Are organic tomatoes a waste of time?

14 Dec

After going to great lengths recently to source organic tinned tomatoes, I’ve been frustrated to read several reports over the last week about the levels of Bisphenol A (BPA) in the linings of steel cans. Apparently this is particularly concerning in high-acid foods such as tinned tomatoes.

So after buying the expensive organic stuff, perhaps the packaging is contaminating my family all over again!

I use quite an amazing amount of canned tomatoes/paste/puree. Other canned good I use a lot of are:

  • Beans/chickpeas/lentils
  • Coconut cream
  • Baked beans/spaghetti
  • Water chestnuts, bamboo shoots/straw mushrooms
  • Condensed soup (oh, the shame – I promise I don’t use it in ‘casseroles’!)

I also sometimes buy other canned food like sauerkraut, pineapple, mandarin segments, mixed fruit.

So I am more seriously considering preserving my own produce, and if I can’t grow enough, then preserving things purchased in season if necessary. The problem is choosing a preserving system – it’s so confusing!

I’ve seen that the Fowlers Vacola system is very popular in Australia. Gav uses it, and there is a relative abundance of second-hand units on ebay, along with the preserving jars. I noticed that my local IGA even stocks some accessories.

The problem with this system is that it only works on high-acid and high-sugar foods like tomatoes and jams. If I want to preserve beans, then (I think) I would need a pressure canner – a completely different system.

Since the tomatoes are my main concern, I’m thinking that I should look out for an electric Fowlers Vacola unit  and start from there. If I’m actually using the system consistently, then perhaps I can move on from there?

Do you use a preserving system? Do you have any words of wisdom for me?

16 Responses to “Are organic tomatoes a waste of time?”

  1. Kate December 14, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

    Yes I have just started this year to use a fowlers Vacola. I got an electric one at a LETS picnic. So far I’ve only used it for pears and peaches and beetroot.. Vegetables I’ve either pickled or frozen.

  2. Sarah December 14, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    Freezing is another option. If you have a decent chest freezer you can freeze plenty of vegetables, and vacuum sealing systems are not too expensive. For tomatoes, you can blanch and peel them before freezing them, or freeze portions of passata instead of bottling it.

    This website seems to have LOTS of info.

    I think we need to find a really good recipe for pickled zucchini/squash and for a good zucchini relish.

    Perhaps next year you can enter some in the Royal Easter Show?

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney December 14, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

      I have been broaching the idea of a chest freezer slowly with P, and there are heaps of things I would use it for, like peas, corn, bulk organic meat etc.

      For some reason frozen tomatoes just don’t have the same appeal to me. There’s something about opening the can/jar with the aroma – that, and not having to plan ahead to defrost 🙂

  3. Asydfoodie December 14, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

    Instead if tinned tomatoes, could you use passata in a glass jar? Still a possibilty of BPA from the lid, but you’d need to ensure you get ones that aren’t tipped upside down during transport.
    For coconut milk – what about the brands in the uht milk like containers? Or coconut milk powder? Or make your own from desiccated coconut!

    I have these fowlers vacola kleerview plastic covers that say “…to seal your homemade preserves. ” It seems to refer mainly to jam type thing but I have used them for green tomato chutney.

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney December 14, 2011 at 10:05 pm #

      I have been buying much more passata since becoming aware of the issue, but yes – BPA from the lid is a possibility, and I’m not sure how much of a risk factor that is.

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney December 14, 2011 at 10:10 pm #

      I think I managed to reply to your comment when you were still halfway through it! Not sure about the UHT – might be OK, but now I’m starting to doubt everything!

      I’m really only interested in the proper fowlers jars with steel lids. They look great, and come in such a variety of shapes and sizes.

  4. everydayinthegarden December 15, 2011 at 12:10 am #

    Hello dear,

    Go for it!

    We have been using the Fowlers Vacola system for ever in both of our families. We love it! In fact, we preserve so much that we have been fortunate to have inherited some heirloom jars from “Grandpa Regie” that would be 40+ years old. They are in great nick and have been serving us very well for a few years already. We don’t throw out the seals every year as is prescribed as we can tell the difference between good and bad seals. Some of mine have been going for about 4-5 years. The one hot tip that I would give is that you should only buy the stainless steel lids. The other ones corrode after a few uses and they are easily bent out of shape.

