Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Canning: Fresh peaches

I have a secret.  Inside me lives a sweet little old lady with a penchant for crocheting on the porch, doing crossword puzzles, kneading bread by hand, and preserving food.  If I could spend all day pruning roses and baking cookies I'm pretty sure I would love it.  Well, something I've always wanted is a pantry with food in it that I have preserved myself.  It brings an amazing level of satisfaction and kitchen-confidence that you just can't get at the grocery store.  Plus, having just planted fruit trees in my backyard, I want to be prepared to do something with the fruit next year. 

Canned Peaches in Light Syrup

I finally bought a water-bath canner so I can preserve the many wonderful local fruits.  Canning has a bit of a learning curve but oh such great rewards!  I have taken a couple of classes and felt ready to try my own hand at it.  Challenges were faced and conquered and now I have glass jars of peaches that taste exactly like canned peaches so this makes me happy.  I expanded on this experience and canned a batch of dill pickles - I'm counting down the days until I can open a jar and try them.  I went a little nuts and canned half a bushel of Bartlett pears and then pickled Asian pears. If I'm going to do something, I want to do it until I am good at it!

The first and most important thing about canning is to find a recipe - preferably in a book because the internet isn't terribly reliable - and follow it exactly.  I am enjoying the Ball Blue Book of Preserving.  The instructions are very clear and easy to follow and I recommend it to anyone beginning canning.  I won't post all of my canning adventures since that will probably bore to tears anyone without a canner, but I do hope to encourage those of you with any interest to try it out.  I have been amazed at how many friends and strangers have shared fond memories of canning as a child, the house smelling like one fruit or another, and the warmth and happiness that canning gatherings promote.  If you're thinking about it but don't want to invest in the gigantic pot just yet, ask around, I bet you know somebody with a canning pot or with a parent or aunt or uncle who has one. 

I found peaches at the farmers market that were just perfect for eating and beautifully sweet and ripe, which is exactly what you want for canning.  The point is to preserve them at their peak.  Unripe peaches are hard to peel and overripe peaches will be icky.  Peach season is in full gear now so go get some! 

By the way, there are 2 pints to 1 quart, and you're about to get good at eyeballing how many peaches will fit in that box of glass jars. 

2-3 lbs peaches per quart
Sugar (no substitutions) and water - for a light pack, use a ratio of 5 1/4 cups water to 2 1/4 cups sugar (makes about 6 1/2 cups of syrup). 

Prepare canning supplies:
The logistics here can be tricky because you kind of need five stove burners and most people only have four, and the giant canning pot takes up so much space I can only use three at a time.   Don't panic, there are other options!  What needs to happen: lids and rings need to be heated to almost boiling (do NOT let them boil or they won't seal), jars need to be heated to almost boiling, water should be getting ready in the giant pot (it takes a long time to warm up), a pot of water for the blanching/peeling, and yet another pot for making the light syrup.  If you have a dishwasher, put the lids and rings and jars in it and run them for a full cycle then keep it shut so they stay hot and sterile.  If you have a crock pot that can keep jars at 180 degrees that will work too.  I prefer the dishwasher method now that I've figured out the timing.

Prepare syrup:
I made a light syrup.  Mix sugar and water in appropriate amounts in a pot, stir until dissolved, and keep it hot (also not boiling) until you're ready to use it. 

Peel peaches:
Boil a pot of water that's big enough you can dip a whole peach under the water.  Use a slotted spoon to dip the peaches in for 20-30 seconds each; mine turned slightly darker colored when the time got close.  That seemed like it would take forever so I plopped in a whole single layer of peaches so I could do five or six at a time.  Pull them out (I used tongs) and stare at them until they are cool enough to pick up.  Rub them gently and the peels should come right off.  A few of mine gave me trouble so I used a paring knife but mostly they were super easy.  They don't strictly need to be peeled but the fuzzy skin is not appetizing once canned and the enzymes can make peaches not last as long. 

Slice peaches:
Using a sharp knife on amazingly slimy round objects is slow going.  Mine wouldn't come away from the pit in halves so I quartered them and things went pretty quickly from there. 

Put peaches into jars and process:
Do one jar at a time from this point until the processing, peaches then syrup then cleaning then lid before going to the next jar.  Most recipes say to put the peaches face-down in the jars (the side that was facing the pit) but I haven't figured out why unless it's for aesthetics.  In any case that is darn hard to do with hot jars.  Pack them as tightly as you can, up to the 1/2" mark on your jar.  They will shrink and float to the top, as you can see in my photos.  I will be packing them more tightly next time.  Carefully pour the syrup into the jar up to the 1/2" mark.  Run a plastic knife or tiny rubber spatula around the inside of the jar to get out any air bubbles.  This is very important, don't skip it!  Use a clean paper towel to wipe off the edges and rim of the jar to make sure they are completely clean and dry.  Pull the lid and ring out of the hot water (a stick with a magnet on it is great for this) and place it on the jar, and tighten the ring fingertip-tight.  I don't know exactly what that means but my jars sealed properly and didn't blow up so I must have done okay.  Put the jar onto the canning rack (which should be above the water at this point not in it) and do the next jar until you run out of peaches or jars or syrup or space.  Place the jars across from each other so they balance and don't tip the whole thing over, that would be bad.  When all jars are in place, process in a boiling-water canner - pints 15 minutes, quarters 30 minutes, and remember to adjust for altitude if needed.  

After processing, pull the jars out (I used a canning-specific doodad that is for picking up hot jars) and place them in a location for cooling where they will not be disturbed for up to 24 hours.  Keep at least an inch of space between them so they will cool evenly.  Keep the jars away from drafty places too, that can cause the seals to pop.  If the screw-lids loosened during processing that's fine, don't fix them.  When the jars are room temperature (I let mine sit overnight), tap on each lid to see if it sealed.  You'll know, it is pretty obvious if you find one that isn't, it does that little button popping-up thing like jelly jars.  Those are still fine to eat but have to live in the fridge not the cupboard. 

Success!  You have now canned peaches!  You know exactly where they came from, what is in the jar, and have something beautiful to put in the pantry that you can be proud of.  Yeah, I basically feel made of magic now.  :)

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