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canning and bottling for beginners?

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Post by Dandelion on 29th January 2012, 5:14 pm

After our freezer nearly going down, with all the berries and veg from last year, I thought that it would be good to learn how to bottle things so that I could preserve stuff without the need for electricity. How easy is it to learn? Could I do it from the instructions in a book or would it be better to find a class? I'm a bit bothered about the prospect of poisoning my family!!

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Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 29th January 2012, 7:07 pm

It is very easy indeed. Bottling high acid fruits is just a simple matter of a hot water bath - no more difficult than making jam. Low acid stuff like vegetables and meat you need a pressure canner but still a doddle - as long as your jars are sterile and you get the time/pressure right, that's all there is to it. Get a copy of the "Ball Blue Book of Preserving" and the USAD guide to Home canning, which you can download here:
http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html
These two are the authoritative guides to canning times and pressures.
We put hundreds of jars of veg and fruit and meat surpluses each year and haven't poisoned outselves yet.
The only thing is there is quite an outlay at the beginning to get up an adequate stock of mason jars.

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Post by freebird on 29th January 2012, 8:22 pm

I've done a fair bit of bottling over the years - though only fruit and tomatoes. As WVR says, it's pretty straightforward, and I learned all mine from a book. Really don't think classes are necessary. I had got a bit lax about it, but a couple of years ago, I lost everything from the freezer, which was mostly home grown produce. The only thing I would disagree with him about is being no more difficult than making jam. Personally I think it is easier, as you don't have to worry about whether it has set or not!

If you didn't want to have too much outlay on preserving jars before 'having a go', try ordinary jam jars. The metal lids have a rubbery seal pressed into them. I have found them perfectly good to use a couple of times for small amounts of bottling fruit - additionally, many have that 'safety bit' in the middle of the lid, whereby if you can depress it when the jar is supposed to be new/sealed, then you know that no seal has formed and air can get in. If it has formed a proper vacuum, the safety bit is pulled down. I also find that large jam jars hold just the right amount for just two of us.

For fruit, you can get away with the hot water bath method, which you could do in an ordinary saucepan (though it would ideally need a trivet at the bottom). So you could give it a try, when you have found yourself some instructions, for no additional expense.
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Post by Dandelion on 29th January 2012, 10:00 pm

Thank you both - I feel a lot more encouraged now. Will put it on the list of things to try. Will start with summer fruit (although I suppose you shouldn't count your strawberries before they've, er, hatched!)

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Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 30th January 2012, 8:31 am

re the jars, yes, for hot water bath bottling you can use regular jars - also have an ingeious device from John lewis whis is a plastic ring with lots of ball bearings set inside it which you press down on the jar lid before the bath and it presses the collar of the lid in tight to ensure the best seal.

For vege/meat however you do need the two-part lid mason jars.

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Post by Dandelion on 30th January 2012, 4:44 pm

Is John Lewis a good place to get preserving supplies then? (Complete novice...!)

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Post by freebird on 30th January 2012, 5:01 pm

Can't answer that one - I tend to find things in old fashioned hardware stores. Lakeland Ltd do a certain amount of preserving stuff. If you can wait a bit, jumble sales can come up trumps. I bought a very few of my preserving jars new, back in the late 1970s but mostly have those belonging to my mother and grandmother, so I have a variety of styles and sizes.

Ebay might be worth a try.
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Post by Dandelion on 30th January 2012, 8:50 pm

I think I'll treat myself to a decent thermometer, then look around for other stuff and gradually collect it.
I've found some good instructions on this website:
http://www.allotment.org.uk/allotment_foods/bottling-canning/Bottling-Canning-Methods.php

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The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters.

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Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 31st January 2012, 8:06 am

Dandelion wrote:
I've found some good instructions on this website:
http://www.allotment.org.uk/allotment_foods/bottling-canning/Bottling-Canning-Methods.php

Hmm I would be very wary of their advice on pressure canning. You cannot safely can in a normal pressure cooker. I don't know of anything that requires a pressure of 5 for canning.

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Post by freebird on 31st January 2012, 8:28 am

Wilhelm Von Rhomboid wrote:
Dandelion wrote:
I've found some good instructions on this website:
http://www.allotment.org.uk/allotment_foods/bottling-canning/Bottling-Canning-Methods.php

Hmm I would be very wary of their advice on pressure canning. You cannot safely can in a normal pressure cooker. I don't know of anything that requires a pressure of 5 for canning.

The article does specifically say it is a method of bottling fruit. If fruit can be done in a hot water bath, then it can be done at 5lb pressure. The pressure cooker is just speeding up the process, rather than being used for higher temperature. I've checked my own book that I use, and that also gives 5lb pressure for fruit. Having said that, I rarely use the pressure cooker because I find it is easy to overcook the contents.
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Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 31st January 2012, 8:57 am

Ah okay, culpa mea.

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Post by freebird on 31st January 2012, 12:24 pm

Anyhow, I'm going to have a go at something that it has never occurred to me to try before. Marmalade making season is here again, but I don't always have time to make the whole season's batch. Usually, I prepare the surplus oranges and freeze them. This year, I have cooked up my first batch of oranges, in rather less water, and I am going to bottle them, to make marmalade later in the year. I have always found freezing affects the setting quality (although still adequate), so it will be interesting to see how this method compares.
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Post by freebird on 31st January 2012, 12:33 pm

I've just got my largest kilner jars out, and started to sterilise, then seen the flaw in the plan..... if I've got time to fanny about doing that, and bottling, then I've got time to make a batch of marmalade.

