How to Preserve and Store Papaya : Water Bath Method

Water bath Papaya

Papaya (or Pawpaw) grows in abundance in our yard. We have been entirely self-sufficient in producing this fruit for many years.

As a direct result of preserving over a hundred Kilos of Papaya each year, I have learned a few tricks along the way to simplify this process.

green papaya fruit
Self-sufficiency in Papaya looks like this

When I first started bottling Papaya, I wasn’t sure if I was wasting my time (and fruit) as I had read many mixed opinions; however, always willing to try something new, I went ahead, and I was thrilled when I opened the first bottle. It was wonderful.

There are two methods of water bath preservation that we predominantly use. Our preferred way is using the Fowlers Vacola (FV) Bottling system.

This system uses fresh uncooked fruit placed in cold jars and processes the fruit-filled bottles by bringing them up to a boil over an hour.

The other standard system cooks the fruit in syrup, is bottled hot, and then placed in (already) boiling water for 15 to 20 minutes. Most commonly done using Mason Jars in a large pot or Ball Mason water bath canner.

I find the Fowlers method the quickest and more simple way to process a lot of Papaya quickly. This process allows us to bottle/can many kilos of fruit in a batch and gives us a fantastic end product.

canned papaya
Wonderful sweet Papaya, straight from the jar

I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised at the resulting wonderful flavor and ease that bottling Papaya can be.

If you are interested in the process that we use, read on to get more detailed information on one of the many methods we use to preserve Papaya.

1. Supplies you need to Water Bath Papaya

  • A Fowlers Vacola Preserving Unit
  • Sterilized bottles to suit your Papaya harvest
  • Clips to suit bottle size no 3 or 4
  • Rubber rings to suit bottle size no 3 or 4
  • Lids to suit bottle size no 3 or 4
  • De-bubbler
  • Bowls for seeds and skin peelings
  • Sharp knife for slicing off the skin
  • Spoon for scooping out the seeds
  • Washed Ripe Firm Papaya
  • Lime juice water (or citric acid )
  • Organic sugar
  • clean cloth(or paper towel) and a bowl of vinegar
  • PH tester strips
  • A Fowlers jar lifter
  • A towel or something similar to place hot bottles on at the end of the cooking process.
Fowlers Vacola preserving unit
Smaller Fowlers Vacola Preserving Unit

In Australia, the Fowlers Vacola preserving units or complete kits are still relatively easy to obtain, either new or 2nd hand along with FV bottles, lids, rubber rings, and clips.

Setting up to begin bottling is reasonably straightforward, no matter your cash outlay.
The ‘simple preserving unit’ holds 5 of the no. 31’s, 8 of the no. 20’s, or 7 of the no. 27’s.

The larger vintage bottles ( no. 36 and no. 65) do not fit in this smaller unit. They need to be processed using the much larger Stainless Steel Preserver/Sterilizer. This larger unit holds 12 of the no. 20’s and 7 of the no. 31’s

2. How to Choose the right Papaya fruit for bottling (canning)

Here are a few hints to help you choose your Papaya to preserve.

  • Select ripe but firm fruit
  • If the fruit has a lovely fresh sweet smell, generally, it will have a similar taste.
  • If the fruit is too green, it may have a bitter flavor when preserved.
  • Bottling the fruit won’t make it better if it doesn’t taste lovely fresh.
  • Fruit must be free of fruit flies or another evident pest infestation.
  • Minor blemishes are OK as these can be removed.
  • If the fruit is overripe, then you may end up with mush. You are better off freezing, juicing, or cooking with this fruit instead.
Ripe papaya
Freshly picked Papaya ready for bottling or canning

As we grow quite a few Papaya plants in our yard, we can pick the fruit from different plants as they ripen naturally.

Having a rolling supply allows me to do a small batch of preserving with little or no fuss.
Generally, if I have 1/2 dozen Papaya ready for preserving, I can quickly process them and carry on with my day.

