There were quite a few questions asked in the comments and on direct emails about yesterdays post about my bottling method, so I though I'd better devote todays post to them. I hope this helps.
How do I know a vacuum has been created?
The indentation in the lid gets sucked in with an audible 'pop', you can hear it happening from the next room. This is why I always use a few lids with this indentation (I have used some of these lids over and over with absolutely no ill effects).
How can you tell it has popped?
You can hear it (see above), if you go out and miss hearing it you will be able to tell because when you go to press it down there is nothing to press down!! (Try a couple of bought jars of sauces out of your cupboards and you will see what I mean.)
How long do they keep with a vacuum?
I have kept and eaten things that I bottled three years ago and they were absolutely fine. You have to use your common sense, if in any doubt about a foodstuff don't risk it.
How long do they keep without a vacuum?
Any jars that don't 'pop' I store in the fridge and use first, they have kept well for a couple of weeks, again your senses should come into play, does it look right, does it smell right and if the answers to those questions are yes have a taste, and decided does it taste right, if in doubt throw it out.
How do I sterilise my jars?
I put them in a medium oven stood on a baking tray for about 10 minutes, and add the lids loose to the tray for the last couple of minutes (or you can just put the lids in a jug of boiling water). While I am bottling, the jars are too hot to hold with my bare hands and I use a tea towel or oven gloves to move them into position. So the main thing is to put piping hot sauce into piping hot jars and put the lids on as soon as you have filled your jars.
Don't you have to pressure can?
I have never pressure canned, ever. This method has always been good enough for me. I would love a pressure canner though, maybe Santa will bring me one soon, then I could go wild canning all sorts of things.
How long is it before you can use them?
You can eat them immediately or save them.
As they are in a vacuum the flavours do not develop, ie. they do not get a more intense or better flavour because you have saved them for a while. When you open them they taste exactly the same two years after bottling as they did on the day you did it.
Have any sauces gone off or mouldy?
Yes, out of perhaps a couple of hundred jars that I have done this way I guess I have lost about 3 or 4. These would have been jars that have not had a good seal or have lost their vacuum in storage (they might have been knocked or something). So I simply threw the contents away when I found them.
Have we ever had food poisoning?
Oh yee of little faith ....... NO never :-)
These eleven jars cost me approx. £7 to make out of the ingredients you see in the top picture (and a quarter of a jar of Lazy Garlic which I forgot to photograph). I costed out using mysupermarket.c*m that to buy the ingredients I used (ie not having your own Chilli plant or herbs) it would cost you £8.56 from A*da, £8.98 from T*sco and £12.18 from Sainsb*rys. Or using basic ranges £5.87, £6.91 and £6.55.
I also compared which sauce I though they tasted most like and I think they would be nearest in flavour to Lloyd Grossman's Tomato and Roasted Garlic Sauce, although his are in a smaller jar. These are currently on special offer at £1 in Sainsb*ry and Asda but normal price £2 in T*sco. So there is still a good saving to be made.
Why do you make your own when pasta sauce is so cheap to buy?
Well there is the cost factor, see above, but the main reason is that I like to know exactly what is in our food.
Although a lot of the better sauces have only 'real' ingredients these are usually the more expensive ones to buy, the cheaper ones are padded out with other things (sorry I have none to look at the labels of in my cupboard, I've just checked). Once we have our own tomatoes growing the cost of producing my own sauces will plummet as a large part of my cost were the six cans of tomatoes, but I made these with tinned tomatoes because we had them in the storecuboard and we are eating our way through the cupboards at the moment as part of the £2 House Keeping Challenge.
I think that's it, I hope I've not missed anything out.