Top 5 – Things I don’t know about Preserving

It struck me today that it has been a while since I wrote a Top 5 post.  Clearly the only way to remedy that situation was to write one –  And here it is – Top 5 Things I don’t know about preserving.

Preserves1. Can you reuse the rings for Fowlers jars?  I bought a Fowlers Vacola unit last summer and preserved heaps of tomatoes and peaches, which we are working our way through (actually we have just finished the peaches and there are only a few jars of tomatoes left).  After we use each jar I wash the lids and rings for later use.  But I was looking at the ring packaging the other day though and it suggests they are only suitable for single usage.  Is this really the case?  On one hand the rings are quite expensive so I would prefer to reuse but by the same token I only want to do it safe in the knowledge that they will actually work the second time round.

2. How long can you keep chutney?  I have been known to find the odd 5 year old jar of chutney in the back of the cupboard.  Generally I will happily eat the contents which sometimes taste better than in the preceding 4 years.  My most recent back of the cupboard find did get me thinking though – exactly how long does chutney last for.  Will it eventually go off or is the vinegar, sugar and salt combination so inhospitable that nothing will ever grow in it?

3. How do you know if olives might kill you?  My 3 year old son is going through a particularly particular eating phase.  He likes to know exactly what he is eating.  As a result I prepare a lot of ‘plates of food’.  ‘Plates of food’ consist of a plate with a number of separate things on it – ie carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, cubes of cheese etc.  Today his luncheon plate also included olives.  The olives I am using at the moment were given to me by a friend of mine who has a tree.  Her neighbours come and harvest all the olives on her tree each year and then use them to produce oil.  They also preserve a few jars full for her.  Anyway as I was ladling out his olives today I did pause to wonder how I would know if they had been preserved properly.

4. Can you use oil to preserve wet ingredients?  I get very confused about using oil to preserve things.  My understanding is that if you pour oil over wet ingredients to preserve them the ingredients can still go off underneath the oil.  Is this the case?  Because I also read suggestions to ‘seal’ jars of pesto etc by pouring on a slick of oil.  Which is right?  Does oil stop food from spoiling?

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

5. How do you get the bits arranged nicely in jar of marmalade?  As I mentioned yesterday in my Monday Harvest post I went to the Royal Melbourne Agricultural Show on Monday.  In the Arts and Craft pavilion they had the most beautiful looking preserves.  To me the most beautiful was a jar of marmalade which looked to have fine strands of peel set in a marmalade jelly.  The intriguing thing was the strands of peel where evenly distributed throughout the jar.  How did the maker manage it?  Mine always seems to bunch together either on the top or the bottom of the jar.

Those are my Top 5 things I don’t know about preserving, I am really looking forward to your thoughts on any or all of the above issues.

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26 Responses to Top 5 – Things I don’t know about Preserving

  1. Daphne says:

    Well I can’t answer most of them but I can answer #4. You can’t preserve with oil. If you put a layer of oil on top you can produce botulism toxin in the bottom part because you have cut off the air supply. Botulism is an anaerobic bacteria and only grows without air. You can’t kill it unless you get it to a very high temp (you need to pressure can to get the temp high enough). It won’t grow in the cold or in a very high acid environment (pH 4.6 or lower). So if you use oil, put it in the fridge.

    • Liz says:

      Ah – that makes absolute sense and explains why I’ve read never to make flavoured oils with fresh ingredients only with dried things like chilli.

  2. I’d like to know how long pickles remain safe and edible too. As for olives they’ll never poison me as I can’t stand them.

    Other than pickles we don’t bottle anything so I can’t help with your questions. Sorry

