Sunday, February 22, 2009

Some concerns

I am often reading various forums in various places, and time and time again I read people recommending different methods of preserving.

Now I know my ways aren't the be-all and end-all of it. And that everybody has their own opinion about what is required when preserving different types of food. So rather than become the evil woman who rants at everyone who's opinion is different to hers - I tend to ignore it. I will say my little peice about what I choose to do - then let it lie.

It's very difficult though. Because IMO, people are playing with their health is a serious way if they food they preserve is not properly done. And on open forums, often people who are ready these different methods are completely new to preserving, and don't have the knowledge behind the methodology.

So anyhow - here I'm going to list a few basic things that comprise MY do's and don'ts of preserving food.

DO list.

  • Always have clean, sterile jars.
  • Always have NEW lids (if using recycled jars, or Mason jars, or the bronze-coloured FV jar lids.)
  • Always use NEW rubbers on FV jars.
  • Always completely cover jars with over an inch and a half of water when preserving using the boiling water method (suitable for high acid foods only)
  • Always use a pressure canner according to the directions supplied with it for low acid foods.
  • Always ensure your kitchen is clean, your tools and equipment are sterile.
  • Always use the most up to date preserving information you can find.
  • Always add lemon juice or citric acid to tomato-based preserves to ensure the acid content of your food is high, unless you intend to pressure can.
  • Always check your jars thoroughly for damage, nicks and cracks before each use.

DO NOT list

  • Never use the water bath method for low acid preserving.
  • Never use methodologies in books printed in the 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's etc. (although some recipes can be adapted, best not to until you really know what you are doing!)
  • Never leave part of the jars out of the water in the water-bath method. (there is no way of knowing that the steam produced by the boiling water actually gets or stays hot enough to keep the contents of the jars boiling during the process)
  • Never use old lids (unless you are using the stainless steel Vacola lids)
  • Never eat food that looks off, smells funny, or doesn't seal properly when it cools after preserving.

Well. I guess that's all pretty self-explanatory.

I think I might take things to the extreme - I will waterbath my sauces, my jams, my relishes, everything - even though my mother looks at me very strangely when I do so! But the way I see it is this - I have put a lot of time, money and effort into making this produce. SO I am going to do the very best that I can do to ensure that said produce is kept completely sterile and preserved properly, so I don't get any horrible surprises when I go to use it in the following year.

It just makes sense to me, that's all.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

The first batch and why!

We eat a lot of pasta. And I mean - a LOT. So preserving pasta sauce is high on my list of priorities. Making and preserving it yourself saves a lot of money and you know exactly what is in the jar. I don't like additives and colours and unnecessary numbers in my food and I've noticed how difficult it is to find things that don't have all that!

I decided it was high enough on the list to take a week of annual leave from work to get a good kickstart on the preserving.

At the moment a fruit and veg shop close to me has 10 kilo boxes of sauce tomatoes for $8. Although I know the tomatoes aren't organic, they are local - and if I was to buy organic tomatoes here the costs would blow out so high as to make the whole preserving thing not worth the money involved. Next year I hope to not have to buy any tomatoes - I would rather grow our own.

So out of 40 kilos of tomatoes and a week of extreme busy-ness, I made lots of goodies!

Firstly, the pasta sauce. Using a recipe from Green Living Australia I made 8 jars of pasta sauce. It's a very easy recipe to follow, all you really need is a really big saucepan. As usual, I doubled the quantity in the recipe.

After this I made 8 jars of tomato sauce (ketchup for our US readers!). I used another recipe from the GLA forum, you can find it here. I haven't made this particular sauce recipe before but it smelled REALLY good and I'm betting that after a few weeks/months in the jars it will be even better.

I also did tomato soup from this site. Some of the recipes on this site are not preserved in what I would consider a safe way. So do be careful. But I made this soup recipe last year and preserved it in the waterbath and it worked out fine. I didn't thicken the soup with the flour before waterbathing due to the safety concerns i have - thicker things in jars can not always reach boiling point in the middle, allowing bacteria to breed in the jars once sealed. I also added lemon juice to every jar, just to ensure that the acid levels are high enough. The lemon doesn't subtract from the flavour of the soup at all, and the thickener can be added later when you go to serve and eat the soup if you want it.

