To Vacola or not to Vacola?

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This year I am going to be ready for preserving season. So ready. I am going to have all the jars I need, and all the lids and seals for those jars.

And I’m going to know where they all are, too, rather than discovering their ‘safe’ (read: obscure) storage place next winter, once the preserving season is past.

I have a problem though. To Vacola, or not to Vacola? There’s good arguments for both sides. And I have to decide quick.

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Fowlers Vacola is this venerable Aussie company who have been making glass preserving jars and kits since 1915. Their jars are heavy, beautiful things – my favourites are the straight-sided ones.

Their lids are great too – a simple system involving a reusable metal lid, and a disposable rubber seal. Minimum wastage, maximum economy (once you’re set up with all your preserving gear).

Everyone I know, including me, got their vacola preserving kits and jars by combing garage sales, op-shops, and local paper classifieds over successive years. My best story is scoring a stainless steel preserving kit with 4 milkcrates of jars from our local paper, for 100 bucks.

You can, at a pinch, also buy them new. Because Fowlers Vacola are still going strong.

So here’s the thing. Although we are set up and rip-roaring ready to go on the vacola front, I’m wavering. I’m looking at the american’s system out of the corner of my eye… the Ball jars.

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Ball Mason Jars are the USA equivalent of Vacola in terms of their cultural cache and history.

Their main difference is their shapes, and how their lids work: a slightly different system involving a two-piece sealing lid. And Ball lids screw on.

The Vacola lids don’t screw on. They just sit there. When opening a jar after they’ve been processed and sealed, you need to prise the lid off, and then if you don’t consume the whole jar you need to ensure they live in the fridge upright as the lid is but a cover, without it’s seal.

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This might seem like a small detail, and i suppose it is – no reason to swap systems on that count, really. But then you get to pressure canning.

Pressure canning is preserving on steroids. I grew up with big vats of Vacola jars full of peaches and pears bubbling away in their water baths, which, after an hour, were declared preserved.

Pressure canning is next level stuff though.

You can pressure can anything, it seems – fruit, veggies, meat… yes meat. Once you get your pressure canning going on, you can rack up a pantry full of jars of bolognese sauce, pulled pork, smoked fish, bacon… whatever.

Yes, I guess it will taste a bit like meat in a can (but a glass one). Still, if you’re trying to figure out how to preserve the harvest without relying on your fossil-fuel powered freezer 24/7 because you lack the space and conditions to hang a cellar full of charcuterie, this seems a likely path.

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Canned chicken – via Howling Duck Ranch

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And this is the big wavering point for me on Ball jars vs Vacola jars. There are instructions for canning meat safely in Ball jars. There are not, however, instructions for canning meat safely in Vacola jars.

There did used to be, and i have the old Vacola recipe books (also gleaned from garage sales) to prove it. But canning meat is only mentioned in the older versions. And some of the newer Vacola books specifically state that the system is not recommended for canning meat. Hmm.

Motivated as I am to live a happy life without giving my family botulism in our quest to live simply, you can see my dilemma.

Also, there’s the water bath vs pressure canning methods. Pressure canning takes less energy input, because the period you have the canner on the flame/gas/element for is less time per batch.

The water bath method needs to bubble for a full hour per batch (f we’re talking fruit preservation), compared to 20 minutes of the pressure canner units.

Anyone who has preserved through an Australian summer will know what I’m on about here. A system that means less time with a big hot thing in the kitchen on a blistering summer’s day? Hooray to that.

Last year I was able to argue for Vacolas because of the BPA thing, as Vacola lids are straight metal with no nasties. but now Ball have started making BPA-free lids. Which is great, but which further closes the gap.

So there we are. I haven’t quite decided how to deal with this dilemma, but i figure I have about another month before I need to have everything in place, one way or the other.

Does anyone have any stories form wither side of the Vacola/Ball fence to shed light here? Thanks in advance…

** Addition: just to clarify, i’m not talking about turfing out our vacola jars or system, but i am looking to get more jars than what we have, and I have the kit to use both types…

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My motley efforts from last season… they were all delish, regardless of what kind of jar they ended up in!

>> More posts about preserving the harvest here…

59 Comments

  1. Posted October 8, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink | Reply

    I’ve got no insight to deliver as I have only used Vacola but I’m with you on the Vacola lids. There’s always the risk of stewed plums or whatever being spilled all through the fridge.

