Thursday, February 12, 2015

Vacola musings.

The window of time between picked ripe peaches a box of rotten fruit is not great.
My boxes of peaches were fast developing brown spots. So it was vital to get them in jars before the pigs gained a feast.

Bottling in Australia seems to be sewn up by Fowlers who manufacture the Vacola system. This consists of jars, lids, clips and seals as well as the preserver units and specially adapted thermometers.  They are still available commercially though in our area only the lids and seals are on the supermarket shelves (though the owner of our biggest local supermarket failed to recognize his own product or know what the product was for!) Most people I know have gained their equipment secondhand. I think our two units, about a hundred jars and relevant equipment has cost us about $10! Last night I picked up another twenty jars from a lady who had mentioned her pantry clearing at the store where I purchased some seals. Did I want some more jars? Certainly.

There are many different types, shapes and sizes of jars, all known by different numbers which are stamped into the glass. The main difference between these types is the size of the opening – size 3 or size 4 – the number being the diameter of the opening in inches. I prefer the size 4 jars because you can get your hand in to arrange the fruit better.

First the jars need to be washed, rinsed and sterilized in the oven for long enough to kill off any bacteria. I am not sure how long this is supposed to be, but I give them at least 20 minutes at about 160 degrees. It is long enough to make the jar very hot if you take them out straight away. You do not have to do this step as the jars are going to be heated but it makes complete success more guaranteed.
I put the sealing rings on first as they can be tricky and stretching them enough to fit when the jar is full can lead to a very messy floor and lots of swearing. Putting the rings in hot water for a while beforehand can make them easier to fit on.
Then I mix up some sugar syrup. A light syrup is made with 1kg sugar to 5 litres water, a medium uses twice as much sugar and a heavy syrup is equal sugar and water. For peaches I use a light syrup but would tend to err on more sugar than less. Honey can be used as an alternative, but I've never tried it.
Peaches are cut into slices and I peeled each slice. Other years I haven't this year's crop had some discoloration on the outside of the skin which looked much more appetizing when removed. As the peaches were very ripe removing the skin was easy. At first I tried a trick of putting the whole peach in very hot water and then into ice cold water, each for a few seconds. It didn't seem to make much difference so I abandoned this pretty quickly. I also started off peeling the whole peach but found it much easier when it was cut into slices.

All the skins and brown spots went in the scrap bucket for the pigs and the slices are placed carefully around the outside of the jar. After a couple of layers a slice needs to go in the middle to build the layers around. I add the sugar syrup at several stages so that the air bubbles are not trapped underneath the fruit. If there are bubbles I slide a knife down the side to release them.
When the fruit reaches just below the collar I cover it with syrup and put the lid on. Two clips at right angles hold the lid on firmly. Then I place the full jar in the preserver. I can fit eight size 4 (no. 20 or no.31) in the preserver. Then I fill the preserver with water until it reaches the level of the thermometer hole on the outside.
For peaches it is supposed to take 60 minutes to raise the temperature to 54 degrees F which works on almost the lowest gas setting on our stove, then heat much faster to get to 83 degrees F in 30 minutes and then hold that temperature for at least 15 minutes. The jars are removed and left for a day to cool before removing the clips and storing in the shed or pantry.
It has taken two days to complete 43 jars, in between other farm and domestic chores. Now the peaches are out of the way I can start on the plums and apples.
A great book for all sort of recipes and information about preserving is Sally Wise's ' A Year in a Bottle'. 

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