What is Fowlers Vacola and how can you use it.
Author: Rod Paterson Date Posted:20 September 2014
Preserving With Fowlers Vacola
This was written for Grass Roots Magazine October - November 2015 Issue
Fowlers Vacola have been around now since 1915, once it was a household name, now I hear the question - What is it? If the questioner is lucky enough to be at my place, they soon learn how wonderful food tastes done following the Fowlers Vacola method of preserving fruit in a glass bottle, as opposed to mass produced tinned products.
Years ago I remember when I would visit my grandmother, she would have different sized Fowlers Vacola jars lined up in the pantry full of fruit, vegetables and meat, but I can never get the image rabbits lined up like specimens in bottles in a laboratory out of my head. Of course, our scientific knowledge has changed with time, and we now know that to preserve anything low in acid, such as vegetables or any meat we need to pressure can them which is an entirely different process to the Fowlers Vacola Method which uses a water bath.
Some fruit requires the addition of small amount of citric acid to raise the acid level, such as pears,figs, mangoes or tomatoes So you can safely make your tomato sauce and bottle it using fowlers vacola which is great, especially when you have grown more than you expect, and who doesn’t do that. Chutneys, Relishes, and Pickles can also be preserved using Fowlers Vacola as long as they contain Vinegar, and Tomato Soup too providing it contains no animal product. This is the only soup for which there is a recipe in the Fowlers Vacola instruction book.
Be very careful about the word soup though, Pumpkin soup is out even if your pressure can it, Pumpkin is one of those things you can only pressure can in chunks and make your soup later, the puree as used in soup is dangerous to preserve, but freezing of course is okay. This really highlights how important it is to read the instructions and understand what its all about, done properly and with care, you food will be safe, presume you know more than the experts and you are going to be in trouble.
Fowlers Vacola once had many different bottle sizes, size 3 (125ml )for passionfruit, right up to size 65 (2Ltr)size for almost anything that could fit. There were tall thin jars, tapered jars for puddings, pretty shaped jars for cherries and all sizes in between. The jars are referred to by their number. Today you can still find many jars second hand, but the only ones available new now are size 14 (350ml), 20 (600ml), and 31 (1000ml). All you need to watch out for with second hand jars is there are no chips or rough spots on the inner or outer rim (best found by running your fingers around the rim after carefully checking for obvious damage that may cause cuts) and that there are no cracks in the jars. In other words, make sure they are sound, your food could be sitting in them for a good while and you don’t want to waste either your food or your time preparing it by skimping on a damaged bottle.
Using Fowlers Vacola is so much easier than other methods that have been around for ages, and its so simple. You place your produce in the jar, pour in the desired liquid or syrup (as sweet as you like or just water if you want) put the rubber ring around the top of the jar, pop the lid on and then fit the clip that holds everything in place whilst you are sterilising it all.
Place the now full jars in your preserver (all the new ones are electric - the older ones were electric or stove top models) fill with water according the instructions, bring to temperature, 92c for everything these days, and hold for the amount of time required. All the instructions for the different bottles sizes and preserver types are in the current instruction book. Anyone with an an old instruction book would do well to get a new one, its a much easier process today than it was before. After you have processed the bottles for the required time, remove them from the preserver using the tongs fowlers vacola make, and set them somewhere to cool. I put mine onto newspaper, so the shock of a cold surface doesn’t damage the surface or the jars. After the jars is absolutely cold, 24hrs or longer, remove the clip carefully and you will find that a vacuum has formed holding the lid on fast. You can now clean the jar, label it and put it away in a dark cool place where you will be able to keep it for ages, and enjoy what you have bottled whether it is in or out of season.
There is no screwing down of lids on hot jars, carrying trays of near boiling liquid in jars out of the oven, no wrapping of beer bottles in newspaper before boiling them. So it really is the simplest method around.
I use size 14 for Cherries and apricots and sliced quinces, size 20 for stewed apples and diced pears, and the size 31 for apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums (which I bottle whole) pears (diced or halved and cored) . Which size jar you use for what is really a matter how much are you likely to use within a couple of days of opening and storing in the refrigerator, and what will fit in the jar. Some people take great care to present their fruit beautifully, such as halving peaches or apricots, removing the stones, and then laying them face down in the jar so they overlap, or using a packing stick to present the cut side outwards in the jar whilst filling the centre of the jar with fruit to fill the gaps. I’m afraid I’m very utilitarian and function outweighs appearance to me any day, but at the end of the day the idea is to have beautiful fresh fruit, either grown yourself, found or bought, stored in glass till you are ready to eat it, and believe me there is nothing more wonderful than the taste of fruit preserved the Fowlers Vacola way.