  3. Bek says:

    1. No idea, I’ve never used them. I use ball mason jars and though you’re not supposed to re-use them I have and still got a tight seal. I suspect with ongoing use they may not seal properly.pity is you don’t know until you give it a shot, and if they don’t seal then you need to either re-preserve with proper new rings or eat before they go off. Not ideal either way.
    2. I don’t believe they have a use by date, more of a best before. But don’t take my word for it.
    3. Depends on how they are preserved. If not salted or in vinegar then they could be a botulism risk I suspect. Not trying to scare you though, and if they have always preserved them like that and no one in their family has died I would guess you have a good chance of surviving too.
    4. No, not on its own. Oil to seal pesto or tomato paste can work by excluding air and preventing aerobic organisms from amazing a home in your delicious goods, thereby keeping them in good eating states for longer. However, for anything you want to keep for a long time (months if not years) needs to exclude not only air by preserving in oil (or water, or syrup) but prevent anaerobic organisms, the most well known being the botulism causing bacteria, which requires either a very salty, very acid or very sweet solution, and sometimes a combination thereof. So you can use oil, but you need to treat what you are preserving with either salt or vinegar first, before using your oil to exclude air.
    5. I’ve heard the use of tweezers to ensure the perfect distribution of peel is not uncommon. I don’t know how they have the patience myself.
    Loving that the top 5 has made a comeback. No pressure though.

    • Liz says:

      Loving your reply!!! I reckon you’re right about the olives – the makers have the pedigree – they should know what they are doing. I’ll keep them in the fridge to be on the safe side though…. I certainly don’t have the patience for tweezer work particularly as the kids would destroy my good work the moment they opened the jar. I admire others for doing it though. I will try and keep posting the occasional top 5 – I do enjoy them but I have too much on at the moment to commit to doing them every week.

  4. I had heard the botulism fact re preserving pesto too – my view is always make sure it’s covered in olive oil, keep it in the fridge and eat within a few weeks. The latter normally happens with most things in our fridge anyway!

  5. What great questions! I honestly can’t answer any of them. I’d love to get a fowlers vacola! I also wonder about the olives as we have heaps that we preserved in the cupboard and I’m nervous to eat them, being 16 weeks pregnant.

    • I wouldn’t risk it being pregnant Clare. If you have done them properly they will still be good in 5 months time 🙂

    • Liz says:

      I did some olives myself a year or so ago but then panicked and threw them all out in case I poisoned my family. Silly I know. I reckon if they make you nervous leave them or alternatively get your partner/husband to try them then wait a few days and see if he survives he, he, he.

  6. Jenny says:

    #5 – you need to keep shaking up jars as they start cooling and that will make them nicely balanced without bunching on top or bottom.

    • Liz says:

      AHHHHHH – yay – that makes perfect sense and a lot less tedious than trying to distribute it equally with a fork or tweezers.

  7. Melanie-Jade says:

    I read a great article on preserving using Fowlers Vacola in Earth Garden magazine, March-May 2013 issue. The lady reuses her rings 3 or 4 times. It was one of the most comprehensive articles I have found on the subject.
    I have read something somewhere about waiting til marmalade cools slightly, then stir pot to evenly distribute peel, then bottle. I saw the exact same bottle of marmalade at the show too and marvelled at how perfect it looked!
    I’m also really wary with oil. I freeze my pesto in ice cube trays then tip into a bigger container. I did however make preserved green tomatoes in olive oil and they were my fave preserve to date. You salt the tomatoes and put under heavy weight for a few days then put in jatrs with olive oil and herbs. I guess they are not wet though as the salt removes all the liquid!
    I only ever keep my relishes, jams etc for a year, although quince paste keeps indefinitely ( I have eaten 2 y.o. paste that was delicious)
    Melanie-Jade in Melbourne

    • Liz says:

      Thanks Melanie – Jade – great to be reassured via Earth Garden magazine – excellent news. I reckon I will reuse my rings then. I love the green tomatoes preserve idea it sounds delicious. I suspect the salt might help keep the nasties at bay like it does with olives. I too keep jam for a year – I reckon it loses its flavour after that although marmalade can be an exception. Relishes though I reckon can still be lovely after a year or even two but I get a little worried the first time I eat a particularly old jar. I must make quince paste this year I made plum paste last year and it was good too.