Buying organic Papaya may have a few unsightly blemishes on it. Still, the payoff in the fruit being a more nutrient-dense, pesticide and fungicide-free product is so much more worth the cost. The bonus, of course, is that it generally has a far superior flavor.

3. Set up your work area to Bottle the Papaya into jars

  • Place your preserving unit where the steam from the boiling water will not cause problems with your cupboards or hinder kitchen use.
  • Collect all of your tools and ingredients needed (as listed above) and place them within easy reach, so the process of putting the fruit into jars is seamless.
  • Gather all of your pre-washed fruit
  • Make a mix of water and Lime/lemon juice to give a PH reading of 4.6 or below ( Citric acid may be used instead)
canning working station
Getting your jars and fruit ready

OK, we are now ready to go. Let’s fill those jars.

4. Filling the Vacola jars with Papaya. Step by Step

1. Cut the Papaya in half, scoop out all of the seeds and membranes of each half, and place it into a bowl.

When scooping out the seeds, separate the seeds into separate bowls. One is for seed saving, and the other is for seeds that could be preserved by drying, fed to chickens, or composted.

De seeding Papaya
Scooping out seeds of Papaya

2. Slice off the thin skin placing these peelings in a bowl.

All the peelings from the Papaya are collected and used for either composting or feeding to the chickens. They are never thrown away in the bin

3. With a clean jar in front of you, cut up Papaya to approx. 1-inch pieces and start filling your jars.

 If you cut the Papaya too small, you may end up with mushy fruit, so ensure the cut Papaya pieces are big enough to allow them to hold their shape during the long cooking process.

Fowlers Vacola Jar with Papaya
Adding organic sugar to jar before liquids

4. Add one tablespoon of sugar to each jar.

Adding extra sugar is more to help preserve the fruit’s color than extra sweetness. If your Papayas are sweet, there is no need to add the extra sugar except for that initial tablespoon.

Of course, if you prefer a super sweet fruit mix, adding additional sugar will not harm the process or the final result.

The jars can be filled all at once (lined up as soldiers) or completed one at a time. It is really up to you. 

When you have filled the jars of Papaya and sugar, but before the liquid goes in, it is time to put on the rubber rings.

Vacola rubber ring seated
The groove where the ring sits in. Note the flat surface. No twists in the rubber

5. Putting on the FV Rubber rings.

Before I put the rubber rings on the Vacola jars, I wipe the groove where the rings fit to help reduce potential sealing failures.

You can do this using a paper towel, or a clean cloth dipped in either hot water or vinegar. It only takes a ‘spec’ of debris to create a failed seal, and it is worth the effort.

Stretching out these rubber rings and putting them on the jars can be tricky at first, and they may fling out of your hands the first couple of tries.

Make sure the ring is not twisted and is sitting in the groove. It needs to have a flat surface for the lid to sit on. Otherwise the bottle will not seal.

With practice, it gets easier to put these rings on. (I promise)

6. Fill your jars using the lemon/lime (citric acid) water leaving 1/2 inch headspace.

Have some way of checking the acidity level of this liquid. I find Litmus papers to be the quickest and easiest to use.

A quick dip in the liquid and placing the paper by the chart will tell you if the level is low (and safe) enough to water bath your Papaya.

PH Litmus paper test
Testing PH level of the Lime/Lemon water

7. De-bubble and top up with lemon/lime water to the required head space of 1/2 inch, should the level drop.

De-bubbling is necessary as it removes all trapped bubbles in and around the fruit.

Once you’ve de-bubbled, generally, the liquid level will drop a little. You then must top up to ensure the headspace is at the correct level.

The headspace is needed when the fruit-filled jars have enough ‘headspace’ to expand as the liquid heats, and then, as it cools, it will create a vacuum to seal the jars.

liquid for canning
Topping up with Lemon/Lime water to 1/2 inch headspace

8. Wipe the rim of the jar (as well as the rubber ring) with a cloth or paper towel dipped in vinegar and place a clean stainless lid on the jar. 

