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Learning canning and bottling

Of all the options for preserving what we grow, or can buy cheaply in bulk, I prefer to ferment or dehydrate.  These methods do not cook the food, so the raw enzymes are preserved, along with any heat sensitive vitamins and other nutrients.  However, if something is going to get cooked anyway, like tomato sauce, it doesn't really hurt to cook it into a sauce and either freeze or can it.

Lately I have been freezing everything because I didn't know how to can, but with our next steer due to be cut up and the gift of a bucket of lovely ripe tomatoes, I thought I'd better learn how to can, so that I don't fill the valuable freezer space with more tomatoes.

As far as I can figure out, canning and bottling are really just different terms for the same thing.  You either pour hot food into heated jars (overflow method) and seal them with hot lids, or you heat the food in the jars (waterbath canning).  These low pressure methods can be used for anything that is acidic, sugary or salty enough to prevent growth of dangerous bacteria (such as the one that causes botulism).  A pH of 4.5 is usually the cut off point.  At any higher pH (lower acidity), pressure canning is used.  When the jars are heated in a pressure canner, the temperature can be raised above 100degC (boiling point at atmospheric pressure) when the pressure is increased, and this kills more of the bacteria spores that are able grow without oxygen in low acidity.  I presume this also kills more of the nutrients in the food though.  Pressure canning is used for low acidity vegetables, such as beans, and for anything containing meat, or meat stocks.

In Australia, where we can grow vegetables year-round, it is less necessary to can (or root-cellar) through a long cold winter.  I don't really see a need to use pressure canning to preserve vegetables, when we always have a fresh vegetable option in the garden, and things that I might use throughout the year can easily be frozen (for example, green beans).  Pressure canning could possibly be useful for preserving meat without needing to run a freezer, but there are also options to dehydrate or smoke the meat, which I would also like to try.

Once I figured out all of that, I realised that my mum uses the overflow method to bottle tomato sauce, jams and fruit, so I called her to find out the details.  She told me to put the clean jars (reusing old jars with metal lids is ok) in the oven at 150degC for about 30 minutes, and boil the lids.  Heat the sauce to boiling, and funnel the sauce into the hot jars.  Its also important to use a recipe designed for bottling, so that the sauce will have the right acidity.  I used a recipe from the Edmonds Cookbook.  I also tried to be clever and test the pH using pH strips, but 3-4-5 is yellow-orange-red on my strips, so that's not great resolution for testing tomato sauce!  I should have used our pH meter, but I didn't think of that until later.

I also made some sweet chilli sauce, which is mostly vinegar, so I was quite confident that it would be ok bottled too.

Do you can or bottle food from your garden or bought in bulk?  Any tips?

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  1. I've always learned that you shouldn't actually re-use "grocery store" jars for canning. They are less likely to form a good seal after they've been opened. And the shape of the glass jar itself actually can prevent resealing.
    Mason and Ball sells jars and rings that can be re-used, but the sealing lids should be tossed and bought new.
    I've been a quiet lurker for a while, and this is something that threw up a red flag for me.

  2. We use a pressure cooker mainly for green beans and being in the US, we have lots of mason jars available. Before things went to plastic, we used mayonnaise and spaghetti sauce jars that have the same threads as a mason lid. There is no difference in the glass as long as the lid fits. I wouldn't reuse any lid other than a Tattler brand which is reusable for decades. Also for water bath, I add a little vinegar even to tomatoes as modern varieties are not always as acidic as open pollinated ones of the past. You may have mason style threaded jars in your country and not realize it. I use jars that have been in our family for over 100 years so don't think you have to have new ones. Good luck!

  3. I too use "mason" type jars and use new metal lids every time. The screw rings are reusable. I just ordered the Tatler lids to try. I was always told not to use commercial jam or sauce jars, as the tops are not to be reused for canning. I lost a few jars of fruit and tomatoe sauce before I learned to water bath can properly.
    I use my pressure canner for doing fish (when we are lucky enough to get them) and various dried beans, so that they are ready to use. Kidney beans, chick peas and black beans.
    My mother-in-law used to can in the oven, but that is also too risky, as the middle jars on the cookie sheet don't get as warm as the outside jars. Canning is not hard, but proper hygiene is very important.
    Best of luck

    Barb from Canada

  4. Years ago someone told me you could reuse mayo jars, so i kept a bunch of them for the next summer's canning. As we lifted the first batch out of the canner, the jars had cracked all the way around, and we watched all our hard work and 6 quarts of tomatoes drop into the pot along with the broken glass. You can bet I cried. Never used anything but regulation canning jars since, and have only ever had one of those break during processing.

  5. Thanks for the comments, the re-use of jars in an interesting one, as I did find plenty of information supporting both sides of the argument. My understanding is that if the lid sucks down, then there is a good seal and the jar is safe. Most of the information AGAINST reusing the jars seemed to come from companies that wanted to sell me jars, so I was a little suspicious. Being a novice at this, I do appreciate all advice and would be interested if anyone has any further information on this topic.

  6. I use reclaimed jars (for high acid preserving, like condiments) but always use 'pop top lids'. If you achieved a seal after boiling water bathing, but it was lost (because of issues with the rubber on a previously used lid), you will know. It is a shame to lose a jar of relish that you've put work into growing/ processing (I've never had it happen) but to be sure, you can buy 'new lids' for reclaimed jars through a few preserving supplies places, including Green Living Australia or OzFarmer

    I use reclaimed jars for very high acid preserves, like relish, sauces, chutneys. I only use 'proper' preserving jars (Ball Mason or Fowlers Vacola for me) for fruit, tomatoes, or anything that will go in our pressure canner.

