How to preserve tomatoes using the fowler vacola system

Mar 23, 2018

There are *many* variations on how to preserve tomatoes, this is how we do it using the fowler vacola system. If you have a better way, we’re very happy to hear about it :-).

We don’t have enough space to grow all the tomatoes we would like to preserve in our garden as we prioritise growing a diverse range of crops, meaning the tomatoes we do grow are for eating fresh only. So when Autumn comes around we buy a big stash of tomoatoes from a local grower (it’s different every year). This year, I got a little carried away and bought 60kgs worth – cause being able to crack open a jar of tomatoes in the middle of winter or spring is one of the better things in life. I have my priorities right.

First step in the whole process is get a mate (or mates) over and start chopping – it’s a great way to catch up with dear friends.

The second step involved us realising/remembering we could just use the fancy food processer my sister recently passed on to me. While a bit noisy, this was infinitely quicker – we loved it.

Because our tomatoes were a bit on the funky side, we chose to put them in a large pot and bring them to the boil.

If you’re using fresh tomatoes you don’t have to cook them before putting them into the jar. You can chop or whiz them up and place them directly into the jar you’re storing them in. You can see how our friends over at Milkwood do it here. 

After we had bought it to the boil, we took it off the heat, let it cool down (so it was easy to handle) and filled the jars. Importantly, it’s recommended to add citric acid, lemon juice or vinegar to each jar – approx. one tablespoon each. Acidifying all tomatoes is recommended because it allows for safe processing and eating.

Then the lid goes on! The fowler vacola systems includes putting a thick rubber preserving ring on the glass rim, then the metal lid and finally the two clips to keep it all together. Turns out, you only need one – but I’m always a little paranoid!

Once you’ve filled your jars, put them in a large pot. We happen to have a fowler vacola pot (from the op shop), it has an inbuilt false floor so the glass jars aren’t directly touching the bottom of the pot. If you don’t have one, you can use any large pot – in the past I’ve put a whole bunch of cutlery on the bottom of the pot to act as a false floor and sat the jars on top of them – this works fine.

Once the jars are all tucked in, fill the pot up with water to around 3/4 of the jar’s height. Then bring it to the boil on the stove. Once boiling, turn the heat down to a healthy simmer for around 60 minutes.

After this you’re finished! Take them out of the pot and keep the clamps on for another 12 hours or so to make sure the heat seal has worked.

Remove the clips and add them to your shelves/pantry/kitchen cupboards. Only once our pantry shelves are full do we feel like we can enter winter with our heads held high.

And I’ll just leave you with a photo of our daughter with one of our home grown toms (unknown variety), because – well, love.

This blog was updated in March 2022

your thoughts:

34 Comments

  1. Gemma

    Hi there! I’m curious, do you use this same method with other jars as well? Or only the Valcola jars with rubber seals?
    Also do you top up the water as it evaporates to keep it at 3/4 full the whole time? Thank you 😊

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Other people I know use this system for different tyupes of jars/bottles – there’s a link in the blog you can follow to Milkwood’s blog that show one example. And no, I don’t bother topping up the water – the evaporation over 40mts-1 hr isn’t significant enough to do so.

      Reply
  2. Tamsin

    Hi. I have for the first time tried preserving tomatoes this way too. But i used my hands to squish them and placed them into recycled sterilized jars with metal lids. Boiled them on the wood fire for an hour or so in a huge pan with water. And they have sealed. Hopefully they’ll be tasty enough. But the tomatoes have seperated from floating solids to a liquid in the bottom. Does yours separate at all? Interested. Cheers Tamsin.

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Hi Tamsin, Sometimes they have and it’s always when I’ve left them on the heat too long, i.e. they got too hot. While it looks a bit strange it doesn’t appear to have a negative effect on the preserving side of things. That’s our own experience at least :-).

      Reply
      • Tamsin

        Thankyou muchly. I’ll see how it tastes after we run out of freshies. Cheers Tamsin

        Reply
      • Tamsin

        Hi. Just thought I’d let you know. My tomatoes were so tasty and smelt amazingly beautiful out of the recycled jar. For a first, I used a jar in a casserole this week. Everything fresh and Everyone loved it. I need to grow more next year. Thankyou for your inspiration. Cheers Tamsin

        Reply
        • Hannah Moloney

          Thanks for letting us know Tamsin – sounds delicious!

          Reply
    • Kimberly

      Hi! I’ve been canning tomatoes with my mum and grandparents my whole life and we used to poach, peel and squish. Either way, they always would separate. I remember admiring the layers in glass jars whenever I’d visit the cellar. 😊

      Reply
  3. Frances

    You seem to be using the stainless steel lids which is always a good idea for tomatoes, plus they are reusable. The rubber rings are meant to be one-use only which always hurt my frugal soul. I was taught to soak the rings in hot water and then turn them inside out as you stretch them onto the glass rim, as they are meant to be smoother on the inside. This also gives you a slight slope on the outside of the rubber ring which gives a better seal. After taking off the clip I hold it by the lid to see if the seal holds. The occasional one that hasn’t sealed is called dinner. There are special little tools that are used to open the jars to avoid bending the rims. I have 2 old Vacola sets that I have used for 50 years and they were already ancient when I picked them up from a Council roadside pickup. It is a great low energy way to store food.