This article was written for Grass Roots Magazine December-January 2014
From November, around the country Fowlers Vacola outfits our being dusted
off, and bottles washed and accessories checked for fitness of use as the
peak preserving season descends upon us once again. In the coming weeks
Peaches, Cherries, Apricots, Nectarines, will be in season and begging to be
preserved, followed after February by Apples, Pears Quinces and the like.
So now is the time to get it all ready and make your plans.
Fowlers Vacola have some great accessories, a pear corer which you use to
remove the core from a halved pear, a peach stoner which allows you to
remove the stone from a peach or a nectarine, a bottle opener, which allows
you to open your bottles without damaging the lids so they can used over and
over again, a packing stick to assist in arranging your fruit, and making
sure there are no air gaps after you have poured your preserving liquid in,
bottle tongs to help you removed your jars from the steriliser, and plastic
snap on lids for after you have opened your bottles and you are storing them
in the refrigerator for the two or three days it will take to use the
Other accessories that help you at this time of year are cherry stoners,
either the single one at a time cherry stoner, or the semi automatic ones
(still hand operated) the stone one after the other as it falls down a
chute, and of course those apple peeling machines, I use mine for apples,
quinces and Buerre Bosc pears, the other pears are sometimes a little soft
in the core and wont stay in the machine so I peel them by hand.
My favourite fruit at this time of year are Cherries and Nectarines,
(bottled cherries and fresh banana a real treat - who needs ice cream). I
must bottle 20Kg of each and then have them to eat all year. And of course I
bottle some Apricots too. The biggest advantage of doing your own
preserves with Fowlers Vacola, whether grown yourself or bought, is its
packed in glass, you know where it came from and what it has in it, you can
also control the amount of sugar as well, you may choose none or some or
lots. Nectarines are susceptible to heat, and do lose some colour after
bottling, but the flavour is still sensationally and unmistakably that of a
Stone fruit of course need to have stones removed for ease of eating and
presentation too. If you de stone your peaches, nectarines and apricots, you
can lay them cut side down, overlapping attractively in the jar, and that
way you can fit more in too. For me with no spare time on my hands after
business commitments, its all about taste, and appearance Im afraid is not
high on the list. I just cut down each side of the peach or nectarine
stone, then cut the rest off its a cling stone ,and just tumble it all into
the jar. Free stones peaches and nectaries are easy, as are apricots, you
just run you knife round that mark on fruit, cutting down to the stone,
twist and one half comes away, and a knife can easily flick the stone out of
the other half. I must say thought that I’m always impressed when I see
someone went to some effort to pack their fruit attractively before
sterilising, if only I had the time.
De stoning cherries is respectful to your teeth, bite down on one of those
indestructible bullets, and your next visit may be to the dentist. You do
not have to remove the stones from stone fruit though if you wont want. For
example, I bottle plums and leave the stones in, tumble them into size 31 or
36 and go from there. If you leave the stones in however, the fruit is going
to take up more room in the jar, i.e. you will get less fruit in the jar
and have to sterilise more bottles to put away the same amount of fruit.
With clingstone peaches if you wish to remove the skin, just blanch them for
a minute or so in boiling water and they should just slip off, for
freestones it is not necessary to remove the skin unless you want to.
The true secret to successful preserving is the ripeness. You don’t want too
ripe or will end up with a pulp when you are done, it can also contribute to
failure in sterilising too, which means the seal on the jar will fail and
the contents spoil. A good test is if the fruit is so ripe you have to eat
it in the next day, its too ripe to bottle successfully. It needs to be
ripe and delicious but firm and lovely I’m sure you know what I mean.
You must also follow the instructions with regards to time as well, you don’t
want fruit over cooked, it just needs to be sterilised not stewed. Of
course, as always store your preserves in a cool dark place, not in the
light, and not in the cupboard above the stove or refrigerator or in with
the water heater.
Labeling your jars with contents and month and year is important for proper
storage. As no one goes near mine, I can actually get away with labelling
the part of the shelf where they live, but if someone else has access to it,
that might not be a good idea. I just use one of these electronic label
makers, but you can go to great effort and design your own and make very
attractive looking bottles to present at the table, its all about how you
I use number 14 jars for cherries and apricots, number 20 jars for cherries
and apricots, and numbers 27 and 31 jars for peaches and nectarines. These
are my choices, if you have a large family you could you number 31 jars for
all of them (they are 1Ltr in size) It all comes down to what size bottle is
likely to be used in one sitting or within 2-3 days. If you are single and
don’t want cherries or apricots every night but love nectarines then my
suggestions will be perfect for you.
