Preserving fruit and vegetables in jars is a thrifty way of carrying your garden harvest over several months, or even into the following year. Even if your vegetable garden doesn’t produce much you can buy and preserve seasonal fruit and vegies when they are at their peak in taste and quality, but at their lowest price. Basic home preserving is a simple process that requires sterilisation of jars and sealing apparatus and the elimination of anything in the food that will cause spoilage. This is done by either placing uncooked food in clean sealed jars and processing for a certain time or by pre-cooking food like sauces, jams and chutneys, and placing the cooked food into a jar or bottle. You can buy a Fowlers Vacola kit and jars from eBay or - http://www.bakeandbrew.com.au/category23_1.htm
Or use a large stockpot on top of the stove with recycled jars. You can buy new lids for your recycled jars so the jars may be reused many times. You can buy new lids here:http://www.greenlivingaustralia.com.au/jars.html
If you're in Australia you should be able to set yourself up for preserving for around $50, using second hand equipment and jars. If you're using FV jars, you might need to buy new lids and rubber seals at bake and brew.
This is my Fowlers Vacola unit, circa 1970s
When you buy your first jars, try to get sizes that use the same size lids. Size 14 (350mls), size 20 (600mls) and size 27 (1 litre) all use size 3 lids. Size 4 Lids fit jar sizes: 31 (1 litre), 36 (1100mls) and 65 (about 2kg).The Fowlers jars are made with tempered glass, last for many years and are often passed down from generation to generation. You can see the jar size in raised glass on the side of each jar near the base.
Fowlers Vacola lids come in stainless steel or tin plate. If you can afford it, get the stainless steel as they last a lot longer. You’ll also get clips for the lids but you don’t need as many of these as you’ll remove the clips when the jars are cool. Then you can reuse the clips for your next bottling session.
Jars such as those you get commercial jam and chutney in, the ones with the metal lids with pop top button, are suitable for preserving. My favourites are the Bonne Maman French jam jars. They have a red and white gingham tin lid.
The mason jars that Bertolli spaghetti sauce comes in are suitable as are the made in Italy Quattro Stagioni jars you can buy from Kmart and Big W. Woolworths also sell suitable jars - the I Sottovettro jars.http://www.greenlivingaustralia.com.au/jars.html
Preserving food for eating later must be done properly, you must know the safety concerns. Never use old recipe books when you're preserving as all the guidelines were rewritten in the 1980 and 90s. Old recipe books will have inaccurate and possibly dangerous information. Please read the following safety information is from the CSIRO: http://www.foodscience.afisc.csiro.au/smallsca.htm
STARTING YOUR PRESERVING SESSION
Make sure your kitchen is clean and organised before you start. Hygiene is important. You’ll need clean utensils, clean benches, clean tea towels and clean hands. Organise your jars first by checking for damaged tops and cracks and then washing them in warm soapy water. Rinse and place onto a clean tea towel. Check every lid for small holes, wash them in warm soapy water, rinse and place on a clean tea towel. Never use rusty, dented or damaged lids. If you are using new stainless steel Fowlers lids, there will be a coating on them. Wash the lids in warm soapy water and scrub with a brush to remove the coating, particularly on the inside. Rinse and place on the tea towel. Next check all your clips. They must be undamaged and not rusty. Wash them and rinse. Place on the tea towel.
So are you ready to preserve? I'll have some more info for you tomorrow.