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Hi Frances, I re-use the rubber seals again and again and again. Infact it was only this year I thought that I might have to get rid of two of them as they were obviously beyond it. But that’s after 4 years of using them with no problems. 🙂

      Reply
      • Kimberly

        This is such good news! I’ve been trying to get an opinion on this 🙂 I’m from Canada and always used the Mason jar method and we reuse the sealing lids over and over. Now I’m trying to learn this new Australian method 😂

        Reply
  4. Liz Morrigan

    Great to read real life experience of preserving with fowlers jars. They are quite different to Mason jars etc.
    I grew up preserving in fowlers and learned to put the rings on the jars as someone else here has described. And to put rings on before filling the jars. That way no food gets under the ring. I can see in my mind,s eye my mother testing rings before using. Rings were reused many times.
    I think it’s important to have no air bubbles in the contents of the jar before processing.
    I think separating as described is fine.
    Great to share experiences.

    Reply
  5. Mun

    Hi Hannah,
    I’ve been using the FV system (great Aussie invention!) for nearly a decade to bottle our annual supply of pasatta and tomatoes.
    The strange consistency that you’ve mentioned is probably the puréed tomato seeds.

    I always blanche, remove skins, then boil to reduce the water content, before I bottle.

    I love the beautiful shelf full of bottled tomatoes.
    Great work!

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Thanks Mun. Without fail, I learn more tricks and info each season – I’ll add this to the list of things to take into consideration next year :-).

      Reply
  6. Marie

    Hi thanks for sharing this. Just a question how do you get your rubber rings on without twisting? I have placed them in warm water to soften them up but still doesn’t work. What do you do? Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Hi Marie, I just use my hands and tweak them until they sit right :-).

      Reply
  7. Jo

    Hannah, I wonder if your tomatoes grew mould because they weren’t acidic enough? Many tomato varieties are too sweet to bottle safely, especially if they are very ripe. I add 1/4 teaspoon citric acid to the bottom of each jar (with a basil leaf for flavour!) and pour the passata in on top. One batch last year i forgot the citric acid, and it is a few of them which went off. Commiserations – it is always a terrible thing when all that hard work ends up in the compost. Happy days for the worms, though!

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Yes Jo – I’ve since realised this is what happened. Usually I cook them down a fair bit which makes them acidic enough. This year I was experimenting with out cooking them down (without doing adequate research obvs). Learned that lesson!

      Reply
  8. Zara

    I put mine in Fowler’s jars whole without pre-cooking and just added a little salt and sugar (perhaps 1/4 teaspoon per jar, I didn’t measure) and topped up with water.
    I then drain off excess liquid when I open the jar and purée the tomatoes skin and all. Seems to work well and is good if you’re too lazy/time poor to pre-cook your tomatoes.
    I have also blanched and removed skins but otherwise used same method, which gives a nice result too but is more fiddly.

    Reply
  9. Tina

    Hi there,
    I have the vacola jars with seal lid and clip but not the
    Vacola pot does it work the same in a normal pot this is my first go at preserving whole tomatoes thanks in advance

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      You can use a normal pot – just put something on the bottom of the pot (cutlery) so the jars aren’t directly touching the bottom (otherwise they can overheat and smash).

      Reply
  10. Kimberly

    Hi Hannah! You’ve said here only to fill water 3/4 of the way up the jars. So that’s obviously worked for you? Everything I’ve read says to cover the jars with 5cm of water but my pot isn’t big enough to do that with my older Vacola jars! 😐 thanks!!!!

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      We’ve always filled the pot 3/4 of the way with no worries- that’s how I was taught and have never had any troubles 🙂

      Reply
  11. Sheena Whyte

    Hi Hannah,

    Have been checking out methods of preserving and found a You Tube video that is presented in a mix of Italian, with English subtitles, and also in Italian accented English. I think it’s great. If you Google the following you should find it: buon a petitti italian grandmother makes tomato sauce.

    In the video (nearly 20 minutes in length), she cooks the sauce, bottles it in Ball-Mason jars, which look a lot simpler to use than the Fowler’s version, and then turns the jars upside down to cool. There is no further cooking after sealing into the jars. Once filled the jars are turned upside down on a sheet and covered with a quilt to prevent them from cooling too quickly and cracking. When cool the jars are checked to make sure the vacuum has formed.

    By the way Hannah I’ve been watching some re-runs of ABC gardening shows I missed when they were first presented and catching up on lots of great info. I have really enjoyed the segments presented, what great ideas you have!

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Thanks for sharing Sheena – yes I’m aware of this method too. Just happen to have 100 fowler jars here already so just keep using them 🙂

      Reply
  12. Cassie

    I use the milkwood instructions too and fowlers vacola jars. I find the tomatoes seperate if I ever use more vinegar than the exact amount in the recipe

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Cool. We don’t use anything at all – just cooking them is enough. They do sometimes seperate but only if I cook them for too long in the canning system. It doesn’t impact their taste or compromise the preserving ability of the jars.

      Reply
    • Jacqui

      Hi Hannah, I was wondering if I need to completely fill the jar? I bought some size 36 ones from the op shop which are obviously massive and wanted to only half fill a few so the portions would be all used but will leaving a large gap allow nasties to grow? Thanks 😊

      Reply
  13. Kel

    You are only meant to use 1 clip per jar. The vacuum is created by allowing the jar contents to ‘vent’ and this does not occur properly by using 2 clips.

    Reply
  14. Andrea

    Hi Hannah! My FV book says that the issue is your raw purée had too much air trapped in it. They recommend cooking tomato purée purely to get the air out,

    Reply
  15. Jennie Pakula

    Hi Hannah, thanks for this and love your Gardening Aus articles! Just wondering, have you tried bottling whole cherry tomatoes?

    Reply

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