I’ll admit, by the first few weeks of September I’m getting tired of canning. Two runs a day for 2 weeks straight, dozens of quarts, double-dozens of pints, and I’ve had enough of the preparation, the cleaning, the water, the heat. Don’t get me wrong: even at the tail end of the harvest when I’m “canned out”, there is still no greater satisfaction than cracking a canner load of beyond-organic salsa from all garden-grown produce, and knowing I’ve taken another small step towards personal independence. But even the most hardcore canners among us are usually looking for a little harvest-preservation variety after Labor Day. This is about the time I start dehydrating goods and vacuum sealing mason jars.
This year I put up 17 quarts of peaches, over 80 pounds, from 2 young trees in my orchard (I shudder to think of the bounty these trees will produce in 5 more years of maturing). I also put up over 30 half-pints of various jellies. At about the time I was finished with the 3rd run of peaches, the nectarine trees looked as if they were begging me to relieve their sagging limbs of the fruit dragging them to the ground. I did not relish the thought of canning nectarines now, after processing 80 pounds of peaches. I also had enough jelly to start a “Jelly of the Month Club”, which, granted, is the gift that keeps on giving the whoooooole year. I could freeze puree, make preserves or pie fillings, but in the end I decided to dehydrate some of the nectarines. I’ve never dehydrated nectarines before, so I was curious how they would turn out (spoiler: better than crack).
I washed and quartered 7 pounds of nectarines, and held them in a citric acid solution while I worked. I purposely left the skin on. Yes, I covet an Excalibur dehydrator, but I make due with my Nesco. Over the years I’ve learned her quirks and know the key is to rotate, rotate, rotate those trays. The nectarines got arranged, skin down, on 5 trays of the dehydrator set on 130-degrees. I rotated the trays roughly every 30 mins while I was awake for the next 18 hours it took to complete the drying. The smell in the house was intoxicating. 7 pounds of nectarines dried down to…wait for it…barely a pound of dried fruit. This is dangerous because I can eat 10 nectarines worth of sugar in about 15 seconds…OM, NOM, NOM, NOM!!!!
So what to do with all that dried nectarine leathery goodness? Ziplocs are one option, but I’ve found that unless the fruit is perfectly dry, what little oxygen left in the bag, which is impossible to get out no matter how you squeeze/roll/suck the bag, will eventually induce mold. O₂ absorbers in the bag mitigate that risk somewhat, but you only get to open the bag once or twice before the absorber is spent. I want my dried fruit accessible so that it can be stored for the long term, but still be enjoyed regularly. So I prefer vacuum sealing mason jars…
Now, I don’t own a FoodSaver thingy – in my opinion, I think they’re garbage. They don’t make them like they used to, so it’s not a tool I would rely on for the long haul here on the homestead. I’ve had my eye on a commercial chamber sealer for years, but can think of, oh, a million other things I could do with $800 that are all far more important. So when I saw FoodSaver had come out with the ability to vacuum seal a mason jar with a special attachment, I was both excited and bummed. I was not buying a FoodSaver just to seal jars. Then I stumbled on a blog post where someone came up with the brilliant idea to use a $25 brake bleeder to pull the vacuum. No $200 FoodSaver, no electricity, just jack the brake bleeder into the top of the FoodSaver mason jar attachment and pump it up!
The process is simple:
- Wash and dry your jar. Make sure it’s very dry – you don’t want any moisture inside a jar holding dry goods. Caution: I have some very old Ball “Perfect Mason” jars that have a wide lip below the band threads that prevent the FoodSaver jar attachment from fully seating. Unfortunately you can’t pull a vacuum on these.
- Fill your jar with whatever dry goods you want. When finished, make sure there is no debris on the rim – wipe it clean with a cloth just like you would for a regular canning run.
- Place a regular, unused, clean and dry metal canning lid on the jar.
- Place the FoodSaver jar attachment over the top of the jar and stick the hose-end of the the brake bleeder into the hole on top of the jar attachment.
