tip. The Botulism bacterium is killed by the boiling process, but any remaining spores are hardened and will not be killed by boiling. However, after about a day, any remaining botulism spores will hatch - so boiling it a second time, one day later, will kill off the new botulism nasties.

Don't boil it before one day or you may miss some spores that are slow to hatch. Don't leave it longer than a day or the bacteria will have created new spores! One day is the optimum time for the second boiling and will greatly increase your chances of making safe vegies to eat.

vacola

Step 1: Gather your equipment

Make sure you have all these items before you begin to bottle! Each of these pieces of equipment is discussed elsewhere in this article - so if you need more detail (or want some ideas for a substitute), you can look there first.

  • bottles - each with a fitting lid, ring and clip
  • preserving pot
  • special bottling tongs (for lifting the bottles out of the hot water) [see image]
  • heat-resistant mats (for standing hot bottles while they cool - without burning your benchtops)
  • food to bottle (see recipes in list below or google for many more)
  • thermometer (optional, but it helps)
vacola

Equipment: What pot?

Can you substitute?

The specialist vacola pots are best for bottling - as they have been designed specifically in mind for this task. However, if you can't get a hold of one of the vacola brand pots, it is possible to substitute with a standard soup pot.

Some things to note:

A bottle stand

If your bottles stand directly on the base of the pot, then they'll get a lot more direct heat. This can cause the bottles to crack, or at least overcook the food in the bottom of the bottle. So, it's a good idea to get something that will lift them up off the bottom.

I recommend using a circular cake rack, which will lift them up just a centimetre or so, without impeding the movement of any bubbles in the water.

How big a pot?

Apart from being wide enough to fit the bottles in. Your pot will need to be tall enough to fit:

  1. the height of the bottles
  2. plus a few centimetres for the water to cover the lids
  3. plus any extra leeway for the height of the bottle stand
  4. plus a few centimetres for the water to bubble without boiling over
  5. plus a final bit extra for the water to expand. yep, water expands when it heats up, this is why the oceans are rising during global warming!

As a rule of thumb, I always add an extra ten centimetres to the bottle-height - just to be sure.

Safety tip: Can I reuse the rubber rings?

Sadly it's not a good idea. The problem is that once you've pierced the rubber ring, it won't make a proper seal on the bottle anymore... and it's the vacuum seal that keeps your food fresh and healthy.

So stick with the recommendations from Fowler's and use your rings just the once.

Step 2: Fill the bottles

To begin the bottling process, you have to fill your bottles and fit them out. Here are the steps you need to do to ensure the bottling works with the least fuss.

wash your bottles (optional)

If you have just got your bottles (or they've been sitting in the cupboard for some time), you may want to wash the dust out of them first. Wash them just the same as any other containers you'd use.

Don't forget to wash the lids too, but beware: if you don't have the stainless steel lids, then they won't go through the dishwasher - so you'll have to wash them by hand. If your lids are new - then wash them especially well is hot, soapy water, as they tend to come packed in nasty mineral oil - which is not good for you.

Do any required cooking (optional)

If your recipe calls for cooking the food first - then do this now.

Attach the rubber ring

It's best to attach the ring to the bottle first as it's always easier to do this with an empty bottle than a full one. Learning how to do this can sometimes be "challenging"... as they are really just a big rubber band that will fly off into a corner at any opportunity... but you'll get the hang of it after the first couple.

It doesn't matter what "orientation" the squarecross-section is in, but make sure that any twists are untwisted.-A twisty ring will not seal at all!

Note: always use new seals - you can't recycle them. as the rubber degrades during the bottling process, as well as being pierced when opening your bottle.

Fill your bottles

Spoon or pack your food in bottles. Fill until it's about a centimetre from the top of the bottle - this amount is important! You need to leave a bit of air-space or the bottle won't seal properly, but too much will mean there's a lot of air in the top of the bottle, which will cause the contents at the top of the bottle to oxygenate and discolour.

De-bubble your food

Look in through the sides of the bottle to see if there are any air bubbles. Trapped air will expand - which will degrade the quality of the vacuum seal and might push the food up in the bottle, causing the lid to pop off (not good!).

Vacola have a special de-bubbling implement, but you can just use a skewer or a very long knife to release the air from the bottle. Just poke it down the side fo the bottle and wiggle it a little bit near the trapped air. Repeat until satisfied.

