Saturday, 6 December 2014

Preserving for a Beginner using Vacola (water bath)

I've been looking forward to this day for a long while.  The day when i take my Vacola out of its box not just to look at but to actually use.  As with all things, i learn better when someone holds my hand and so at 5.30am Sat morning a visitor arrived for a day of,  first a hot cooked breakfast with coffee after travelling an hr to get to me, shopping for ingredients and then preserving.

The shopping took place at Laverton Market and we were really pleased that Tom not only joined us but drove us in his little RAV4 which is fondly known as the mobile shopping cart.  It has such a good carry space at the right height and a large rear door that completely opens to give access.   Lav Market is not my favourite place and I've only taken tentative steps past its entrance on several occasions.  It seems there is a dress code that must be adhered to that includes baggy tracky daks and moccasins (worn in public).  Its just that little bit scary.  Given that it was raining and we were there by 7.30am there were not many people and so it was much better.  I also had Jess to hold my hand.  Oh didn't i tell you that my visitor was Jess from Rabidlittlehippy.

Jess, my protector and shopping buddy.  Isn't her hat just groovy! She's trying hard not to laugh.  
Usually its crowded and loud and everyone is yelling out and i find it a bit dirty but hey, that's just me. Many people visit every weekend.   She did buy her moccasins (so she felt right at home) and we also found some very healthy plants to take home.

All this for $10.  One is a strawberry flavoured grape known as Fragola and another a muscat.  They are all good eating so i guess that's all that matters because we cant remember what the others are.   Goodness, my grass bed is growing well in the background.  Time for a trim or Tilly will get lost in there. Anyone got a rabbit i could borrow! 
Once home we got to work making sure out bottles were all clean and we had rings and clips.  Jess gave me a box of Fowlers for my 50th birthday earlier this year.  Such a great present now being put to good use.

Tom got stuck into chopping the tomatoes.  We didn't have all day and so we didn't peel them.  Just chopped, seasoned (herbs, garlic, peppers), puree and cook until some of the water was reduced before adding to hot jars with lemon juice.   That all sounds simple but there was plenty of advice being shared along the way for a beginner.  Before sealing i was shown how to remove the air bubbles.  I learnt how to untwist the rubber rings. How to make sure your clips are fully on (the hard way).  We discussed oxidation and how cut tomatoes needed to be worked with quickly, and also about tomato separation which unfortunately happened to my second batch.  We prepared it in stages with leftovers from the first batch and several hastily made smaller batches trying to fill up Jess's much larger water bath on the stove.   Now that i know how much my bath will take i can plan it better.  I may also do it with cold tomatoes although i like the idea of intensifying the flavour with cooking like a real Italian Mamma.      

Tomato Separation from Canning 101
Often, I will hear from people who are concerned because their crushed tomatoes have separated into a layer of liquid topped by a layer of solids. What happened here is that you heated your tomatoes for more than five minutes, let them cool and then heated them up again.

By doing this, you’ve broken down the pectin inside the tomatoes. In this situation, the pectin was there holding the structure of the cells together and once it goes, there’s nothing to maintain the integrity of the tomato flesh together and so pulp separates from the water.

I never worry about this one either. Just give the jar a good shake before using.
The one on the left was first batch and the second on right with separation.  No matter, when it was cold the next day i just shook it and it was fine.  

First batch done looking great.  
While the second batch was cooking i was oven roasting left over tomatoes with onions.  I used fresh rosemary, olive oil, pepper and a sprinkle of sugar.  After we bottled them and removed the bubbles i added about 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to each jar before sealing and placing in the water bath.

Ta Da!  Doesn't it look so good.   I'm a bit disappointed in the flavour of the tomatoes but these were factory hydroponic tomatoes and not ones that had been left to ripen outside in the sun.   The fruiting season has only just begun in Oz and so i wanted to practise now before using really good ones including my own.   I've claimed the top shelf of my linen press for my preserves as its cool and dark.

Today's lunch included  some of Jess's cheese made from real buttermilk and some of the oven roasted preserves.

So what is my next target?

Caramelised Onions anyone?

Thanks for Visiting Living In The Land of Oz


  1. What an exciting day for you. I did a preserving course this time last year but haven't put any of it to practise yet but summer is here so hopefully I will get into the swing of things. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane

    1. Having to go to work is a bummer, i want to be home making stuff and there is not enough time at night after the meals and cleanup are done.

  2. Lynda, that was an early start! I can tell you had fun. I wonder what happened to my mum's vacola equipment as she used to do a lot of preserving which was the norm...back in the day.

  3. Despite the fact I usually end up preserving on the hottest days of the year, I love bottling. Tomatoes, fruit, pressure canning vegetables or whatever it is I love it. Being able to share that love with you was great. I would like to show you the "proper" bottling though but if you follow the book you can't go wrong (we bottled hot to skip the "cook then cool" step somewhat to save several hours of time).
    I hope all the pot top lids popped down. Any that are up need to be in that fridge asap and those that have popped, tighten them just a smidge (not super tight of you'll never get them open) before storing them. Check those lids every other week or so too. :)

    1. Thank you Oh wise one. I did hear a few pops and i checked the lids when i took the clips off as advised. My fingers are crossed as im hoping to take a couple of bottles home to Mum in a few weeks to show her how clever her youngest daughter is. Who knew it would be the city slicker that took on home preserving and veggie gardens.

  4. I so wish i had all Mum's stuff, but she cant remember where it got to. I want that thingy i used to use when i was little that you put the tomatoes in and turn the handle and it pulps it. I need a thingy also to lift the jars out of the hot water. I dropped a couple yesterday.

    1. Lynda you can still buy the tongs to lift the jars out of the water. I purchased all my stuff second had and most of it at a very good price but I still keep a eye out for jars as they are expensive to buy new.

  5. well done! been looking at a few preserve site most of this year as my daughter wants to get into it but she got a sewing machine this time as she said she'd more likely do that first, just found the site with the lifter thingy, its not very stylish but might do for now & not too expensive either
    hope it helps
    cheers :))

    1. Thank you Selina, this is something i definitely need - we were burning our fingers yesterday using oven mitts that were wet. I think ill make a Christmas list.

  6. What a productive day you two had. Those tomatoes do look so good. You and Jess have done well!
    I think it is great that these sort of skills are making a comeback, although they can be time consuming, it is always more fun with a friend.
    We have a modern Fowler's preserving kit as well as an old tin one that we picked up in our travels. We ask friends to save their jars for us, but right now we have way too many of those lol!


  7. Excellent post! Well done, Lynda! I did not know that about tomato separation in the jars so the tip was greatly appreciated.

    Just think, there's nothing stopping you now!

    (Loved the photo of Jessie)

  8. Laverton Market sounds just my kind of place, it looks as though they have a very good craft section there. It sounds as though you enjoyed your lesson in preserving, I love the sound of the lids popping something I always listen for when I'm jam making as well. So far the only thing I've found that does not retain it's flavour or texture when bottled is rhubarb, definitely better frozen.


Please leave a comment. I enjoy making connections with my readers. Hope you enjoyed your visit.