    • Posted October 8, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Yes! Or the multiple memories of, in my case…

    • Posted October 8, 2013 at 5:36 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Snap On Fowlers Vacola plastic, green lids! However, they don’t make a solid seal on some older (than 1975) jars.

    • Mahalath
      Posted October 16, 2013 at 7:25 pm | Permalink | Reply

      But there are plastic lids available in two sizes that fit the Vacola jars – in fact the smaller ones also fit standard tins as well – so we use them all the time! Lid issue therefore not an issue.

  2. Posted October 8, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink | Reply

    My Grandma’s Fowler Vacola jars vanished somewhere else, not here, and when it came down to it I chose Ball Mason because *cough* the jars are gorgeous. Even though we have to ship them in. I had good advice from an expert elderly Gerringong preserver to buy new, buy once, to save any heartache of tiny cracks or dints in imperfectly stored jars, leading to non sealing jars aka killing your whole family with botulism. I’m still a huge Ball Mason fan. I haven’t tried pressure canning yet, I use an enormous stock pot. Maybe this year. xxx

  3. Posted October 8, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink | Reply

    I use vacola jars to can things like chicken, chicken stock, corn kernels, coconut milk, chickpeas, kidney beans and more and with no problems. I too like the ball jars aesthetically but I had heard (via a friend) that the bpa free lids were no go for pressure canning so I would look into that before deciding. It may decide the issue for you. :( My thoughts on ball/vacola jars is stick with what you have. The vacola jars don’t fit quite so neatly as the ball jars in the presto canner (which I have) but they work just fine. I have lost a couple of jars, presumably with cracks in them but that would have happened whether pressure canning or water bathing. Still, waste not want not is my motto. :)

  4. Carolyn
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink | Reply

    I know people who happily pressure can with vacola jars. I got water bath preserve with them, and I’m considering investing in a pressure canner to extend their usability. Honestly, if you’ve already got them, why wouldn’t you use them? Think of the energy wasted on shipping over your new ball jars when you’ve already got usable ones at hand. The snap on lids for vacola jars are awesome. I know the ball jars are cute, and all over pinterest, but use what you’ve got.

    • Posted October 8, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink | Reply

      Yeah we do pressure can with our current vacolas with fruit etc, and they’re fine for that… it’s the meat thing for me really… And the vacola snap-on lids are good, but not water tight.

      I should point out that we of course WILL use our current vacolas, of course, but for future adventures and replacements… hmm..

  5. Steve W
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 11:35 am | Permalink | Reply

    Vacola make snap on/off green plastic lids for their jars. Don’t know about the BPA-freeness of same, but they’re not actually in contact with the contents in a partially empty jar.

    I too would stick with what I’ve got.

  6. Steve W
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink | Reply

    Beat me to it on the lids. But I can confirm that they (mine at least) are air and water-tight. Just tried it.

  7. Cheryl S
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 11:59 am | Permalink | Reply

    Ah seems the vacola can be used for your jam and fruits and get the pressure cooker for the meat and veges which is what I intend to do. I was disappointed after buying my vacola things to find that it wasn’t suitable for veges and meat. Also I noticed the ball system is now available in Big W.

  8. Posted October 8, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I have been thinking the same thing…looking at from a energy perspective (we had a power out for 3 days) pressure canning has many advantages (you also don’t need as much acidity/sugar) to regulate safety from what I’ve read. I’ve seen a few on etsy and I think I will grab one. They do need to be keep produce out of the light (dark spot) and below 30C (ideally I would store canned items around 10 C (like a cellar if I had one). I’ve also just used 2nd hand jars in my vacola kit that sealed better than the vacola lids. I’ve had a few duds in the vacola set so I think the pressure system would be more failsafe. Even things like dog/pet food, its got to be so much better quality canning it yourself, and you can use greens from the garden, etc etc.

  9. Kim Hayes
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink | Reply

    As a Yank, I say go with the Ball system due to it’s versatility. I’m only a beginning canner, yet experienced folks I chat with pressure can tomato sauces, meats, etc. just fine with the Ball system. In fact stories of whole cows being canned are true. When a farm wife had unexpected guests, she was able to whip together a delicious meal in the time it takes to boil a potato because she had canned meat on hand to heat up. Save your precious freezer space for those delectable cuts that have bones involved like Leg of Lamb or short ribs, etc.

  10. Posted October 8, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink | Reply

    As an American, I am only familiar with the ball system, but I love the look and size of the vacola jars. I would use both. Save the ball jars for pressure cooking and use the nicer vacola jars for jams & fruits. Here in the US, I look for vintage glass jars but always use new (BPA-free) liners and rings to assure a tight seal.