Clean the seals

Use a damp cloth to clean carefully around the ring and lip of the bottle. Any food stuck here will mean you won't get a proper seal, and all your good work will come undone. It's worth this little extra effort now.

Lid and clip

Put the lid on top (it'll just sit above the seal) and make sure it's resting fairly evenly all around. If it's too skewed over to one side - it may break the seal with the rubber.

Then add your clip on top, in whichever way is easiest for you. Make sure the clip comes down to the shoulder on both sides of the clip (not just sitting at the bottom edge of the lid) - or it may come off during the boiling process.

Beware of getting your finger pinched! Clips can be nippy.

Repeat until done

repeat the above process until all your bottles are filled.

vacola

Recipe tip: natural juice

If you are bottling fruit, consider using natural juice to fill your bottles, rather than sugar syrup.

Fruit juice is lower in suger and higher in nutrients, so it'll be far better for you. It won't drain the flavours out of the fruit like using plain water, and will taste just great!

The juice you choose depends on the fruit you're bottling. For stone fruit I can recommend Pear juice (which is what the canned-fruit industry uses), or even grape juice. Otherwise, just match the two together however you like. You can even use some really interesting juices such as mango or guava to add an axotic flavour to your bottling!

Step 3: Boil your bottles

Boiling the bottles is what kills the harmful bacteria that cause food spoilage. That means the food will "keep" because it has nothing to cause it not to. This section covers all the steps involved in the boiling process.

stand your bottles in the pot

It's best to put the bottles into the pot *before* you add the water... otherwise it's really hard to tell how much water you need (and that just leads to wet floors to mop). Make sure there's a bit of a gap between each bottle. You don't want them too tightly packed. Apart from being difficult to get into or out of the pot, this will mean that the water won't be able to move around - which will lead to uneven heating of the food.

add cold water

You must add enough to cover the bottles with an extra centimetre or so over the lids. It doesn't matter if the clips stick out, but you must have sufficient over the lids or the top of the food won't be properly cooked.

add a half cup of plain cooking salt

This is a bit of kitchen chemsitry! Salt water has a higher boiling temperature to plain - which means you can keep the water at the required temperature without the water simmering as much.

turn the heat up

Switch the stove on to medium/low and slowly bring the pot up to temperature. The recipe books all say this stage should take half and hour to an hour - so slower is better than fast. You don't want to burn the food!

simmer well

Eventually the water will get to simmer temperature. If you have a kitchen thermometer (eg candy thermometer), the water should be at around 92-95°C When it gets to this stage, turn the heat down so that it will just maintain this temperature. You may need to keep an eye on it and make several adjustments to keep it in the right place. Neither boiling the water, or having the temperature too low is not good.

Let the bottles simmer for at least half an hour. You cn leave them for 45min if the bottles are quite large (or the food needs extra cooking). Then switch the pot off.

Allow bottles to cool naturally

Set up some heat-resistant mats on your bench (a wooden chopping board will do).

Using the special tongs, carefully lift out each jar. Don't grab the bottle by the lid or the lid may well come off (the seal is forming right now!), instead hook the jar around the neck (see picture in "equipment" section).

Be *very careful* these things are as hot as boiling water, and will burn you badly!

Stand each jar on the heat-resistant mat. Make sure you leave a little room between each one so they can cool down safely. Leave them to stand until they are completely cold (this will probably take many hours).

double-boiling a savoury preserve

If you are making a savoury recipe (ie without fruit), then you will need to repeat all of these steps in one day's time.

vacola

Bottling tip: salt

A half cup of salt added to the water will make the boiling point of water go up by a couple of degrees.

That means you can easily simmer your pot temperature at 95°C without it producing quite so many simmering bubbles. Fewer bubbles means that your bottles won't rock around and fall over as often, and it'll give you a little leeway in case your temprerature edges up above 100 by accident.

Step 4: Test the seals

For each jar, remove the clip by sliding it sideways across the lid. if you pull straight up, it might bend the clip, and probably pinch your finger to boot.

Test the seal on each lid by lifting the whole jar by the lid. Lift it a few centimetres off the mat (you don't want to drop it too far if the lid isn't on tight). If the lid can take the *whole weight* of the jar without coming off, then the seal is good.

If you find that the seal didn't hold, then the bottle is not able to be put away as a preserve. You can eat the contents now, or put the bottle back through the bottling process again - with a new rubber seal.

Otherwise, you're done!

At this point you may want to give the bottle a quick rinse-down to get rid of any residual food or salty water. Then label the bottle well - and include the date on your label! Put the bottles in a cool, dark place and enjoy!