    You can cook in a pressure canner, but you cannot can in a pressure cooker.

    I received an email from my enquiry to CSIRO today, about 'open kettle' method of preserving (hot contents into hot jars and seal, then store without any further processing). They said this is only suitable for high acid/ high sugar preserves, like jam, and when the contents are transferred they must be above 80*C. To me, it really isn't that much extra effort to boiling water bath all my high acid preserves, because I then feel more secure with eating and feeding preserves to my family.

    Of course, people make up their own minds about the risks they are willing to take! To me, it is worth finding out the safest, up to date advice from recognised food safety authorities, such as I would suggest buying (or borrowing from the library) some reputable books about preserving:

    * Canning for a New Generation
    * The Ball Complete Book of Preserving
    * Food in Jars (also has a great blog with 101 Preserving Advice)
    * Fresh Girls Guide to Preserving
    * Canning & Preserving with Ashley English

    1. An excellent reply Dixiebelle (as usual) and I have nothing to add to that! Hope you are well and still miss you round the blogging traps.

    2. Thanks Tanya!

      I must also add to my reply above (whilst I am here) that with the 'open kettle' method of preserving high acid produce, you must sterilise the jars before filling, transfer super hot contents and be extra careful with every step. When boiling water bathing, you only need the jars & lids to be clean & hot, and you have that extra 'safety net' that if any contamination or issues occur (during the sterilising or cooking/ transferring/ sealing) the processing of sealed jars in boiling water destroys all microorganisms.

      If concerned about loss of nutrients, look into the Fowlers Vacola 'slow water bath' method, which brings the temperatures in the jars to the point of pasteurisation, without boiling.

      To clarify, I use FV and Ball Mason jars for boiling water bathing too, I meant when I am doing pressure canning or Fowlers Vacola, I use 'proper' preserving jars for those methods, and wouldn't use reclaimed jars and lids.

  7. I haven't tried canning or bottling yet but it's something that is on my to-do list. I have asked my mum about it and she said that she used to bottle all the time when she was younger and that her Mum had hundreds of bottles and used a Vacola.

  8. Hi Liz, we must be in the rough and ready school of preserving. We only use recycled jars as long as the lining in the lid is undamaged. We usually only get one use out of the jar because the lid is on so tight that we have to bang it off with the back of a large knife which leaves small indentations. Getting jars is no problem as friends keep theirs for us. All recycled jars and lids go through the dishwasher and when dry the lids are attached and the jars stored until used. Although we make a few chilli jams and chutneys the bulk of our preserves are pureed tomatoes. The liquid is brought to a rolling boil for a few minutes then bottled and sealed. Most of the lids have that little bubble and if any do not ping down when cooled they are reprocessed in the next batch. So there you have it - no oven heating. Average loss is about one jar in 20 to 30. When doing tomatoes we leave in the skins and seeds and we don't use any additives. A relative uses a teaspoon of sugar to cut the acidity and some people put in basil for flavouring. Last season we used a few crown seal bottles but we have not assessed their success as yet.

  9. I only use the boiling water bath as well; the guidelines for tomatoes here are 35 minutes/pint and 45/quart. I add a bit of citric acid or lemon juice and no vegetable additions if I make sauce except for garlic. I've never had a seal go bad. I make dilly beans as well as all my jams, but I don't venture into pressure canning either as I prefer frozen green beans and corn.

    I have apricots waiting for the heat to break to make some apricot honey jam!

  10. Thanks for all the thoughtful comments. I'm going to write a follow-up post to summarise a few new things that I've learnt. In the meantime, refer to Dixiebelle's comment for a comprehensive explanation!

  11. Hi Farmer Liz,
    I do both water bath canning,and pressure canning. I use a mix of fowlers vacola and mason jars mainly, but If i do use reclaimed jars I always purchase new lids. Here in Newcastle we have a company called Plasdene that sells jar/lid combos or lids by themselves, also available through Oz farmer at Kempsey.
    I do lots of tomatoes,pickles,chutneys, relishes,sauces,jams ect and no matter what they are in I water bath just to be extra safe. I have only been doing it this way for the past couple of years...also following in my mothers footsteps and doing it her way(the over flow method)...I now am a little more cautious with how I process things.
    I also so soups, stews, vegetables, raw packed chicken,lamb,and beef ,curried sausages..all great for quick meals.
    The home we will soon be living in is stand alone off grid, so it makes good sense to us to reduce our freezer load, in case of down power time if we have problems. So far it's working wonderful.
    You can see a little of our life on a small blog I have recently started. It's called Our Aussie off grid heaven. Hope to see you there sometime,

  12. Yes I do! Quite a bit. We don't have a whole lot from our garden yet, but I did do some fermented kale this last week, and tonight we ate from our home~canned pantry. We enjoy it. Thank you for sharing this at the HomeAcre Hop. We'd love to have you back again tomorrow:

  13. I've always re-used jars for canning (though I only do jam). And I don't use a water bath afterwards. I just make sure I use ones that have those "poppers" in the middle to tell you whether they're sealed or not. Anything that hasn't sealed gets eaten first. That said, my jam usually gets stored in the fridge because we have the space to do it. If they had to get stored in the pantry, I might consider the waterbath afterwards.


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