I made a few jars of BBQ sauce using a recipe that I seem to have lost already *sigh*. I have never made BBQ sauce before and it smelled amazing.

By the time I had done all that, my time off work was running out fast and I still had a box and a half of tomatoes left over that were fast going soft in the heat here. So I decided to make passata from the rest of them, to be used in other sauces/casseroles over winter.

Passata is essentially, lightly cooked and sqaushed up pureed tomatoes.

It's very easy to make - just core the tomatoes, cut them up a bit and put them in a big pot with about a half a cup of water on the bottom. (The water is there to stop them burning before they cook down and release their own juices)

Once the tomatoes have started to soften, you can give them a helping hand - I got out my potato masher and smooshed em all up. Then I cooked them down for about an hour.

For the next step, you need one of these. I love mine to bits, it's makes life so easy when making sauce. You just assemble it (clean, of course!), pour the cooked tomatoes into the top, and crank the handle. Tomato puree comes out the bottom - and skins and seeds all come out the side shoot.

It is a messy job because tomato juice has a tendency to go everywhere - but it's lots of fun.

Once all your tomatoes have been pressed through the machine, (oh, and I put the 'waste' pile back through a second time, to make sure I've got all the juices out), put them back into a big pot on the stove and bring to the boil. Add salt to taste.

Traditionally, a sprig of fresh basil is put into each jar before the sauce is ladelled in. But I had no fresh basil this year, so I put dried basil into the stockpot and cooked it for about another half an hour till the basil was well re-hydrated.

By now you should have HOT clean jars and lids ready, and a waterbath unit of some description with HOT water in it waiting. (This is the one I used this time, although I sometimes just use my canner as a waterbath. Not enough room on my stove for the big new stockpot and the canner though!) Using a funnel and a ladle and lots of towels on the benchtop, I filled each jar with hot passata, added a squirt of lemon juice, wiped the rims of the jars, put the lids on and put into the FV unit. I then topped up the unit with boiling water from the kettle until the jars were covered by about 2 inches of water.

Wait for the water to come to a full rolling boil before starting the timer, then let them boil for 20 mins.

Once the time is up, carefully take the jars out of the unit. I have tongs for this purpose, and I learned last year that wearing rubber gloves can be extremely handy too! If the tongs slip at all, or you are short like me and it's hard to get a good grip on something that almost higher than you, rubber gloves on your hands will mean you can stabilise the jars without burning yourself.

Put the jars on a towel on your bench, out of a draft, and let them sit for 24 hours. Then you can wipe them over, check that they are all sealed, label them, and put them away.

I bought a label-maker this year, much easier than writing it on annoying sticky notes by hand when you are doing lots of jars.

So that was my first round of preserving for this year. I will have to get some more tomatoes and do more pasta sauce, because 8 jars will only last us about 4 weeks once the weather cools down. My aim is to make enough while tomatoes are in season to last us the entire year. Last year I did 110 kilos of tomatoes, and we ran out of pasta sauce in about October, so I almost made it.

I am thinking that I will buy one box at a time from now on, and just do a box-full every fortnight, into pasta sauce, until the season is over.

So I am happy, because the wardrobe in our bedroom is once again filling up with full jars instead of empty ones!


Well, after losing my recipe book and record from last year's preserving efforts, I have decided to blog it all instead. Because I really don't want to lose everything again!

This year I will start afresh and this way, I will always have my records to look back to.

Briefly - I really enjoy preserving food. I have a pressure canner for preserving low-acid foods such as soup, baked beans, and vegetable and meat dishes. I generally use Fowlers Vacola jars in the canner and in my waterbath canner.

Most of my jars came from scouring op-shops and keeping my ear to the ground! I also use recycled jam and pasta sauce jars, with new lids that I buy. I've been known to buy some new jars from time to time as well - I bought a box of 300ml jars last year for jam, because they fit nicely in my fridge (we have an ant problem, with small children and jars of jam, so any open jars get kept in the fridge). This year I bought a few new passata jars for my tomato sauce because I really like the shape of them and they are easier to pour directly from onto sausages *grin*

Last year's preserving efforts were unhampered by work commitments, as I was a SAHM back then. This year is rather different, as I am at work every weekend, and busy during the week running children to and from school and kindy and swimming lessons and all that other busy stuff!