You'd be surprised at how long well-bottled food will last. Without the disturbance of bacteria, food can remain unspoiled for years. However, over time it will suffer a degradation of nutrients , colour and flavour.

Flavour tends to go first. Food will become unpalatable long before it becomes non-nutritious. If there are air bubbles visible, or it tastes fizzy or bad - then the food had probably gone bad and should be discarded.

store in a cool dark location

Your preserved food will react badly to direct sunlight and heat, rendering it less nutritious, so always store your bottles in a cool, dark cupboard. Beware of keeping them in cupboards near or directly over the top of a stove - as these places can suffer considerable temperature differences over time.

air-dried

Be aware that the food on the very top of the bottle may react with the small amount of air remaining in your bottle. That may cause the very top layer to discolour and possibly to dry out. This does not affect the healthiness of the food in the bottle - it is still quite safe to eat, it's a purely aesthetic change.

vacola

Recipe: fruit in natural juice

the simplest possible recipe

Bottling fruit is a great way to start out. It's easy, it's delicious, and it's far cheaper than what you can buy in cans at the store. You can also be assured of exactly what goes into your bottles, and you'll have a ready supply of tasty fruit on your shelves all year round.

To start with, you'll need to buy some fruit.

You can buy this from your local green-grocers store, but I recommend finding your local farmer's market. You can pick up a box of whatever is in season - then you'll get he best deal. I recommend stone fruit to start with - as it's the easiest. So, peaches, cherries, apricots, nectarines or plums. You can also go with a combination, making a mixed-fruit bottle. Whatever you fancy.

While you're there, also pick up some fruit juice that will go with your fruit. For example, pear, apple or grape juice. You'll use this to "fill in the gaps" around your fruit.

Your fruit should be ripe - unlike jam-making where a little green is best. However, if the fruit is too ripe, then it may turn to mush in the bottle... this may not be a bad thing, of course, if you wish to make a fruit sauce.

Prepare your fruit

Clean and de-stone your fruit. If the fruit is large, cut it into slices or halves. Pack this into the bottling jars as you go along (put the rings on before you start as it's easier to do that when the jar is empty). Make sure you minimise the spaces between fruit pieces, so find ways to fit the pieces in around one another.

When the bottle has been filled with fruit chunks, *carefully* pour in the fruit juice to fill up the gaps. It will go in slowly as it fills in all the spaces around the fruit chunks, and there will probably be a lot of bubbling as the air escapes - so there's potential for spillage. If any air is still trapped around fruit, use a skewer or a knife and reach down the side of the bottle to carefully release the air.

Leave an air gap of about 1 centimetre from the lip of the bottle, and you can carry on with the bottling steps outlined above.

At the end you'll have nicely cooked fruit ready to eat with yoghurt or ice cream - or even to spoon over your cereal in the morning. Yum!

How the heck do I open this thing?

Vacola make a special bottle-opening implement, but you can also just use a skewer. The best skewer I've found is one of those heavy, diamond-headed meat skewers. I don't recommend using a fork - they are generally too curved, and the tines are often too close together to get into the rubber seal properly.

The best technique is to tip the bottle upside down and stand it on its head on the bench. Put your hand on the base of the bottle to steady it. Don't worry too much about liquid getting out onto your bench, as long as the bottle's weight is resting on the lid, it should be ok. Just don't lift or tip the bottle over, once the seal has been pierced.

Then, carefully rest the point of the skewer in the lid-bottle gap. Make sure you place it between the bottle and rubber ring (not the ring and the lid). This lessens the chance of bending the lid (and destroying it).

Now push down - hard enough to pierce the rubber seal.

Don't lever the lid off, or the lid will bend - and then it will no longer seal properly - you will have to discard it and buy a new one.

Instead, just push downwards until the point goes through the rubber. It may take a little force to do this. Just make sure the bottle doesn't tip over as you're doing this - or the contents may spill over the bench.

When the seal is broken, you will hear a distinct sucking sound as the air rushes into the bottle to fill the vacuum. You may even see and hear bubbles.

Now you need to carefully flip the bottle back up the right way - without the lid coming off and pouring your food all over the floor! Slide the bottle near to the edge of the bench. Make sure you have a firm hold on the lid, holding it onto the bottle. Then slide it off the bench into your hand and flip the bottle the right way up.