  11. Posted October 8, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Kentucky, USA, girl here to tell you how much I adore reading about y’all’s work. And if you are interested in learning more about American canning of all sorts of things, then I suggest you follow imstillworkin over on youtube.com. She is an authority that is most trustworthy to ensure safe processing of fruit, vegetables and meat. Her canning playlist can be found here https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL42B152A0DA61DBA5

    She is a treasure explaining the researched reasons behind the steps that she details. Admired and trusted by many. Best of luck…!!

  12. Posted October 8, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I find Le Parfait canning jars system (http://www.leparfait.com/le-parfait-super-jars) to work better for pressure canning, jams, meat, everything – all you need to change is the rubber seal. Easy. Ecological. Practical. I grew up on those in Europe and they’re still going strong.

  13. Posted October 8, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Permalink | Reply

    OK, I ended up writing quite a bit, as I will now post it to the FAQ on Growing Home’s Preserving page, for anyone interested! If anyone wants a list of resources/ recommended reading: http://www.growing-home.com.au/harvest/food-preservation-storage-methods-faq/#

    I have been preserving high acid foods (i.e. stone fruit, tomatoes etc.) in a Fowlers Vacola since 2009, in their electric Simple Preserving Unit. However, I do most of my condiments (i.e. relish, chutneys, sauces, pickles) in a ‘boiling water bath’, though, as it is quicker, and easier to get my large stock pot out for small batches. In early 2012, we got an All-American Pressure Canner, so I could do low acid foods too (i.e. stock, veges, meats, meals) but particularly home made stock from organic bones. We grow a lot of our own organic produce, but I do sometimes buy bulk tomatoes, so I can do my passata, pasta sauce, pizza sauces all on one hit.

    Can you start out by going straight to pressure canning?

    I found that spending a few years doing high acid preserving, in boiling water bathing and Fowlers Vacola (slow water bathing) allowed me to develop the foundations and confidence to move onto pressure canning low acid foods. Of course, you can step straight into pressure canning… and you can, in fact, use the pressure canning unit to boiling water bathe as well, so for some, they might just invest in a pressure canner straight away. Doing boiling water bathing is a good stepping off point, as you can use equipment you have, and get a feel for it, first.
    I recommend this article: http://wellpreserved.ca/category/preserving-2/pressure-canning-preserving/fundamentals-pressure-canning/

    Which jars can you use?

    The FV jars and equipment are fairly easy to access secondhand/ cheaper in Australia, as it has been around for so long and you can find the stuff at op shops, garage sales, tip shops, or from a relative even. I did, however, buy the Ball Mason jars when I started using our All-American pressure canner, because they have a great range of small sized jars… for corn kernels, chillies, spicy condiments, that we generally use less of at a time. I also had a fondness for the quilted jars, and so finally one day after coveting them for so long, I treated myself! There are numerous other appropriate preserving jars but these are the most accessible that I have found.

    (By the way, if you score a big box of Agee jars from the op shop, you cannot buy the lids for the Australian made ones anymore. Ask me how I know! You can still buy Perfit lids for the NZ made Agee jars, but only in NZ, apparently, and they wouldn’t ship any to me. I have read you can use Ball Mason wide mouth lids, but not tried it… I used my gorgeous Agee jars for storage now! Or turn them into mini ‘sewing kits’ for gifts!)

    Can you use FV jars in a pressure canner?

    In terms of using the FV jars in the pressure canner, I made several enquiries to ‘experts’ (including in the US) to find out if Fowlers Vacola were considered appropriate to use, but the only reply I got was from the folk at Green Living Australia, who said they had been doing it for years without problems of breakage or with seals. In terms of whether the processing times given in recipes will allow the extra heat to penetrate these different type of jars, well, I can only presume that it isn’t an issue, because the jars are very similar in density. I do ‘double clip’ the lids on the Fowlers Vacola jars when pressure canning (going opposite directions to each other). They are spring loaded, to allow the air/ steam to escape during processing. I would think double clipping still allows the steam escape, because they are under quite a lot of pressure. I have found it much harder to get the lids open on FV that have been pressure canned!

    Some people may not be willing to risk it, not that the jars will explode or be unsafe, more that it’s a lot of work and sometimes money you have put into making organic, delicious food, only to open your pressure canner after 90 minutes to discover a jar broke and all that food is wasted! I have never had this happen in my pressure canner, only once a FV jar broke in my FV unit.