    I would say that it is a very addictive activity and it is certainly one that is best shared with friends and family.

    I really hope to see you with your own set one day. Just be careful who you give your preserves to! Your jars come with a caveat: These jars MUST be returned as soon as they are empty! They are NOT to be thrown away AND if by christmas they have not been returned EXPECT a call from me! 😉

    FYI – We find that the size 14 jars (350ml) are perfect for jams, pickles, relish or chutney. Size 20 (600ml) we use for fruits and small servings of tomatoes. The larger ones Size 31 (1lt) is perfect for family servings of tomatoes and fruits. We mix it up a little so that we don’t waste any preserves. All three of those sizes use the Size 4 lids, seals and clips so you only need to have one size.

    The wide necked jars are great for halved fruit but not vital.

    I would suggest that you start with about 3 boxes (12 jars in each). As I said it is addictive. We now have one cupboard that gets filled every summer. It lasts us (and our family/friends) the whole year but, each year it grows as we try new recipes or produce more food. That is how we go 5 weeks without going to the supermarket – we have our own.

    Let us know how you go and I will be happy to share some of our family recipes.

    xx Jodi

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney December 15, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

      Thanks so much Jodi (and everyone else) you have me convinced! P is going to kill me, but I bought a second hand electric Fowlers system and over a hundred assorted jars, lids, seals and accessories! This is going to be fun!

  5. Sarah December 15, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    One article I read recently (it was probably the same one you read in the herald) said that tetra-pack is a good alternative to tins. But really, until the govt bans BPA in food packaging, it’s all just guesswork.

    Also, defrosting??? I just dump frozen veggies straight into the pot and they work great ever time. We could even freeze the tomatoes with basil and garlic already mixed in…

    Actually, the more I think about it, the more I want to buy a vacuum sealer and do this!

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney December 15, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

      It’s so exciting – isn’t it? If I can’t grow a bumper tomato harvest then I’m going to buy sauce tomatoes in bulk from Lettuce and can those. If you get a vacuum sealer, then we’ll have all bases covered 🙂

  6. Jo from the green backyard December 16, 2011 at 9:32 pm #

    I have no idea what a ‘Vacola’ is, but it sounds popular. I look forward to a post all about it.
    I also know you can bottle passata in beer bottles????

  7. Liz December 20, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    When Choice tested tinned tomatoes I’m pretty sure Ardmona came out as having no BPA (although they are owned by Coca Cola so you may not wish to buy their tomatoes for other reasons….). I often buy Passata in glass jars to avoid BPA and I bottle my own tomato passata in beer bottles as Jo mentioned above. I use stubbies – I cook the tomatoes down to a sauce consistency and then bottle in stubbies, seal with beer bottle caps (you needing one of those capping machines but they are significantly cheaper than Fowlers) and then put the stubbies in a water bath in a large stock pot and bring to the boil and boil for about 10 minutes.

    As for the other things you mention above – beans, chickpeas & lentils – buy dried (I know I know but if its a choice between BPA guilt and being organised enough to soak them….). You can make coconut milk quite easily from dessicated coconut – soak in water and them extract the milk with muslin. Coconut cream you can buy in blocks at some Asian grocers.

    As for the others I can’t really help as I make my own baked beans and soup and don’t use the other things….

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney December 21, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

      Thanks Liz for all the info. I picked up a preserving unit and jars on ebay, so I’m now planning a huge preserving-fest come autumn (about how long it’s going to take me to get a decent harvest this year).

      But I’m sure you know all about Sydney’s terrible weather now 😦

      I think for the baked beans etc I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and get a chest freezer, because I know it’s a cinch to make, but these type of things are a quick fix for me when I fail to plan.

      • Liz December 21, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

        Ebay’s great isn’t it. Hope the weather improves soon…..

      • sydfoodie January 9, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

        How much did your FV kit cost?

      • L from 500m2 in Sydney January 9, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

        It is was a little bit under $300 second-hand. Most of the value is in the jars though – the preserving unit itself is a bit rusty and needs a bit of a cleanup.

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