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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.

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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.