- Hold the hose-end firmly into the jar attachment and start pumping the brake bleeder until the pressure reaches 20 inches of mercury (inHg). YMMV, but with my Mityvac bleeder, it takes about 50 pumps to pull 20 inHg on a pint jar. Beyond 20 inHg, it gets harder and harder to pull more vacuum. It takes an additional 150+ pumps to get it from 20 to 25 inHg. 20 inHg is more than enough, so trying to pull more vacuum is diminishing returns on your effort. A quart jar takes over 100 pumps to pull the same 20 inHg – which makes sense given a quart is twice the volume of a pint… It stands to reason that a half-gallon jar would require 200 pumps, but I’m not testing that theory. The more dense your goods are, the less pumping it will take. There are YouTube videos of people testing how much pressure the FoodSaver machine itself will pull. It seems on average that the high end ones will pull about 20 inHg.
- You’re done. *Rapidly* remove (yank) the brake bleeder hose-end off the jar attachment, then remove the jar attachment from the jar. Test the seal by pushing down on the metal lid dimple. If it has been sucked in, just like after it cools during a heated canning run, you’ve successfully pulled a vacuum on the jar. I’ve found that most of my seal failures were because I didn’t yank the brake bleeder hose off the jar attachment, and instead let pressure leak back into the seal.
A note about Tattler reusable canning lids: I’ve found Tattler lids don’t work for vacuum sealing. Your mileage may vary, but I’ve tried several different jars, lids and rubber rings – they simply don’t hold a vacuum. They seem to work at first, pulling a good solid seal, but if you check them in a few hours, they’ve come loose. I’ve even pulled almost 30 inHg and the Tattler lids still wouldn’t hold. I love Tattler reusable canning lids, but sadly, they don’t work for vacuum sealing mason jars.
To open the jars in the future, just open them like you would any canning jar. When you pull a lid off a vacuum sealed jar, you should get a very satisfying “Shwooooop!” as the seal breaks. Save the metal lid – you can use it over and over for vacuum sealing. I label my lids with a “V” so I don’t get them mixed up with the regular use lids.
Note: as the prominent warning on the jar attachment states, vacuum sealing is not a substitute for heat canning. Dry goods only. However, it is possible to pull a vacuum on wet goods that are destined for the fridge. They’ll last a lot longer. I leave about an inch of headspace in the jar. (Fun science experiment for the kids: pull a vacuum on a quart of water and you can watch it “cold boil” – Google it)
The only thing that concerns me is the quality of the FoodSaver jar attachment. The rubber gasket inside gets tortured when removing the jar. I worry about its longevity. Most jar lids seal off-center, no matter how hard you try to keep them centered. This means the lid itself creates a lip on one side of the jar that snags the gasket. This is the same lip you find and pull on to open the jar. I’ve found that if you pull down on the jar as you both slightly twist it, and rock it side to side, you’ll find the side that doesn’t have the lid lip – lead the jar out on that side and it will gently pop out without stressing the rubber gasket too much. If you just pull straight down, I’ve found a lot of times the gasket gets torn out with the jar – this can’t be good for the gasket. Also, the gasket is made of that tacky neoprene type rubber that seems like a dust and debris magnet. Periodically take the gasket out, rinse it off and let it dry. Oh, and it just makes good sense to buy spare attachments. At about $10 each, I’d buy several if vacuum sealing jars is going to be a major part of your food storage system. One is none.
The brake bleeder and jar attachments – both regular and wide-mouth – have become regular kitchen appliances. They are kept in a prominent drawer with the rest of the cooking utensils. This way there is no guilt about opening and using a vacuum sealed jar. Pop it open, take what you want, and reseal it.
So far this season I’ve vacuum sealed 2 pints of nectarines, 6 pints of asian pears, and 4 pints of apples. Vacuum sealing mason jars is a nice change of pace when you’re all “canned out” at the tail end of the harvest. It will be a sweet taste of summer to crack open a pint of dried nectarines during a mid-February snow storm…if they last that long.