Bottling your own fruit and tomatoes saves money and much more.
It’s nearly harvest time: tomatoes are heavy on the vine and full fruits are ripening on trees. The glut need not go to waste because an old-time Australian invention can help you guzzle it for the rest of the year.
In 1915, Joseph Fowler began selling home-bottling equipment door-to-door in Melbourne, from the back of a cart. During the depression, his kits – known as Fowlers Vacola – became an essential item. At that time, the company’s ads featured an illustration of a dainty housewife by the name of Mrs B. Thrifty.
His bottling system is now finding favour with an altogether different generation. Footscray resident Janet Ray learnt the knack from her grandmother decades ago and has become a Fowlers enthusiast. She’s not alone.
“It’s thriving,” Ms Ray says, “particularly among people who want to know where their food comes from and want to reduce their carbon footprint through the way they eat. Once you get started it’s quite addictive – you look at fruit on trees in a totally different way.
“It’s something that not only creates no waste, but actually uses excess. Our recycling bin is empty, and we’re not using the fridge or freezer to maintain the fruit.”
Ms Ray shares her knowledge by running occasional workshops through the Permaculture Out West community group.
The process is straightforward, she says. Fill clean jars with unblemished fruit and add water (and sugar or fruit syrup, if you have a sweet tooth) to just below the rim. Clip on the lids and bring the jars to the boil over the course of one hour, in a water bath. When the jars cool down out of the water, the seals form a vacuum.
“It’s only for bottling high acid fruit, including tomatoes,” Ms Ray says. “Everything is sterilised in the process. Store the jars in a cool dark place and they’ll easily keep for up to a year.”
She stocks her jars with produce she grows at home, swaps or buys in bulk. “We save so much money. I never pay more than $1 per kilo for fruit to bottle, even at the organic market,” she says.
She recommends buying Fowlers jars second-hand from opshops or tip-shops. A dozen reusable jars can cost under $50, including the lids, seals and clips.
A few years ago, Ms Ray discovered a cache of Fowlers equipment at a fete run by St Margaret’s Uniting Church in Mooroolbark.
Through that network, she has established an informal supply chain extending well into country Victoria. The jars are sold to raise money for pastoral care services in Wycheproof, in the state’s drought ravaged north-west.
We’ve got this symbiotic relationship with the people of Wycheproof,” she says. “Any time someone in the aging population around there comes across a kit, they send it on. There’s been a steady flow over the last few years.”
With hindsight, the link doesn’t seem so unlikely. Ms Ray has found bottling to be a consistently rich means of connection with the community.
“People find out that you bottle and they’ll ring you up with fruit or drop it off at your door,” she says.
“It’s one of those old fashioned things that people long for, where you’re industrious together, to an end that meets everybody’s needs.”