    Where to store equipment & preserves?

    In terms of jars/ equipment and storage, I have a big (ahem, massive) stock of Fowlers Vacola jars, other preserving equipment and now Ball Mason jars too. We put that lock-together shelving in our garage, so it was handy to access this equipment (including our FV unit, All-American unit, dehydrator, slow cooker I use for preserving etc). I also converted our linen cupboard to be the preserves pantry, as it is the right temperature/ conditions for storing preserved food, plus it is handy to the kitchen (who needs so many sheets & towels anyway!)

    Can you use second hand or ‘reclaimed’ jars?

    I also use ‘reclaimed jars’, which are those from supermarkets (or find them second hand in op shops, friends, classifieds etc) but I do not use these in the pressure canner, only for boiling water bathing. I also only use them with ‘pop top’ lids (some say you shouldn’t use second hand jars because the rubber in the lids will be worn down), as that way you will know if you’ve achieved a seal, or once stored, if the seal was lost. If they don’t come with a pop top lid, there are several places you can buy new pop-top lids, in various sizes. Using ‘reclaimed’ or recycled jars saves money, saves stuff having to be recycled or going to landfill, BUT they are simply nice small sizes, much better for preserving small batches, that can be used up quicker once open, like relish, chilli jam etc.

    Other equipment worthwhile investing?

    For any bottling/ canning, I highly recommend the Ball Mason Preserving Tongs (other brands just don’t give you the sense of confidence that these do when listing out hot jars from hot water!), and wide mouth funnels. There are Aussie sellers who now sell these items, so at least you are supporting a local business, even if the product comes from overseas. You can also get green plastic Snap On lids for the Fowler Vacola jars (small, and larger) for once you have opened a jar, but not used it all. I don’t have anything like this for my Ball Mason jars, but they, of course, have a screw ring and lid system, so can just keep using that, once the jar is open. I also use my FV jars for storage, for freezing in, and the chipped ones become vases!

    How long does it take to pressure can?

    It can take a fairly LONG time for the pressure canner to be on the stove actually… there is the processing times (up to 90 minutes for meat based products) but you also have to vent the unit (allow building up steam to escape from the weighted gauge spout, before putting the weight on) for 10 minutes once the steam is visibly coming out, plus some time to bring it to the correct pressure, before you start timing the 90 minutes. If you have it on a super high burner, it doesn’t take so long, but when I do it when the kids are home, for safety I use the (smaller) burner at the back of the stove. It is a hefty piece of equipment, that does ‘jiggle’ around a bit once the pressure is up, and I feel it is safer at the back of the stove, really, even if I am home by myself!

    Which pressure canner to buy?

    If buying a pressure canner, we chose the All-American because it doesn’t need rubber seals (which would need replacing) but oiling the rim instead, and because the research showed it was superior quality. It also has both weighted and dial gauges (I am just trying to find somewhere to have my dial gauge calibrated, maybe an engineer!) Of course, people use their Presto brand and have no problems with those either! I recommend buying a big enough size so you can do two levels of jars at a time (because it does take a lot of time to do a batch). Our 21 1/2 quart fits two layers of Ball Mason jars (12oz), but not two layers of Fowlers Vacola no. 20’s (the size I most often use) because of the clips used during processing. I did measure the jars and researched how big the internal dimensions were of the 21 ½ quart, and thought it was going to work out before we bought that size! I can do two levels of No. 14 FV jars, but only one level of No. 27’s would fit in, that’s for sure.

    You can buy pressure canners in Australia now, so rather than buying from overseas and then finding something is wrong with it, and having to send it back. What could be wrong with it, for example: http://www.nwedible.com/2012/05/buying-an-all-american-30-quart-pressure-canner-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly.html

    What does the pressure canned food taste like?

    In terms of pressure canned meals, we eat bolognese (made using organic beef, and/ or kangaroo mince) tastes just like you made it fresh. I’ve also done curries, soups, and smoked chicken, various vege’s, salsas, chargrilled capsicum, fruit etc. but the best thing is having your own home made (organic, ethically raised) stock! The vegetables do lose their texture & colour, so do resemble ‘tinned’ beans. Also, worth being aware there are some things still not recommended to pressure can, including lard, butter, anything dairy, or anything with too much oil (it can rancid more easily, apparently, and can affect the seal too), or anything too thick (puree pumpkin for example).

