Tuesday, 8 September 2009

A Bad Workman Always Blames His Tools ....

... but sometimes the tools just aren't up to the job.

I've been keen to master the old fashioned art of fruit bottling and have spent the last year imagining I was pretty rubbish at it after last season's efforts. For those who don't know, it involves packing fruit into a kilner or mason jar, pouring over boiling syrup then heating the jars to form a vacuum seal. The fruit should keep for about a year. From intense scrutiny of Google I'm getting the impression that it's a bit of a minority pass time in the UK but more widely done in the US where you can purchase all manner of specialist canning (as they call it) equipment.

I'm particularly interested in bottling as I have limited freezer space so can't store large quantities of fruit in there and as much as I love jam, chutney etc it's nice to have whole fruit for pies, crumbles and suchlike throughout the year.

I first tried my hand at bottling tiny Japonica Quince last year. I made 4 jars, only 1 of which actually sealed successfully. I had no idea what I'd done wrong to make the other 3 fail so I gave up until I could figure it out as it seemed pointless to blunder on making the same mistakes over and over again.

There follows a long and convoluted story of scouring the net and torturous explanations of physics and vacuums which I'll gloss over as it's less than riveting. I even booked myself of a Low Impact Living course on preserving food as it covers bottling.

Armed with a smidgen of new knowledge, I had another go, this time with 3 jars of pears in cider syrup. 1 sealed correctly but 2 failed, by this stage I felt like banging my head on the table in despair, but then I noticed that the jars were made up of 2 different brands, the 2 failed jars were the same brand, the successful one a different brand. In fact, come to think of it, the clips on the failed jars were rather loose ....

Could it really be that simple? I'd got hold of duff jars? A year of blood, sweat and tears (that's not a recipe by the way) and poor preserving self esteem - and it was the jars??

To test the theory I bought a new clip jar and a screw band jar, bottled some plums and - they worked! As did the next batch of pears and damsons. I'm pleased to report I now have a stock of pears in cider, pears in red wine, plums in honey and brandy and a mixed jar of plums, damsons and blackberries in red wine.

A quick search on the River Cottage forums threw up an old thread on bottling which warned that many clip jars on sale are basically pretty storage jars and are not built well enough to stand the stresses of preserving, I guess my jars are just pretty faces, all style and no substance. Think I'll stick to screw band jars in future, they may be rather ugly but they get the job done.

Want to try your hand at bottling?

It's quite a technical process so I'll leave the details to the experts here. I used the moderate oven wet pack technique and some recipes for Pam Corbin's book Preserves: River Cottage Handbook 2.


  1. I have never had the guts to try bottling...I'm always worried that i will end up ruining the fruit...what I really want is another freezer purely for my fruit and veg!

  2. Have to admit I'm plotting to re-vamp the electrics in the garage and install a chest freezer in there!

  3. Whens a jar not a jar - whens its rubbish at bottling