Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Background Information on Bottling and the Process Part 1

This is a bit long winded for which I apologise and there is another part to come but really you need to read the long winded version first and then I will give you an idiots guide right at the end.

A little information to read for background information
An Explanation
An English term for preserving usually fruits in a syrup or tomatoes in brine where the fruits are placed into bottle and then a syrup added usually the neck of the bottle. 
It’s a traditional way of putting up food in the pantry in times of plenty for use during the winter months.  The fruit is heated in special jars and bottles to sterilise it by killing off any nasty spoilage micro-organisms present in the fruit which in turn forms an airtight seal whilst the jars are hot.  It also stops any other nasties getting into the processed bottles.  It is important that the process is followed correctly – it might seem a bit faddy to start with but with time and practice you will begin to see why these rules are in place.  It also becomes easier as  you get used to the routine and memorise it.  Remember Hygiene care and attention all play their part in this process.  Different fruits require different processes and different timings.
Normally we do not process vegetables in this manner in this country as they are low in vitamin c and therefore potentially more at risk of developing botulism where the food becomes poison in the jar and which if eaten often ends up being fatal. 
Tomatoes seem to be the exception to this although I always add lemon juice to each jar or citric acid and vegetables if processed are usually processed in what the Americans refer to as a pressure canner which is based on altitude and has a higher pressure range  than the British pressure cooker which is a different creature altogether although there are similarities.
Types of Bottle or jar
Bottles for bottling or canning in come in all different styles sizes and with different fittings.

Clip top jar - above image
Kilner jars produce clip top jars and bottles which have a metal framework on the outside of the jar or bottle  and on the underside has a bright orange gasket which I normally soak in boiling water to soften and sterilise it before placing it on the lid making sure that it is nice and flat.  If it is nice and flat and flush it usually means you will get a very good airtight seal which when clipped down with the metal lever makes the jar airtight. 

Kilner metal seal and screwband closure above photograph
They also do screw top jars which consist of a screw on ring which has an internal disc or gasket  made of metal that in effect forms the lid.  Mason Ball Kerr jars also follow the same format as the Kilner jars.  The Kilner jars are the original jars used in this country but in America it is more likely to be Mason, Ball, Kerr jars.
A little history
Many years ago pigs bladders used to be used to cover the outside of jars to make the contents airtight.  In that respect I am so pleased things have moved on.  When I first started preserving when I was 19 there was a membrane that you could buy called Porosan which you tied to the outside of the jars and bottles particularly with regard to pickles to stop the vinegar fly spoiling the pickles.  I speak from experience with this but as I did not bottle or can then I can only surmise that the Porosan used to be used on the outside of the Kilner bottling jars too to ensure a good shelf life.
Inspection of the jars/bottles
All bottles jars and lids should be inspected carefully before using and should be  free from chips and cracks.  Rubber rings and seals must only ever be used once; they are not for multiple use – this is down to hygiene and to making sure you get that perfect seal. 

Processing fruit and not achieving a seal is very frustrating as you end up having to reprocess the contents which is not ideal or end up with the contents in the fridge having to use them up rather than having the luxury of picking them off the pantry shelf during the winter months from  your long term storage.  This in reality does happen so do not get too despondent if the odd jar or so fails to seal properly.
Washing and Sterilising the jars/bottles
The jars and bottles should be washed thoroughly  rinsed and left to drain – they are easier to fill if they are wet on the inside.  If bottles are very dirty sterilise them by immersing in a pan of cold water then bringing the jars to the boil and boiling for about 5 minutes.   Do not immerse cold jars into hot water as they will shatter.  This is especially pertinent if the jar is full of hot fruit and then breaks as because it is under pressure the contents are likely to splatter everywhere and if it splatters you it will burn you and also possibly the glass will end up cutting you.  So utmost care must be taken at all times.
With really dirty jars I also soak them in in baby sterilising solution i.e the liquid or the tablets but I do make sure I rinse them well if I do this.  There are different ways of sterilising the jars/bottles.  my favoured way these days is in the dishwasher.
The jars are usually sterilised first either by putting them in the oven getting them really hot; running them through the dishwasher or popping them into a pan of water and then bringing the water to the boil and then loading and filling the jars whilst still hot.
Filling the bottles with fruit
All fruit must be in A1 condition for bottling and canning so discard over-ripe or spoiled fruit.  There are other ways that you can use these up depending on exactly what state the fruit is in.
Wash and prepare fruits according to the type eg hull soft fruits, top and tail gooseberries and currants – tedious work but worth the effort.  Remove any pith from citrus fruit as this is bitter and will spoil all your hard work so remove as much as you possibly can.  Cut into segments or slices.  Apples and pears need coring and cutting into quarters or slices.  Plums, apricots and other stone fruit can be bottled whole or halved and stoned.
The fruit should be paced tightly into the prepared sterilised wet jars.  I use a wooden spoon handle to manipulate the fruit into the jar so it sits properly and you can get as much fruit as you possibly can in press down gently as you do not want to bruise the fruit. Fill the jar or bottle to within 1 to 2.5cm/ ½ an inch to 1 inch from the top.
The choice of liquid is water, brine or syrup.  Usually syrup produces and has a better colour and flavour, but it can cause the fruit to rise in the jars.
The Syrup
There are varying strengths of syrup per recipe but more often than not the proportions of sugar to water to create a syrup are 225g/8 oz sugar to 600ml/1 pint of water. Honey or golden syrup may also be substituted for sugar.  A syrup can also be flavoured with spices, lemon or orange rind and then strained or with liqueurs spirits or wine.
To prepare the syrup slowly heat the sugar with the water stirring until it has all dissolved.  You need to keep the heat low as you do not want the sugar to burn.  Then add your flavourings if using and boil for  approximately one minute or so - in reality I tend to do it a little longer.  Depending on the method used for processing there are several variations which I will discuss in the next part.   Then either pour the syrup hot or cold over the fruit in the bottles tilting them to get rid of any air bubbles.  I also pop a skewer into the jar to release any air pockets as well. Make sure that the bottles and jars are on a wooden board or other non-heat conductive surface as when you pour the syrup in the jars may crack.

I usually have the metal lids or the rubber rings soaking in boiling water and then as it comes to each jar I pop them on the glass lids in the case of the rubber rings  and then pop the clip fastener down and lock.  In the case of the metal lids I pop them straight onto the jar as I fill each jar and then lock down with the screwband tightening it firmly and then turning it back a quarter turn to allow steam and air to escape during the processing or they may burst.

There are other ways of processing the bottles and I shall discuss this next in part 2.
Continued on part 2


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