  14. Posted October 8, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I also didn’t say, that I really find having a pressure canner worthwhile, it just gives you that bit more freedom, and confidence, when canning anything that might be ‘borderline’ high acidic (ie. salsa or pasta sauce with added ingredients). Anything low acid MUST be done in a pressure canner, so if I add low acid ingredients, i.e. capsicum, chillies, onion, herbs etc. to tomato products, I know I have the ‘safety net’ of pressure canning them.

    A few more pressure canning resources I recommend (if you have time to read): http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga/using_press_canners.html

    http://notdabblinginnormal.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/pressure-canning-meat-and-poultry/

    http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2012/08/how-to-use-a-pressure-canner-part-1.html

    http://wellpreserved.ca/thinking-of-buying-a-pressure-canner/
    http://wellpreserved.ca/why-should-i-buy-a-pressure-canner/

    http://www.punkdomestics.com/search/node/pressure%20canning

  15. Louise
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 6:33 pm | Permalink | Reply

    UK equivalent Kilner jars and they’ve changed over my lifetime. they use the same system as the Mason jars now, but used to have a rubber ring plus a glass lid with a metal screw band. the modern ones are metric sizes too. It’s bottling, not canning, here. for many years I thought the Americans used metal cans in a canner. I have a pressure cooker I’ve had since the 70’s and it has instructions for bottling chicken but the modern ones don’t have any bottling instructions. Can’t decide whether it’s worth getting an American pressure canner or not.

  16. dixiebelle/ bec
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 8:21 pm | Permalink | Reply

    There is a reason why modern pressure cookers don’t have instructions for canning. http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/nchfp/factsheets/pressurecookers.html

  17. Posted October 9, 2013 at 12:37 am | Permalink | Reply

    I like to pressure can because water is at a premium during the dry months and the pressure can means so much less heat and steam to deal with during the hot weather. I hardly do any water bath anymore, now that I bought a second pressure canner I can hardly keep up with two. If it’s really hot i use a Camp Chef stove outside and that is the bomb!

    Do both kinds of jars, the lids are reusable for dry storage or freezer stored goods. We still use the freezer for some things and freezing in glass canning/freezing Ball or Kerr jars helps a little with the energy usage.

  18. Linda Cockburn
    Posted October 9, 2013 at 2:07 am | Permalink | Reply

    I am in the US and can quite a bit, all fruit jams particularly, the Ball jars work beautifully. There is the 1 1/2pint size that has straight sides, they are really nice. The 4 oz size i use for the jams that I sell to tourists for gifts, mix and match. Your canned foods look yummy! linda

    On 10/7/13, Milkwood: homesteading skills for city & country

  19. Posted October 9, 2013 at 3:07 am | Permalink | Reply

    Ball jar processing time depends on the food and the size of jar. A pint of salsa goes 15 mins; a half pint if grape jelly goes 5 mins; a quart of raw pack tomatoes goes 45 mins of an hour. Pressure canning uses much less fuel but keep in mind, 15 minutes of processing is preceded by bringing 2-3 quarts if water to a boil, 10 mins of venting, a few minutes of coming up to pressure, THEN you processing time, then time to depressurize. So it’s not necessarily faster per batch.

    You can also get reusable lids for them (Tattler brand) do you don’t have to get new flats every year.

    Also, IMHO, canned meat ROCKS. Nothing like beef tips and gravy over potatoes in 20 minutes!

  20. Jono
    Posted October 9, 2013 at 3:09 am | Permalink | Reply

    What an awesome thread. We have accumulated some 350 FV jars for our store (only paid for around $40 of them at op shop prices and the rest have been free) and have only dabbled on a few occasions with preserving. We just know that we will will use it more as we start to produce more in our garden. We have both green and brown lids for our jars and find there are lots of subtle differences in jars of the same size. Sometimes the lids are watertight and other times they just slide right off. The quality of the glass has varied over the years and the best and strongest seem to be the more greeny tinged ones.

  21. Abbie
    Posted October 9, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink | Reply

    Wow, this has been a really useful blog and thread for me, I’ve been getting Mother Earth News for a while now and had been reading all about Pressure Canning and looked into getting one (haven’t yet, pressure cookers in general scare me, much less their supersized cousins) so it’s been really good to see everyone’s thoughts and experiences with the pressure canners. I have a good stash of FV jars under the house just waiting for the day when I break out my orange and yellow retro FV outfit, at the moment I just sterilise the jars (been re-using the baby bottle steriliser) and do the whole thing in a giant pot on the stove, need to break out the FV unit soon – just need enough garden produce in one hit, and enough TIME to do it all. And thanks to Bec (dixiebelle) for all that information!

