As soon as the super hot, sticky summer days arrive, I know preserving season (or canning season for my American friends) is almost here. Usually it's on the hottest days of the entire year that the bottling gets done- probably some ridiculous 40-something degree day in the middle of a crazy heatwave and I'm up to my elbows in fruit! It's definitely not ideal, but it's because of those same hot conditions that the produce must be dealt with immediately, so it doesn't spoil. While most of my preserving is excess that I have grown myself, it also comes to me from family and friends. One of the only things I do preserve here which I don't usually have excess of is tomatoes. Oh why oh why can't I grow tomatoes?! I preserve more tomatoes than anything else, but those red jewels always seem elude me. While I'm lucky enough to live in paradise, the climate really does suck for growing tomatoes. Firstly we have the battle against the Queensland fruit fly, which will infest a whole crop. We also tend to get excess rain at the wrong time which causes the fruit to split and ruin. Then there's the whole satin bowerbird issue (my unwavering nemesis), where they'll steal anything that starts to even get a hint of red in it. Fortunately we have lots of locals who grow their crops under poly tunnels, escaping a lot of these problems. I'm still trying to convince my husband that I need a poly tunnel of my own. Ahhh, a girl can dream right?
I like to do my preserving the traditional Aussie way, in my trusty, vintage, stainless steel Fowlers Vacola. She's my big ol' girl and I love her because she holds lots of bottles. The unit is essentially a large water urn where you adjust the temperature of the water with a knob. The best thing about it is it plugs into a power point, which means I can plug it in outside to do my preserving without heating up the whole house! Believe me, the house is hot enough at that time of year. It's a simple water bath method of canning, so I can only preserve high acid fruits or pickled veggies.
I've got a few lovely Ball Mason jars, but mainly I preserve with Fowlers Vacola gear because I was lucky enough to be given most of it from my Mum, who always bottled things when we were kids. Elderly locals have also gifted me with their bottles, when they've cleared out their sheds and I've picked up a few things here and there second hand. It can be pretty expensive to buy it all if you're just starting out with nothing.
Preserving is usually a full day activity, and the more people I can drag in to help me the better. Ha! My husband would argue otherwise. He doesn't quite share my love affair with canning and while he does often help me with the preparing side it is usually begrudgingly! I'm already daydreaming of the day the kids are old enough to help.
I normally start first thing in the morning, cutting things up, scrubbing up the bottles, cooking down the sauces or whatever it is I'm processing on the day and quite often don't finish up until the afternoon. It's easy work, but it is messy and time consuming. Oh but how satisfying is it to pull those lovely bottles out of the old girl and line them up so they look all pretty? (OCD? Who me?) I just love knowing that food can be kept in the pantry for years with nothing else to be done to it.
And, while my husband might not love preserving day, he does love to pull our homemade pasta sauce off the shelf for an "instant" meal throughout the year! Yep, definitely awesome sauce.