Wow, it’s been ages since I disappeared off-line. Nearly a month! And no, I’ve not been without a laptop that entire time but it has taken some time to get things up and working again. Not that we’re there entirely yet either. 😦 Continue reading
I finally found my iPhone cable so I can download the photos which means I have a few to share. 🙂 Continue reading
The tomatoes are done! The big order is bottled and safely away. The pantry is groaning.
The alarm went off at 5:30am. It does every morning now. I am beginning to relish more and more the peace and quiet to get stuff done or just sit and read emails uninterrupted or just research and read. It’s wonderful. When the alarm went off this morning I debated rolling over and going back to sleep. I’d not made it to bed until after 10:30pm (late for me now) and I’d spent the afternoon with a fairly severe headache so some extra sleep was a fairly viable option. I dozed off whilst I thought about it. I woke with a start ages later. 5:38am. I got up. 😀
This morning I decided to get stuck into getting the last of the current harvest (which we’d bought through our local co-op direct from an organic farmer) safely away for the coming months. Corn is the word of the day in this case. Corn, sweet corn or cobs of corn littered my coffee table and I was over them. Yesterday afternoon had been spent shucking 60 or so cobs, then cutting off the kernels to pressure can them as they can’t be safely processed with water bathing. Sorry Fowlers Vacola. This was a job for the big guns.
Canning is a bit of a confusing term as far as understanding how to can at home. When we buy canned goods at the supermarket they come in a metal tin or can, completely sealed and requiring cutting open with a tin/can opener to access the food inside. Home canning is also done under high pressure, although likely not nearly as high as commercial canning but it’s done in glass jars. Ball Mason jars are the standard jars that most canners are designed to use, usually in pint or quart amounts although other sizes are available. They are a 3 part system with glass jar, lid seal and then the screw band for the jar. Sadly, the lid seals contain BPA or so my reading and research (and a friend who has also done reading and research) inform me. 😦 The seals are a one use only although there are other lid accessories out there like Tattler lids (made of plastic but BPA free). In Australia, with our Fowlers Vacola bottling system being the most common and readily available system it is indeed fortunate that the Fowlers Vacola bottles can also be used in pressure canning. 😀
So, back to the corn.
I filled up all of my remaining #14 vacola bottles which hold about 350ml I think (1lb), and a few of my #20’s which are about 1.2 US pints/ 600ml , close enough to the size of a standard 410g can from a supermarket. Fill your pressure canner with water as per the specifications and get it boiling whilst you prepare everything else. Otherwise you end up waiting for the silly thing to boil whilst your bottles sit and wait. To can corn, fill your bottles or jars with corn to within an inch of the top and then cover with just enough boiling water to cover the kernels. This is cold packed corn. Hot packed corn involves bringing the corn to just under the simmer and making sure it’s heated through before spooning into jars and then making sure the kernels are covered with boiling water. This is considered the safer option by the powers that be as you guarantee your corn is heated through but given the preserving time and pressure I’m not concerned about it not heating through so I cold packed my corn. Once your bottles are full, carefully load your canner using the necessary tongs and put your lid on. Again, follow your canner instructions (seriously, don’t muck around with guesswork with canning. A mistake can make you very sick or worse). Mine requires bringing back to the boil then venting steam for 10 minutes before starting the pressure building. Processing time varies depending on your altitude so you will need to know your height elevation. I processed my corn high just to be sure (it’s a riskier food than some) at 15psi for 85 minutes which is the pint processing time and pressure. The #14 bottles are less than a pint but better to over-process than under. I am very generous with my processing time too as I go and do something else whilst the pressure rises so as soon as I see it’s at minimum pressure that’s when I start counting from but adding on some extra time. Mine got at least 90 minutes last night although it may be closer to 100 minutes depending on when the 15psi was preached. 🙂 As I said, better to over-process. 🙂 Once the canner has processed the full amount of time (if the pressure dips beneath the processing pressure you must start timing again) turn off the heat and leave it to cool and lower the pressure. Don’t lift the pressure regulator or do anything to hasten the pressure dropping. In my case, I turned off the stove and went to bed. 🙂
This morning I opened up the pressure canner and removed my still steaming hot bottles. One of my #14’s broke (this can happen if there is a crack or chip or flaw in the bottle – ah well) so I cleaned off the resulting corn floaties and set my bottles on a folded tea-towel to cool. I’ll remove the clips in the next few days.
I spent this morning blanching the rest of the corn to remove the kernels for freezing and also some half cobs (they snap in half really easily) for corn on the cob for the kids. I now have a freezer full of corn kernels (5 sandwich sized snap-lock bags) and about 20 half cobs too. We bagged up the cauliflower florets too so I have officially processed all my fruit and veggies from this round. There are plenty of white nectarines for munching though. Yum!