  8. 1. I never reuse them but I have thought of doing so. I think as long as they are still intact, with no nicks and cuts, and still stretchy they should be fine. To be honest, the only reason I don’t reuse them is because I put so much effort into the bottling I would be devastated if they failed. Although the rings are getting harder to find so I may at some point have to look at reuse. I have heard you shouldn’t reuse the lids, but I fork out for the stainless steel ones so am happy to reuse those.
    2. I don’t know either. I think as long as it still smells and tastes fine it should be good. It should have sufficient vinegar & sugar in for preservation. I am starting to make a lot smaller batches than I used to. Takes less time, greater variety and you don’t find masses of jars forgotten at the back of the cupboard.
    3.You will know if olives have not been preserved properly. They will taste really bitter and may be fermenting. Both indications of poor preservation. Otherwise you should be good. Growth on the top of home preserved olives is not necessarily an indication of poor preservation. If it is smooth and slimy it may be a beneficial colony forming. Furry, whole different ball game.
    4. As others have said, your biggest risk is botulism. I treat oil as a short term preservation system. I use it to stop the tops of my pestos browning etc. if you have large batches of pesto or similar you wish to keep, freeze it. I freeze pesto in small containers. It freezes brilliantly.
    5. Have far too much time on your hands. There appear to be a myriad of tricks to get even distribution in the jars. You can let the marmalade settle for 5 mins in the pan before you jar it, you can turn the jar upside down once full to cool for a bit before you turn it back the right way, or you can not care 🙂 I adopt this method the most.

    • Liz says:

      Thanks Tania – great responses. I’m sure stainless steel lids can be used for years and years – my mum certainly used the same ones each year. I find the non stainless steel variety tend to degrade a bit so I now always get the stainless steel ones. There is an online company called Bee Sustainable that does the Fowlers rings (they also have a shop in Brunswick in Melbourne which I frequent) not sure what they would charge to post to Perth but it might be worth a look if you can’t find them locally. Interesting feedback about the olives – I could have used that info last year when I looked at my home preserved ones and panicked about the black slime and threw them all out. Perhaps there are some things I should just buy at the Farmers Market…

      • Thanks Liz. That’s good to know. I found a stockpile of rings recently and bought the shop out but when that’s gone I’ll be on the hunt for more. I got black slime in my olives as well, so I showed them to someone with experience in lacto fermentation. We tasted them and they seemed fine, just still bitter. She told me the smooth slime was a fermentation mother, and I should just rebrine the olives in fresh brine. I have yet to do this but the ones I tasted didn’t kill me 😉

  9. foodnstuff says:

    I can only answer the one about the pesto, but only if it’s made with basil. As I understand it basil darkens on exposure to oxygen and a layer of oil on top keeps it out. Seems to work when I do it, but you do have to burrow through the oil layer to get the pesto out.

  10. Miranda says:

    I love this! Reading all the answers with great interest. To date, I’ve only ever preserved things in old peanut butter (etc) jars. Sterilised the jars and lids in a microwave steam steriliser, poured hot jam/tomatoes/pickles etc, sealed then stored. I often wonder whether I should get set up with this Fowlers bizzo – is it necessary for preserving?

    • Liz says:

      I don’t think its necessary per se but I have been really pleased with my tomatoes and peaches. Both very really easy to do and have lasted really well throughout the year. I think Fowlers is most useful if you want to preserve things whole or in large pieces. Otherwise I wouldn’t worry and I stick with the jars.

      • Miranda says:

        Thanks for that insight! I have to say, my zuchhini pickles have lasted all year quite nicely in old peanut butter jars. But might consider Fowlers for this year’s tomato harvest.

  11. Well I was about to answer a couple of your questions, but everyone has it covered ! Impressive, Internet. Impressive.
    I second the reusing Fowlers rings. Just use common sense if they don’t look right.

  12. Mark Willis says:

    Well, I don’t think there is much more to be said. I have just 2 things to contribute:-
    1 I once tried making flavoured oils with soft herbs – e.g. Basil, Tarragon, Oregano etc. They all went off (mildewy or suchlike), which was probably because I had washed the herbs.
    2. One of the most common reasons for food to go off is the contamination of part-used jars by dirty spoons. Small jars that are quickly used up are best!

    • Liz says:

      I think the leaves themselves may have too great a water content if you don’t dry them completely first. That’s interesting about part-used jars being contaminated I hadn’t thought about that.

  13. Jo says:

    Well I know pretty much nothing that can help you, but I have learnt a lot from all the comments. Thanks 🙂

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