With apples I stew them first then bottle, my favourite for this red
delicious, but if using your apples in other desserts such as Apple Crumble
after you have bottled them, you might want a firmer apple to start with
such as Pink Lady or Granny Smith. With pears I just dice them up after
removed the core and bottle them, and quinces, I peel them using one of
those apple peeling machines, and stew them till they are soft before
bottling, I could go to heaven every time I open one of those bottles of
quinces, just beautiful - hard to believe the rock hard lump of a fruit
could produce such a beautiful end product.
With Christmas upon us, my mind drifts towards Christmas pudding, and mine
are already done in bottles during winter and in the cupboard waiting.
Bottling puddings was so popular with Fowlers Vacola users in years gone by
there were special pudding jars put out with sloping sides so the puddings
would just slide out with a bit of coaxing. Bottle number 28 (enough for 2
people) or jar numbers 39 42 or 56 (for four or more people) were the most
popular. None of these are available new now, you an only get them second
hand, but there are always some to be had somewhere though they can be a
little pricey. They take a 4.25in lid and clip too, which is still available
new but not in stainless steel like the other lids.
With a bit of sideways thinking thoug, a pudding does not have to be turned
out of a jar, you can use a serving spoon to removed, meaning the size 31
jar which is available new is perfect..
I use my Great Great Grandmothers recipe which I’m told is from 1850 first
made on the Bathurst Goldfields, but romance can distort fact, I did know my
Great Grandmother and she said this was her mothers recipe, so I have to
at least believe that part of it. You can adapt any Christmas pudding recipe
to put into a bottle, but its if cloth boiled such as the one I use, you
have to allow for the water that is absorbed by the cooking process and add
that water to the mix for the pudding. I worked mine out and added 125mls
to the mix before bottling and this seemed to work just fine - a bit drier
than with a cloth but still delicious. I have included that amount in the
below recipe but if you wish to make this Christmas Pudding in a cloth as is
traditional, omit the water that has been added to the recipe, and wrap it
up in a cloth. My grandmother always lined her pudding cloth with
greaseproof paper, everyone thought this was to keep the water out, but that
didn’t make sense to me, as butter seeped out during the cooking process and
the pudding swelled, and the water changed colour, so water was getting in,
and something was getting out. Before she died, I asked her why she used
the paper, she said everyone thinks it keeps the water out which is rot, the
truth is I got sick of scrubbing my pudding cloth and this way the cloth has
no pudding stuck to it, I stress, greaseproof paper, not waxed paper or
My Great Great Grandmother Butler Xmas Pudding Recipe 1850
The night before cooking
1 cup raisins
1 cup sultanas
1/2 cup currants
2oz (56 grams) glace cherries
1 tblsp marmalade or mixed peel or zest of one orange
mix all into a bowl with 1 cup of rum and allow to sit overnight covered.
On the big day
4 small eggs
3/4 cup castor sugar
1 cup flour
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (i.e. bread a few days old processed to crumbs do
not use hard old bread crumbs)
(if bottling ad 125mlwater - do not add this water to this recipe if cooking
in a cloth)
Cream butter and sugar
Add eggs one at a time
Mix in 1/2 breadcrumbs and flour
Mix in remainder breadcrumbs and flour
Mix in fruit till well combined
If bottling first grease the bottle with butter, spoon pudding mixture into
the bottles to about 30mm from the top of the jar for a size 28 and 50 mm
for a 31 39 42 or 49 jar, fit ring lid and clip and process in steriliser
for 3hrs at 100c or boiling point. Start your timing from when it reaches
If using a cloth
Line large bowl with pudding cloth, put two layers of greaseproof (not
waxed) paper crossed (to stop pudding sticking to cloth) pour in pudding.
Gather cloth together tie very tightly with string about 1 inch or so above
where pudding is to allow expansion. tie it too loosely and pudding is will
be very wet, tied too tight and it wont absorb any water and will be dry and
Boil three hours in a large pot with water always 2/3 way up pudding I find
it easier to have enough water so it floats, and keep checking every 30mins
that its still floating, if not add more boiling water.
When done remove from boiling water, allow excess water to drain away, place
on dinner plate, cut string remove, peel cloth back, slowly peel paper pack
till pudding top is completely exposed, put plate or large bowlon top,
invert, peel remaining pudding cloth and paper right off, that way bottom of
pudding (all smooth) is presentation side.
Leave it for at least an hour before serving, to allow to cool and set
before cutting. Serve with Brandy Sauce and Ice Cream or whatever your