  22. Posted October 9, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink | Reply

    Wow! Dixiebelle’s summary and links are great.
    I’ve been using FV jars in a presto pressure canner for beans, Mexican style chilli, meatballs, soups etc and love the accessibility of opening a jar and just heating it up. I know from an energy perspective storing dried beans may be better but I’ve found it useful to have them cooked and ready to go (especially for soup in winter).
    I’ve had as many problems with breakages with water bath and pressure canning and it is largely the jars – all are second hand and some date back to the 50’s. Oh, the other thing I pressure can is stock – I freeze chicken carcasses and do a huge batch then preserve. Much better than freezing as I used to do. Instant gratification on a cold winter night.

    I’ve also used reclaimed screw top jars in the pressure canner but only with brand new lids. The Norganics Mayo jars work with two piece Balls lids.

    If you are doing something like beans, make sure you use a straight sided jar too. I don’t even soak beforehand, just dried beans, water with space to expand.

    Dive in and you won’t look back!

  23. Jo
    Posted October 9, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I have just started pressure canning using a mix of FV and Balls jars. Still nervous but the pantry is starting to look like it should! I have preserved 50kg of tomato – canned whole, as passata, as tomato sauce, pasta sauce and dehydrated. Building my skills before canning meat.

  24. Cathy
    Posted October 10, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink | Reply

    One summer savvy suggestion: I have a 70s electric FV unit and I run it on an extension cord out onto the verandah: bliss to have the steam outside!
    Cheers Cathy

  25. Posted October 11, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink | Reply

    Reblogged this on The Violet Verge and commented:
    I have about 2 dozen vacola bottles int eh shed a gift from an ex work colleague. Just need to source one of the original water baths. Need to get in contact with mum to see if she still has hers.

  26. Posted October 11, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Beautiful rainbow preserves! Making my mouth water.

    You asked for thoughts:

    1. Local sourcing will continue to be an issue for Mason jars, not many of those hanging around Oz garage sales, plus the usual frustrations of running two parallel systems, staying up to date with two lots of accessories and so on when, for most of us, just one lot is tricky enough.

    2. I’m a bit surprised about advice against using Fowlers’ system for the full range of preserves. When is a seal not a seal? It would be interesting to read the science on this.

    3. I suppose most people know about this fantastic resource: US National Center for Home Food Preservation website [http://nchfp.uga.edu/] and specifically this publication: USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning [downloadable in eight separate .pdf chapters from http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html - note this is the 2009 revision but also check more recent bulletins].

  27. Posted October 12, 2013 at 11:00 am | Permalink | Reply

    A vacuum seal only shows that the jars, lids & contents have been heated, and as it cools, the oxygen is forced out. An airtight seal can indicate that no contamination or oxygenation of the contents has occurred after processing (unless, of course, the seal is lost during the storing period). However, it is not an indication of whether the contents have been heated to the high enough temperature (and kept there for the time required) to kill the bad bugs.

    I think the question about using Fowlers Vacola jars in something other than Fowlers Vacola units, is that the ‘tested’ recipes (for boiling water bathing or pressure canning) were tested using certain types of glass jars (Mason), therefore there *may* be a concern that using Fowlers Vacola jars/ lids etc. *may* mean you are not attaining the safety levels you want (especially for low acid foods, which don’t have that extra safety net of acidity). It isn’t people cannot do it, just that they be concerned that it has not been tested and proven to be safe by ‘food safety authorities’!

    By the way, for anyone interested in this information, I emailed (and emailed and emailed) the Fowlers Vacola company to get information on the research that presumably was done by Joseph Fowlers way back when, about why this method was proven safe… and (finally) I was told that they don’t have any. I was told by email, “The method was based on pasteurisation, where harmful enzymes would be killed, enabling long time preservation of foods. Pasteurization can occur between 72C and 96C. The higher the temp the shorter time required. We generally recommend against boiling for an extended time so as not to force liquid/food product out of the jar (especially when jars have been filled right up ), as this can foul the seal.” Again *presumably* this method was tested based on there specific units, equipment etc

    The way I see it, everyone makes judgement calls every single day of their life, and has their own risk management strategies… I am not here to tell anyone how they should do their preserving, only the experiences and research I have done over the last 5 years.

    • Posted October 12, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink | Reply

      Apologies for the typos! I am supposed to be outside with the chooks, getting our sweet potato patch ready!