The lid should now be loose enough on the bottle to be able to pull it off. If not, tip it back upside down once more - and pierce the seal again.

Otherwise - eat your food and enjoy!

Note: the rubber seal *must* be discarded now. It cannot be used a second time as it will *not* effectively seal a bottle again.

Also note: if you cannot finish all your food in one go (quite easy with the big bottles), you can cover the top of the bottle with gladwrap and put it into the fridge. Of course, now the bottle has been opened, the food will only last a few days before it goes bad.

Vacola also makes neat little reusable plastic caps that fit onto their bottles. They sound silly, but are actually worthwhile if you are going to be opening and closing the bottle frequently. It's much easier to put these on and take them off, and they wash up easily.

vacola

Recipe: tomato and herbs pasta sauce

A stir-through sauce

This is a great recipe for a simple tomato sauce that will do great over pasta. You can use it for making quick spaghetti bolongese, or just stir it through plain pasta for a great quick meal.

This recipe involves pre-cooking the sauce a little - so that it will be instantly ready to use when you open the bottle later. Pre-cooking your pasta sauce like this will mean you just use one free weekend to prepare enough sauce to last you for up to months later.

The following ingredients are given in proportional amounts, so it's easy to multiply the amount, depending on how much sauce you'd like to make.

ingredients:

  • 1 kg tomatoes
  • 2 brown onions
  • ~4 large cloves of garlic (optional)
  • half cup chopped fresh herbs (eg oregano, sage, thyme)
  • 1 cup red wine

process:

  1. Cut your onions and garlic in small pieces, and drop into a heavy frypan on a low heat, with a little olive oil. Allow them to slowly brown while you prepare the tomatoes. Stir them every so often so they don't burn.
  2. Chop your tomatoes in small chunks (about a centimetre or so), and put into a bowl to one side.
  3. Also chop the herbs finely and keep aside.
  4. When the onions and garlic are nicely caramelised, add the tomatoes and the red wine, and increase the heat. Stir continually. Do not cook for too long, just until the tomatoes become slightly soft.
  5. Take the pan off the heat and then stir in the herbs.
  6. Allow the mixture to cool, and then you can pour it into your bottles, and proceed with the bottling instructions.

Photo credits

The photo of Rock salt in the salt tip is courtesy of flickr user nate steiner.


The photo of Cranberry juice in the natural juice tip is courtesy of flickr user Joyseph.


The photo of a Camping pot in the "which pot?" tip is courtesy of flickr user Vertigogen.


The photo of pear preserves in the "fruit in natural juice" recipe is courtesy of flickr user theogeo.


All other photographs copyright Taryn East 2009

Got any suggestions? - I'd love to hear recipes, tips or just feedback on vacola stuff

Taryn East (author) from Sydney on September 02, 2012:

@lewisgirl: Great advice, thanks!

In the vacola jars it's ok to boil them even when they're closed, but same principles apply.

Good idea re: extra time at higher altitudes though, and I never thought of what happens if pets get into the trash!

lewisgirl on September 02, 2012:

I have done a lot of canning and never heard of vacola. I lived in the Rocky Mountain region for years. This area is known to have botulism spores in the soil. So extra precaution when canning vegetables/low acid foods should be regarded. I am glad to see you mention safeguards against botulism. Another safeguard (if you suspect the canned food is not safe) is to boil home-canned vegetables with the lid off for 10 minutes adding 1 minute for every 1,000 ft. above sea level before consuming. If you are going to throw the food away where pets may get into it, boil for 30 minutes. Very rare for commercially canned foods to have botulism.

purnimamoh on September 20, 2011:

Wonderful lens on food preservation techniques. I have a lot to learn from you. Kindly have a look at the only two lenses I had written.

http://www.squidoo.com/growing-tomatoes-in-balcony...

http://www.squidoo.com/simple-and-crunchy-bitter-g...

Sniff It Out on February 03, 2009:

Great lens packed with information for those wanting to make their own preserves, welcome to The Cooks Cafe group!

Taryn East (author) from Sydney on January 05, 2009:

[in reply to DeirdreEEast] Agreed - and there's also the danger that the seeds might split. Stonefruit seeds have nasty poisons in them, so you don't want that to happen in your food.

DeirdreEEast on January 05, 2009:

I agree with removing the seeds from fruit before the bottling process. It is very tempting to avoid this fiddly processing step. Cherries and plums will bottle well with the seeds but other fruits like peaches will develop a flavor that you may not enjoy.

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