I like surprises. Well, not entirely true. I don’t like surprises like lifting the chickens water bowl to find a breeding ground of millipedes. Nor do I like finding caterpillars on the cauliflower or corn. I definitely don’t like finding surprises in nappies (although my sense of smell fortunately prevents them surprising me very much). I DO like surprises like finding bees gorging happily in my pumpkin flowers. I do like finding that we have 6 pumpkins growing (although it’s not a huge surprise given that I made sure they were fertilised). I most particularly like the surprise I got this morning though. I usually glance in to see if any of our chickens may have deigned to lay us an egg and to my surprise this morning there WAS an egg! it’s been a LONG time. 😀 As I picked up the egg I wondered who may have lad it. Our pekin bantams don’t lay eggs as large as this one and I didn’t think our Dorkings were quite ready to lay (getting there but not yet) but as I picked it up the culprit was revealed. Miss Mandy, or Muscovy duck (as opposed to Milly and Molly, our Muscovy drakes) has finally reached maturity and has gifted us with an egg. 😀 Oh happy day!
As for the garden, I have 8 pumpkins that are growing, green tomatoes everywhere, including 1 in the greenhouse and rocket and spinach ready to harvest in the greenhouse too. My corn is still growing and some zucchinis are too although they’re both struggling for lack of both sunlight and water. Not a good location for that garden and I shall move it once the corn and zucchinis are finished. If they finish. Something has been digging in that garden bed.
It’s harvest time. Well, it’s harvest time for most other people. My own meager harvest is battling against the risk of early frost which is no immediate risk with 9 days straight in the high 20’s or low 30’s and more heat to come. But the farmers around us are in harvest mode and our co-op is in hardcore produce mode too. Yesterday saw me picking up 60 cobs of corn (ok, so I left 30 at my friends house which they kindly dropped off at a half way point at 9 this morning), 6 cauliflowers, 10kgs of white nectarines, 10kgs of peaches and 2 kgs of blueberries. Their house looked like a very selective fruit sellers and smelled amazing too as they were bottling peaches when I arrived. My house now smells the same. Yum.
Hence, insanity struck last night. With a glut of beans offered to me for sale I topped and tailed then chopped up several bunches of beans, blanched and froze them, then 6 cauliflowers received the same treatment after being carefully de-caterpillared *shudder*. I fell into bed sometime not long after 11. This morning I woke at ridiculous o’clock (sorry Fran but 3:35 is an insane time to wake and 3:55 is no improvement for a get up and dressed time either. After some ‘sit like a vegetable, read emails and wake up a bit’ time I got stuck into peeling the corn. Again I discovered caterpillars. Bleuch! Once they were done I hit the peaches with a peeler before the arrival of one small and very talkative daughter came out and joined me. Yes, she takes after her mother. 😉 I had time to start filling jars before the inevitable “I’m hungry” breakfast gong sounded, by which time I had been joined by an ever so slightly less talkative elder son so I retrieved the quietest family member from his cot, fed them, filled the Fowlers Vacola with peaches and got it running, jammed the kids in the car and off we went for my meeting for the corn. We had finished and were on our way home again by 9am. A short visit to the Ballan Farmers market for a few supplies and then back home again. I’m exhausted and it’s just gone 10am!
Tis the season though when fruits and vegetables reach ripeness. The time when preserving must be done to capture that peak nutrition and peak colour. Over ripe fruits don’t bottle as well and won’t last as long and underripe ones lack taste and in the instance of fruits, sweetness. I like to bottle in water rather than syrup as my kids all react poorly to sugar and we are a 99% sugar free house. We do use rapadura (or jaggery as it’s also known) which is dried sugarcane juice but it hasn’t been spun to change its shape, hasn’t had the molasses and mineral salts removed (the good stuff) and it hasn’t been bleached either. It looks a lot like brown sugar but brown sugar is just white sugar with molasses added back in. Rapadura has an amazing deep caramel flavour and is a little more textured but I don’t like the syrup it makes for bottling. It’s not as aesthetically pleasing and it has left a sediment in some of my jars. So, I bottle in water when and wherever possible which means I really want that peak sweetness.
So, I think it’s time I shared a “how to” on bottling. I highly recommend reading other blogs and also official web pages or the Fowlers Vacola books before embarking on your bottling adventure. The more knowledge you have the better you can judge what to do.
So, how to bottle peaches.
