Preserving Local Fruit: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some common questions from local preservers:

  1. How do I make a low sugar version of my favorite preserve?
  2. Is there a consensus in the group on the subject of using a pressure cooker vs. hot water bath to can Tomatoes?
  3. Can you recommend the best pressure canner to purchase?
  4. A woman asked us if she can make wine vinegar out of wine her friend gave her. It is a very old wine and doesn't taste agreeable to her. I remembered that you made different kinds of vinegar, and I wanted to know how you did it.

 

  1. How do I make a low sugar version of my favorite preserve?

    A: Sugar is a very powerful preservative.  When making low sugar preserves, acid is included as a preserving agent to offset the fact that you've lowered the sugar's preserving power.

    Unless you're able to test pH, stick to the commercially available low-sugar pectins and recipes.  Do not simply reduce the amount of sugar in a recipe. 

    Low acid fruit like apricots and figs should be pH tested even after following commercially available pectin and recipes.  The judges at the California State Fair, will often test these preserves to ensure that they are safe before they taste them.

     

  2.  Is there a consensus in the group on the subject of using a pressure cooker vs. hot water bath to can Tomatoes?

    A: I don't know if there is a "consensus"... However with the boiling water bath (BWB) times being increased by the USDA to be so darn long, pressure cookers are definitely time savers, energy savers, and keep the kitchen cooler during the summer when you're canning tomatoes.

    The other advantage is that since you're pressure canning, you don't have to add a lot of extra acidity to ensure that the tomatoes are acid enough to BWB can. So, you can better preserve the original flavors of the tomato.

    The risk to BWB processing and part of reason that the processing times have been increasing is that tomatoes are being bred to be sweeter and less and less acidic, many of the modern tomatoes are on the borderline of being considered acid-foods and we've measured many to be clearly non-acid. So, you could be inadvertently creating a situation perfect for botulism to grow by BWB canning a non-acid tomato. The amount of acid that you need to safely BWB can a non-acid tomato is considerable -- enough to change the flavor, and unless you're pH testing, you won't know if you have enough.

    Our recommendations for canning tomatoes are:
    1 - Pressure can
    2 - pH test if you're going to BWB
    3 - Freeze, dehydrate or consider another alternative if you're not able to do either of the above.

    For reference information on preserving and pressure canning see our Resources page.  There you'll find a link to the latest guidelines from the USDA on canning and preserving of all types.
     

  3. Can you recommend the best pressure canner to purchase?

     A: At our last preserving from the garden meeting we talked about equipment and I handed out a chart (revised 2008) comparing different pressure canners from another UCCE organization.

    There are only a few companies left that make pressure canners. They are all good. If you plan to do a lot of canning it's worthwhile to get a pressure canner (not a pressure cooker) with a dial pressure gauge.  After that, just choose based upon the volume that will suit your needs. They are not expensive as large pots go and well worth it IMHO.

  4. A woman asked if she can make wine vinegar out of wine her friend gave her. It is a very old wine and doesn't taste agreeable to her. I remembered that you made different kinds of vinegar, and I wanted to know how you did it.

    A:  The wine may have already started to turn into vinegar. Vinegar mother does occur naturally, however if you'd like to help it along, you can get vinegar mother from most wine or beer making shops. I find the shops to be very helpful, there are a few books out there and instructions you can find on the internet but it's pretty easy. Just stick the mother in with the wine in an open glass/nonreactive container and let sit for a few months. There will be a thick layer that forms on the top of the wine. I like to remove it before it sinks because it can change the flavor. You can keep adding wine or it will stop on it's own when the alcohol has all turned into acetic acid.

    The vinegar that Village Harvest makes available for sale is a flavored vinegar using commercial vinegar and fruit.