The stainless lid should rest evenly on the rubber ring. Ensure it is not uneven as when you put on the clips, the occasionally failed seal may happen because of the ‘wonky sitting’ lid.

Wiping jars for canning
Wipe the top of jars as well as ring

9. Clamp the lid to the jar with the Vacola clips.

There is a groove where the clips will fit snugly down in place. Again, this is a little tricky, but after the first few bottles, they are easier to put in position.

I clip one side down and pull on the clip until it snaps down and over the ‘lip’.

clips for Fowlers Vacola
Placing clips on Vacola jar to clamp down lid

10. Place your filled bottles of Papaya into the Vacola unit.

Once the jars are filled with the Papaya mix and have their lids and clips put in place, start placing them into the Fowlers Vacola Preserving unit.

There is a plate in the unit that the bottles sit on, and is raised above the heating element.

placing Vacola jars into unit
Place cool jars, with cool fruit into cool water filled unit

5. Using the Fowlers Vacola Unit/Sterilizer

Do not turn on the Vacola unit until you are ready to start the timing process.

The water needs to be tap cold from the beginning of the cooking time; otherwise, you may cause a false seal, and all of your hard work (or worse, good Papaya) could be lost.

Vacola jars in unit
Cover jars with 1 to 2 inch’s of cool tap water

1. Fill with cool tap water covering the jars with 1 to 2 inches of water.

Fowlers Vacola jars have clips that don’t allow them to be double stacked, so don’t be tempted to do it.

Number 27 jars are the tallest you can use in the smaller (white plastic) preserver.

The Stainless Preserver can do the larger bottles and preserve a larger batch of the smaller jars.

2. Turn the unit on to process for 1 hour. 

Leave the lid on for the first 45 to 50mins, until the water comes to a gentle boil.

Once the water begins to boil, take the cover off so the unit cooks at a gentle boil, not a vigorous one, as this may damage your jars and hinder the sealing process with possible siphoning.

gentle boil Vacola jars
Vacola jars in unit with a gentle boil

If using the larger FV unit, 75mins is the amount of time needed for processing. There are generally more jars, food, and water to bring up to the initial temperature before it can start the boiling/preserving process.

3. After 1hr, turn off the machine and let the jars rest in the water for five to ten mins.

Using the Fowlers Vacola tongs, lift jars straight up and out, not on an angle. You don’t want the juice between the ring and lid, as tipping the jar may cause this to hinder the seal.

Vacola tongs
Note how the tongs sit in the clips to securely lift out of water

The tongs fit snugly into the clips. When you lift them up and then out to the bench, give a slight squeeze as you carry the bottle, and the tongs will stay in place.

I have never had a jar slip or drop doing it this way, EVER. (that’s in nearly 25 yrs of using the Fowlers Vacola system)

Place jars on a towel/tea towel about an inch apart from another to allow the air to circulate.  

4. Leave the jars to sit for the next 18 to 24 hrs.

Don’t leave them to cool in a cold area. Let them come to room temperature slowly and naturally. This helps create a good seal. Leave them undisturbed until the following day.

5. The next day remove clips and ensure all lids are sealed. 

As a general rule, the same time the next day is a good time to wait before you start moving jars and checking the seals.

Jars should be clean if no siphoning has occurred; if not, clean the jars, date, and write Papaya on them and place them on the pantry shelf.

Vacola Jars cooling
Vacola jars the next day. Water level is good, and all have sealed.

These will store well on the shelf for 12mths under optimal conditions (this being cool and dark) Please consider your climate and storage area when deciding what ‘optimal’ is.

The only change you will notice after a year (or two) will be the slight change of color.

This is the natural process of the fruit breaking down. The Papaya is still quite edible, however, its general use may change from being eaten straight from the jar, to an ingredient in cakes or similar.

I hope you give this a try. It is so worth the small effort in bottling (canning) the Papaya fruit and having it be shelf stable for enjoyment during the rest of the year.

This article was written by Tui Blanch. She is Co-owner of and has well over 20yrs experience in preserving and storing food.