First things first, check your equipment. I often fail to do this and run short on rings or lids. It can be very difficult to bolt out to grab supplies in the middle of bottling and nigh on impossible with 3 young kids so do as I say, not as I do. 😉 This time around I’ve just bought a whole lot more lids, rings and bottles (mostly 2nd hand) so I knew I had the supplies I needed. The jars need to be clean and sterile so you can either boil them (you would need to look up the times for that), put them in the oven (again, you’d need to check what temperature and for how long or, as I did this morning at 4:30 am, load them in the dishwasher and run them through at the highest temperature possible. Our dishwasher has an intensive run (65C) to which I added the sanitise option. Leave them in the dishwasher with the door closed whilst you prepare your fruit.
Take your peaches, peel if you prefer. I have left the skins on most of mine but these peaches are just on the edge of being nice and ripe and hence they’re still quite firm. I’m able to peel them with a potato peeler, rather than cutting a cross in the end, blanching in boiling water for 30-60 seconds then plunging into icy water for the same time. The skins will usually come off although I rarely bother going to that effort. In this case though the peeler is working a treat and I can read blogs or watch a movie whilst I peel. Multitasking at its best. 😉 Once your peach is peeled, cut it in half and remove the pit or stone. You can bottle them as peach halves, peach quarters or peach slices. It’s totally up to you and dependent on how you use them. I’m slicing this time as I have apricot halves and nectarine quarters. And I felt like it this morning anyway. 🙂
If I remember I put the rings in warm water to soak before I start slicing peaches and the lids need to be sterilised too. I usually just fill a bowl with boiling water and plonk them in that. Just remember that the water IS boiling though when you go to get a lid out. Yes, I’ve done that many times before, this morning included. I find it easiest to put the rings around the bottles before filling them but afterwards is fine too. Make sure there are no twists in your rings. I gently flick them down with my thumb if they’re twisted when they go on.
Fill your jars.
Once they’re full to a bit under the rim – about 1-2cm from memory (yeah, I make these things up as I go along which is why I’m an unreliable (at best) “how to” person. Do NOT rely just on my instructions, please!) then fill them with boiling water or your syrup. If you’re using syrup you need to prepare it before the slicing part too. once your bottles are filled, put on the sterile lid (without burning yourself on the sterilised lids, their water or the now boiling hot jars of syrup/water and peaches) then put on the clip. Fowlers Vacola lids will not stay on the jar until after processing without the clip. They’re not screw on or press down, that’s the job of the clip. Make sure it’s properly in place then put your jars in the water bath unit. Once it’s full (don’t cram your jars in, make sure they have a little wriggle room) then put in some cold water. Watch that you don’t overfill it and end up with water either pouring or boiling out of the thermometre hole. Turn on your heat, lid on your unit and take a break or prepare more jars. The temperature needs to reach 100C and stay there for an hour. Once it’s done, turn off the heat and in best case scenario, let it rest and cool in there. If not, remove the bottles carefully. There are specific tongs you can get but I hate them. I’ve heard that the Ball mason jar lifters are better to use but I’ve not tried them. If I’m really struggling with using the tongs I grab my washing up gloves and work using them and the tongs. Do NOT lift the bottles by the clips or lid as it can damage the seal. Also, do NOT put your still hot jars on a cold bench, board or anything. I put a tea-towel, folded once down first. Even if they’re cool, it’s prudent.
Once your bottle have sat, undisturbed and not touching each other for 24-48 hours (I leave them 48 as that’s how long it usually takes me to get back to them) you can slide the clips off. Lift your bottle by the lid with your other hand ready to catch and see if the seal is set. If the lid comes off, pop it in the fridge for immediate use. If not, you’ve just bottled your first peaches. 😀
Nectarines, pears, plums, apricots and any other stone fruit I have forgotten is no different. You may need to peel or core but there is no difference in the bottling. Tomatoes require a little more as many modern tomato varieties are low acid and hence need a little extra acidic help so add some lemon juice or vinegar. Again, please google this or check out bottling books for amounts as it differs per bottle size. And the final disclaimer, do NOT bottle vegetables. Veggies, like beans and corn etc don’t contain sufficient acid to preserve them safely. If you have a pressure canner (not a pressure cooker) then you can safely preserve vegetables in bottles (the Fowlers Vacola bottles work with pressure canning too) but otherwise, please stick to blanching or dehydrating. I have a pressure canner so the chick peas, soups, meat stocks and vegetables that I put into bottles are all pressure canned and hence, safe. Botulism is not something you want to run risks with.
Well, as I finish typing this (after breaks to deal with the kids, feed and water the chooks and grab a bite to eat) the first round of peaches are ready. I will let them cool for a bit whilst I finish peeling these peaches and then it’s on to round 2.