  28. Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink | Reply

    So now I’m worried about following USDA recommendations using Fowler and/or recycled jars… the first lot of preserves (fruit and green tomato pickles) just didn’t go uneaten long enough to really test their resilience!! And I suppose I really must throw out that years-old jar of beautiful cherries that went unnoticed until way past the 12-month deadline???

    • Posted October 12, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Like I said, it’s a decision you make weighing up the pro’s and con’s, and think about it like this, ‘Did I follow the process and steps correctly? Were my jars and equipment in good condition? Have I stored my preserved food in the right conditions?’ Ultimately I think it comes down to this, “If in doubt, throw it out” because whilst the chances of food poisoning occurring may be low, the consequences may be severe. I know, it is hard to throw food out (especially home grown, home cooked, home preserved food!)… people who are into preserving and growing your own, are usually frugal people who hate waste. I get that! I am not saying you have to throw anything out, of course, and you can still eat home preserves that are more than a year old… it is just recommended to use it up by one year, as nutritional quality starts to deteriorate after that, apparently.

      It is hard to have confidence in preserving, and many people are put off even learning because of all those horror stories or things they worry could happen… but you know, even the commercial food industry has horror stories. Eating any food is a risk to humans that we simply cannot avoid taking! You could try contacting the NCHFP, which I did try, but I never got a reply (at the time, the website said they didn’t have funding or something, so fair enough): http://nchfp.uga.edu/contact_more_info.html

      Here is something that might help people feel more confident in their preserving: http://i1.wp.com/www.growing-home.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Safer-Bottling-or-Canning-Strategies.jpg

  29. Maurice
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 3:59 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I canned with a variety of Mason/Ball jars for over 20 years in the USA, fruits, veggies, pickles, Meat, and jams. I often hot-packed things; hot jars, hot jam or sauce, with not one problem. I never used a pressure canner but used a hot water bath for beans, peaches, pears, plums, etc. Once in a while I’d get a jar that didn’t seal so would pop it in the refrigerator and use it within a few days. I like the idea of using an outside spot for hot water baths in this climate. I used a large fireplace with metal top. Often I’d use recycled jars if the canning fillers and lid from Ball fit them firmly and screwed down.

  30. Posted October 14, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I am only familiar with the ball jars. I’m a fan, but still don’t like the fact that the metal/rubber lid needs to be replaced once it wears out… in comes these infinitely (or so I’ve heard) reusable lids, which I will be trying this year…. tattler lids (and yes they’re bpa free) – http://www.reusablecanninglids.com. So if you do decide on the ball jars, be sure to try some of these once your lids wear out.

  31. Derek Ewer
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:01 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Ball vs Vacola.
    USA vs Australia
    When I was interning at Polyface and observing all the canning they had/ did, of coarse everything was Ball. (Except… for the two vacolas I found hiding in the back of Missy’s pantry. “What are you doing with these” I asked. “Where did you find them”. One was empty and the other had a fruit cake preserved in it from none other than our Lisa Heenan.)
    Missy was confused about our vacola lid system and wondered why we didn’t use a threaded lid.
    I had no answer to this.
    But I must say using their two piece lids was easy and fast. After you boiled them up and they had cooled down we would unscrew the outer ring part leaving behind the cap, (vacume sealed) we then used the threaded part on the next batch.
    Non boiled canning produce like Teresa’s sweet pickles we would use a one piece lid.
    Their lids were also half the price of our vacola rubber rings. Grrrrr
    We also pickled pork

  32. Posted October 15, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I use Ball jars as I live in the USA. I use them with Tattler Lids which are completely reusable–NO waste. With regular Ball lids, you have to replace the flat disks each time.
    I do both water bath and pressure canning, depending on what I am trying to preserve.

    • Cheryl S
      Posted October 19, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Im wondering if those Tattler lids would also fit the vacola jars.

  33. chris lambrechts
    Posted October 17, 2013 at 9:16 am | Permalink | Reply

    Where do you buy the pressure cookers in Australia?

    • Posted October 20, 2013 at 7:53 am | Permalink | Reply

      Pressure cooker, or pressure canner?

      If you want to do canning/ bottling, it is recommended NOT to use a pressure cooker, but you need a specially designed pressure canning unit, with proper gauges. You can buy several brands of pressure canners at OzFarmer http://ozfarmer.com/food-preserving/pressure-cookers-canners OR you can buy Presto brand here: http://www.redbacktrading.com.au/index1.html

      If you are just looking for a pressure cooker (to make super fast meals… they are very handy) you can try places like Big W, or kitchenware shops. You can, of course, also cook under pressure using the pressure canner as a pot.