Oh well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
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Post by Dandelion on 31st January 2012, 5:53 pm

So are you going to make the marmalade, or freeze the oranges?

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The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters.

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Post by freebird on 31st January 2012, 8:14 pm

As I've already cooked them now, I will make the marmalade. When I freeze them, I freeze them raw.
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Post by Dandelion on 7th June 2012, 1:48 pm

I have a bottling question - can anyone help? Yesterday I bottled some rhubarb. I had left it to soak in the hot syrup overnight, then bottles it using the oven method. I ran a knife around the inside of each bottle when it was filled to release air bubbles then put on the lid and followed instructions for bottling in the oven. This morning, all the seals are good (I have unscrewed the outer rings and tried holding the jars up by the lid. The lids are all concave.) But there are little bubbles of air/gas rising up in the bottles and making the fruit look a little bit bubbly. Is this OK?

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Post by freebird on 7th June 2012, 9:21 pm

I really don't know. I have bottled rhubarb before, though not by the same method as you. My gut instinct is that providing everything is sterilised, and the seals are good, it will be just fine. I certainly haven't ever noticed anything similar in my own bottled rhubarb. Why does it need to be soaked in the syrup overnight?
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Post by Dandelion on 7th June 2012, 10:13 pm

I was following two methods ( Rolling Eyes) - one was from the Guardian, and was written in an easy to understand way, but I thought he skimmed over the 'putting the jars in a pan of hot water' bit', and didn't talk about timings etc. So Iused the Guardian article for the preparation (which mentioned soaking the rhubarb overnight) and everything right up to the heating. I then used the 'wet pack oven' method from the allotment UK website (it's also in 'How to Store Your Home Grown Produce' by John and Val Harrison) It just seemed more fool proof ( Rolling Eyes ). My problem was that I haven't been able to find any instructions on the internet or in a book which takes you through the process step by step - there are loads of sites with tables of timings for canning, and descriptions of methods, but they all leave a lot out. For instance, you're left wondering whether the fruit should be cooked first. I'm beginning to think that it's all a bit hit and miss!
I may open one of the jars in a week or so and see what it's like, then possibly re-process.

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The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters.

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Post by freebird on 7th June 2012, 10:53 pm

I will look in my preserving book tomorrow (too knackered tonight) and see what it says for rhubarb. As far as I understand it, the fruit isn't cooked before bottling as the process pretty much cooks it anyway.
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Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 8th June 2012, 10:19 am

It depends how you want your rhubarb stored - if you want bottled stewed rhubarb, stew it first. If you want just hot-packed chunks of rhubarb to use in recipes afterwards, then don't.

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Post by Dandelion on 8th June 2012, 3:20 pm

I caved in last night and ordered the River Cottage book of preserving from Amazon - hopefully this will be more informative. I even dreamt about bottling last night!! Presumably providing that the lids remain concave, then even if there are any tiny bubbles inside this is OK? Just don't want to be responsible for any banner headlines on the tabloids about families coming to grief with botulism!!

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Post by freebird on 8th June 2012, 5:47 pm

I don't think botulism would be a problem with acidic fruits like rhubarb, apples etc. I think you have started with something very safe and unlikely to cause problems. Sorry, bit of a bastard day today, so haven't got around to looking at my preserving book yet.
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Post by Dandelion on 8th June 2012, 8:27 pm

Sorry you've had a bad day - thank you for being reassuring!
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Post by freebird on 8th June 2012, 11:04 pm

Right - these are the salient points from my preserving book:
"Success in bottling depends on three things: heating the fruit sufficiently; closing the bottles while they are hot; and making sure that airtight jars are used. Some fruits need more heating than others, and if the fruit is tightly packed in the jar so that there is less than 1/4 pint syrup/water in a 1lb jar, it needs longer heating than a looser pack" "Rhubarb is treated like soft fruit for bottling (ie young, fresh and rinse in clean, cold water). Young spring rhubarb is the best, cut into 1"-2" lengths" "Fruit may be bottled in water or syrup. Fruit bottled in syrup keeps a better flavour and is ready for use when the bottles are opened, but it may rise a little in the bottles. The quantity of sugar can be varied. A suitable strength for most fruits is made from 1lb sugar to 2 pints water, sufficient for about eight 1lb jars. This should be boiled for 1 minute; it may be needed hot or cold according to the method used."

That's pretty much it, and it then gives a table with all the timings for the different methods. For rhubarb bottled using the oven method, the following instructions:
Preheat oven to 150 degrees C. Add boiling syrup/water before processing. Process for 40-50 mins for 1lb-4lbs, 55-70 mins for 5lb-10lbs

There are additional instructions on choosing jars, checking that seals are good etc, but it sounds as if you already know all that. My book covers bottling fruit only. It says "Vegetables should never be bottled in the same way as fruit. Much higher processing temperatures are required......." etc etc etc. It does cover tomatoes, to which are added 1/4 teaspoon citric acid or 2 teaspoons lemon juice per 1lb tomatoes, the acid ensuring safe bottling.

I've never used any other book, and I've never had a problem.
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Post by Dandelion on 9th June 2012, 12:53 pm

Thank you for all that information. It sounds as if I've done more or less what your book says, so hopefully it'll be OK.

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