Thursday, 12 January 2012

Tales From A Beginner Preserver

A little while ago I purchased a 2nd hand Fowler's Vacola Preserving unit.  It is a green stove top variety that I believe is from the 1950's.  It looks like it has had a fair amount of use and came with 15 jars of various sizes some lids and clips.  Since then I have also picked up 2 lots of jars from Op Shops, 6 x No 20 jars and 6 clips (all brand new) for $5 total and then 13 x No 27 jars and 1 x No 42 for $12.

The unit came with the instruction booklet (all in imperial measurements) so I set out to give it a test run with some stone fruit.

I followed the instructions and made the syrup although I opted for a light syrup instead of the medium as it seemed like way too much sugar, I packed the fruit in and filled right to the top making sure to get all of the air out, then it was rings, lids and clips on and into the preserver.  The instructions said fill the unit 2/3 of the way up the outside of the jars with water so I did. The temperature came up and after the recommended cooking time they were done.

Well sort of...

As you can see from the picture below picture what were (I thought) fully packed jars ended up being only half full.  I knew the fruit would shrink a little but by 50%???
The second problem is that somehow even though I topped it full to over flowing with syrup there is now a big air gap in the jars???  I am sure this will mean the fruit will go off, does anyone know?
The jars have definitely sealed so what do I do now?

I am really hoping there are some preserving experts out there who can steer me in the right direction in all things Fowler's.  The fruit was not expensive but I would hate it to go to waste (there might be a lot of plum recipes on the cards) but I need to make sure I can master this so I am not wasting produce in the future.

Any suggestions, guidance or advice would be very welcome.


  1. oh no! I have no experience with this either, it all looks very scary, I hope someone can help you!

  2. I will wait and see what someone else says as I too bought the exact model Fowlers Preserving kit at auction last year and have been too scared to try it out. I say good on your for giving it a go as that is the only way we will learn...mmm, says me that has hers still out in the shed!!!!!

    1. I will be having another go and will be posting about it so fingers crossed it goes a bit better. I think I need to pack the fruit much tighter.

  3. Hi Fiona, I've had similar issues with my Fowlers fruit too while getting the hang of the unit and preserving in general. My first batch of apples ended up shrunken and dry from half way frustrating, especially when you consider the amount of time that goes into preparing the fruit and packing it!

    I tried apricots for the first time last week and ended up with a batch like yours pictured here. The second batch turned out much better.. I used warm sugar syrup to pack the fruit and alternated fruit/syrup, squashing the fruit down hard as they were added to the jar. Also, having the water bath temp at lukewarm seems to help too. Be sure to not overheat your water in the pot as overprocessing can also cause fruit to rise. I leave a 1cm head space in my jars although your unit may need a different amount, due to the jars not being completely immersed in water.

    Hopefully these couple of tips help you a little, it is such a huge learning curve and every fruit seems to have different requirements (I now stew my apples lightly before processing to avoid the 'sponge' effect!). Mitre 10 are stockists of Fowlers Vacola products and if you haven't already got it, I recommend obtaining a copy of their latest preserving book, it was an enormous eye opener for me (could also try ebay?).

    Good luck, it is something worth sticking with and for every botched attempt, a successful batch is lurking just around the corner! There is nothing nicer than being able to pop a jar of your own home preserved fruit in the middle of winter! xx

    (spongy apples:
    We ended up eating them in crumbles and they were fine. ;)

    1. Thanks Christine for you great reply packing the fruit tighter will hopefully solve the problem.

  4. Hi Fiona,
    turn the jars upside down, give them a slight shake and leave them upside down for a week or two ( after taking off the clips). Any fruit not under the syrup will discolour a bit, you can discard that bit if you want.

  5. I've always been a little scared of those vacola units so good on you for trying! I hope it works a bit better for you next time sure it will just take a bit of getting used to...Christine's tips will hopefully help and i would try and find the book too!I'm pretty sure the fruit would still be ok as long as under the syrup?

  6. Don't worry - that happened to mine too. It's the heat that causes the fruit to rise in the jars and it won't go off, just possibly discolour. You can check the seals by holding the jar close to youe ear and gently putting pressure under the lid, but not so much that you will lift the lid off. If you hear any hissing (air escaping) then the jar has not fully sealed. When do try again, really pack the fruit in like a jigsaw puzzle, trying to fill all the gaps before you pur over the syrup and then put a knife or skewer in a few times to get rid of air bubbles. Tania at suburban jubilee has some great tips and tutorials on this.


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