Saturday, August 15, 2009

Canning an Overabundance of Peaches

The afternoon I dropped Victor off at the airport for a week-long trip, I decided to stop by the Columbia City Farmer's market. I don't often make it to any of the week-day markets, but I was near there and had time...

Of course, I encountered a bargain I just couldn't refuse - 20 lbs of peaches (actually, 23 lbs when I got home and weighed them!) for just $20. Organic, peak-of-ripeness peaches. Delicious peaches. Peaches that absolutely needed to be canned right away. By myself.

Last year, we found a similar deal and ended up canning over 50 (half-pint) jars of peach preserves. That was hard enough, but now I had to do it without Victor. It worked out in the end, but only because I primarily canned them without making preserves, and even then I ended up sticking about half of them in the fridge overnight (in a cold water bath with lots of lemon juice to ward off browning).

It was an adventure - I discovered that standard canning pots can't be used on smooth-top electric stoves (because their base is ridged, so they won't heat) and also that my large stock pot, while adequate for pint jars, wasn't big enough for quarts. Several shopping trips later I managed to finish canning the peaches the next morning.

The first step to all of these recipes is to remove the skins and pits (I saved mine - they're in the freezer right now, waiting to be made into peach peel jelly).

To do this, you'll want a big pot of boiling water, a large bowl filled with ice water, and another large bowl with ice water and lemon juice (or citric acid). Each peach needs to go in the boiling water bath for about 45 seconds and then into the ice water bath for a minute or so. The skin should then be very easy to peel off; remove the pit and cut into halves (or quarters if your peaches are large). The cut-up pieces go in the water with lemon juice 'til you're ready to use them.

It's useful to have a skimmer (aka a spider) to remove the peaches from the water, and another person to help move the process along.

Spiced Pickled Peaches
adapted from The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving

  • 4 lb peaches, prepared as above
  • 3 1/2 C sugar
  • 1 3/4 C white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/4 C water
  • 3 cinnamon sticks, broken up
  • 1 Tbsp whole cloves
  • 1/2 tsp whole allspice
Tie spices together in a cheesecloth bag (or a large paper coffee filter). Bring sugar, vinegar, and water to a boil over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add spice bag; reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add peaches to syrup and return to a simmer for another 5 minutes. Discard spice bag.

Remove peaches from liquid with a slotted spoon and pack into hot jars. Pour liquid over peaches to within 1/2 in of rim. Process 20 min (pints) or 25 min (quarts) in a boiling water bath.
yield: 3 quart jars

Peaches in Light Syrup
adapted from the Ball Blue Book

for the syrup:
  • 2 1/4 C sugar
  • 5 1/4 C water
Boil together until sugar dissolves. Makes about 6 1/2 C syrup.

  • 2-3 lbs peaches per quart jar, prepared as above

Pack prepared peaches into hot jars, cavity-side down, overlapping. Leave 1/2 in headspace. Ladle hot syrup over peaches, keeping 1/2 in headspace. Carefully remove bubbles, especially if you've used peach halves. Process pints 20 minutes and quarts 25 minutes in a boiling water canner.

Spiced Peach Butter
my own crazy recipe, adapted from the Ball Blue Book and the (even more crazy than I am) Jamlady Cookbook

  • 18 medium peaches, prepared as above
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • box of "no-sugar" pectin (1 3/4 oz)
  • 4 C sugar
Put peaches into a large pot and puree with an immersion blender (or blend by your method of choice). Add cinnamon. Cook over medium heat until slightly thickened, about 30 minutes. Add the pectin and bring to a boil. Boil for one minute. Add the sugar, stirring to dissolve. Cook to the jell point. Remove cinnamon sticks and transfer butter to hot jars. Process in a boiling water canner, 5 minutes for half-pint jars and 10 minutes for pint jars.

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