      You can cook in a pressure canner, but you cannot ‘can’ in a pressure cooker. http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/nchfp/factsheets/pressurecookers.html

      (Of course, you can do whatever you like, these are purely the recommendations of food safety authorities).

      • clambrechts
        Posted October 21, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

        Thank you Bec for the advice on pressure cookers or canners. I need to have a pressure cooker (or canner???) for sterilising straw etc to grow mushrooms in – so could I use the pressure canner for that? We were advised to get the America brand for that, which I now assume is a canner.

  34. Marleen
    Posted October 18, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink | Reply

    If you have not tried out a steam canner vs doing a water bath you should. You use less water and it takes less time to heat up. Cook time is about 40-45 minutes. Love your site and exploration into bringing real food to people and helping our world be a better place.

  35. Catherine
    Posted October 18, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I am VERY new to this, so it may be a silly question. My Grandpa is buying me a Fowlers Vacola unit for our new house. I can’t find info anywhere on whether I can buy Mason Jars with screw top lids and use them with my new FV unit?

    • Catherine
      Posted October 18, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Or the Le Parfait jars? Can I use them with my FV?

      • Posted October 20, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

        Try emailing the Fowlers Vacola company (it can take a while to hear back from them), but from my point of view, you could certainly use them, but the FV system and times are based on certain types of FV jars/ sizes etc. I feel that the Ball Mason jars and FV jars similiar density, both have proper preserving lid systems, and can be used interchangeably, but that is just my opinion. I don’t know anything about other types of jars, like Le Parfait, so maybe someone else can help you there.

        Fowlers Vacola method is like a ‘slow water bath’ concept (the jars & contents are slowly bought to the point of pasteurisation at 96’C, over 60 to 70 minute time period) compared to boiling water bathing (which is quicker and brings the jars & contents to 100’C, and held for 10 to 35 minutes).

        Good luck with your Fowlers Vacola preserving, have fun!

      • Posted October 20, 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

        I mean the types of jars can be used interchangeably, NOT that the lid systems can be!!

    • Sarah Micheale
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink | Reply

      Hi Catherine, sorry I know its late but ozfarmer.com have a lot of info (and videos) on the different methods :)

  36. Laura
    Posted February 16, 2014 at 10:56 pm | Permalink | Reply

    My parents have been preserving fruit and tomatoes for years. And I mean years. I remember well each summer preserving apricots, peaches, cherries, nectarines, plums for winter. We never wanted to look another stone fruit in the face again. In all that time we have never gotten sick from our preserves.
    I have now got the preserving kit over here to do some tomatoes for my family for the following year, and living in the Yarra Valley we have lots of stone fruit available to us over summer.
    I was just looking at using the screw top system of preserving fruit as opposed to the FV method, and this thread has many interesting points and information in it. Thankyou.

  37. Posted February 22, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink | Reply

    Your jars are beautiful! Thanks for educating me about these different types of jars. And I love all the comments on this post. They were equally helpful!

  38. Sarah Micheale
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink | Reply

    I was a FV fan until I discovered the jars are now made in china and the seals (which fail much more than the old ones) are now manufactured in India. I find the Ball jars much easier to use, cheaper and are really pretty :)

  39. Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:31 pm | Permalink | Reply

    From an American now living in New Zealand: the Vacola system is new to me and I found this post while looking for info on it. Now that I know, I’ll happily stick with my Bell/Mason jars. The single clincher for me is processing time. Bell jars need only be boiled for 15-20 minutes; the idea of a full hour is just unbelievable to me! Shorter processing time not only means less energy expended, but a better-textured product, too. Longer processing times = softer fruits and veggies. I’d expect Vacola-preserved things to be mushier than I’m accustomed to.

  40. Posted July 1, 2014 at 5:37 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I’ve been preserving for 35 years using Fowlers Vacola Jars – I’ve have an amazing collection of vary Vacola jars as well (over 500 of them) – and use them in an old copper-tinned water bath as well as a pressure canner. No problem preserving, meats, vegetables, whatever, using vacola jars in the pressure canner. I have a very old Fowlers book that tells you how.

    I live on acres, live a sustainable life and have more than 30 books published on the natural lifestyle and sustainable living. If anyone is interested in making contact, you can Google Alan Hayes Books or just Alan Hayes or go to http://www.itssonatural.com.

    Cheers
    Alan Hayes

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