Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Canning

As summer winds down the push to preserve all its delicious bounty for the dreary winter months becomes more pressing. Here in the Pacific Northwest there is still a chance for a second harvest of greens that will last into November but most of the fruits (with the exception of some apple and pear varieties) will be ending soon. Our favorite U-Pick farm has run out of blueberries and raspberries but thankfully peaches, nectarines, and plums are still available.

Peaches are a favorite of mine and I've passed it on to Munchkin. While Hubby can take it or leave it a nice ripe peach can have me drooling worse than Pavlov's puppies. Just a hint of that peachy scent will have me careening through the grocery store to the produce section, knocking over displays with the cart and making Munchkin yell "wheeeeeeee" till I screech to a halt in front of a mound of rock hard tasteless fuzzballs. Honestly, other than the smell they aren't real peaches but most years I'll give in a buy a pound or two and then grumble when the best part of the fruit is the smell. Usually I stuff myself with fresh picked local peaches till I can't stand the sight of them (as if this aversion will somehow carry over into, say, January). I've tried freezing in the past and didn't care much for the change in texture (though they made great smoothies) so this year I decided to stop being scared of Ball jars and to give canning a try.

As a kid I used to help my grandma and mom can all summer long. We'd spend a weekend picking fruit and then all week would be washing, peeling, chopping, and hauling. And the whole time us kids would be washing and peeling and pitting we'd be told to stay far away from the pressure cooker, how it could explode and kill us all if we messed with it. Needless to say we never messed with it-in fact, we'd be ordered out of the kitchen when it came time to load or unload the cooker. Fast forward 20 years and I'm still terrified of pressure cookers! But while wandering the internet I discovered another form of preserving: water bath canning. Basically you fill your jars with yummies, drop them in a pot of boiling water, cover it, and let it cook for a prescribed amount of time. Remove the jars and wait for the lids to pop. Hmmmm....sounded easy.

I snagged a 20 pound box of Elberta peaches from the farm and got ready to make a mess. The Elberta variety is a good canning peach (per the farm owners) and is a cling-free, which means the fruit won't cling to the pit-the flesh just pops off the pit with a little pressure. It is much easier to prep the fruit when you don't have the dig the pit out. To prep the peaches I removed the skins by dropping them into a boiling pot for a few seconds, then plunging them into an ice bath. The skins just slide off-no peeling for this girl!

To make a sugar-free syrup I threw 3 of the ripest, peeled peaches into a pot of water, mushed them up with a potato masher and then simmered until the water had reduced into a thin syrup. It wasn't as sweet as traditional sugar syrups but it was very peachy. I added cinnamon, ground allspice, and ground cloves to give it some spice and then set it aside. I cut the peeled peaches in half and filled my quart jars, leaving a two inch gap at the top. Next I filled the jars with the syrup, leaving a 1" air gap. Then I wiped the jars down, put on the lids, and eased them into a pot of boiling water and covered it. Once the water came back to a boil I set the timer for 30 minutes and started cleaning up the kitchen.

Thirty minutes later I removed the jars and let them cool on the counter. After about an hour the lids started popping, confirming that the jars were sealed. I let the jars cool overnight before moving them, checking that the lids were sealed and didn't pop up and down when I pressed on them.

Here they are! Six quarts of spiced peaches all jarred up (with another 3 already in the pantry). Aren't they pretty?

My peaches were pretty ripe and they smooshed a bunch going in the jar (notice how they don't really look like peach halves *sigh*). Wide-mouth jars might have helped. Next I am going to try tomato sauce, wish me luck!

Helpful links:

Pick Your Own's Water Bath Canning Directions
Pick Your Own Canning Without Sugar

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