Sometimes a person is just in the right place at the right time, and ALWAYS a person will benefit from a network of like minded people. Both of these worked together for us a couple of weeks ago, when friends called to say they had found a source of beautiful Missouri peaches. It seems that a local Mennonite family had traveled and picked up a large order of peaches for someone who had later changed their minds. In an effort to avoid financial loss and minimize fruit loss, they were selling the peaches at nearly cost. Since the Japanese beetles had feasted on our small peach tree and we had exactly zero peaches to can, we jumped at the opportunity. After calling friends to see if they wanted some as well, we placed our order with the original friends, and they picked up our peaches and dropped them off our house. We had approximately 175# of wonderful peaches to place on our pantry shelves in one form or another!
There are many ways to use peaches when preserving, but the most basic way, and the way I put up most of ours is by halving them and canning them in syrup. Many of our peach halves are enjoyed with ice cream or cottage cheese, right from the jar. A medium syrup gives just the right amount of sweetness to be eaten this way. I can also open up a jar and slice up the halves to make a pie, or use them to make more jam if our supply should run out before the next season. The peaches can also be sliced and used in any recipe that calls for canned peaches.
To preserve the peaches they must be peeled, cut in half, syrup made, halves packed in jars and covered with syrup, then processed in a water bath canner. It sounds a bit daunting, but it is really a fairly simple process.
When peeling the peaches, the skins will slip from ripe peaches easily after blanching and dipping in cold water. We set up our outdoor burner, heated water and blanched the peaches, then dropped them into ice cold water. If they are still a bit green it may take a little longer than the suggested 30 – 60 seconds in the boiling water. In fact we actually let ours sit for a couple of minutes. This “cooks” them a bit longer, but doesn’t seem to hurt anything and they peeled easier for us. We have a cooler that is filled with ice cold water, and changed frequently. After peeling, cut the peaches in half and remove the pit. The halves are then dropped in a large bowl of cool water with a bit of citric acid to preserve the color.
There are at least three versions of syrup that can be used over fruit, light, medium and heavy. I choose to use a medium for our peaches, as that fits my family’s taste and uses. To make a medium syrup, combine 3 1/4 cups sugar with 5 cups water. Add 2 1/2 teaspoons citric acid to the syrup to help preserve the color and decrease the pH. This will yield approximately 7 cups of syrup, which should easily do a canner full of peaches (7 quarts) and will frequently do 2 canners full. Heat the sugar water, stirring occasionally until the sugar is fully dissolved. It need not boil, but keep it warm until ready to use. While the syrup is heating, fill washed, heated jars with peach halves. To make the nicest looking jars, make sure the inside of the peach (the side where the pit was removed) is facing the center of the jar. Fill the jar, spacing and turning the halves as needed to 1″ head space. Cover with warm/hot syrup to 1/2″ head space.
After filling, wipe rims to remove any fibers that may prevent a seal, place the flat on top and add the ring, finger tight, before placing into water bath canner. Most canners will hold 7 quarts, but any large pot will work for water bath canning. The only requirement is that the pot must be deep enough to completely cover the jars with water, after placing them on a “rack” to keep them off the bottom of the pot. This “rack” can be extra rings wired together, a wire rack, or even a folded towel. Anything to keep the glass jar bottoms off the metal bottom of the pan. The direct contact can create too much heat on the jar, and could cause breakage.
Once the pot is set up, add the jars and cover with water. Bring to a boil and boil for 20 minutes for pints, and 25 minutes for quarts. After the time is finished, use a jar lifter and remove the jars, one a time, to cool and seal. I find it best to place mine on folded towels or a wooden board, to prevent the possibility of a drastic temperature change, which could also cause breakage. Allow the jars to cool completely and check for a seal. If you have a jar that doesn’t seal, place in the refrigerator for an immediate treat or reprocess.
To check for seal, push down on center of lid, if there is no give, the seal is good. If the center goes down and pops back up, the seal has failed. Remove rings from sealed jars, wash with warm soapy water, or vinegar water to remove any sticky residue and store in a cool dark place. Some will say to use the home canned peaches within a year, but we have used them up to 5 years later with the same fresh goodness. The color may darken slightly as time goes by, but this does not hurt the flavor at all. I believe peaches may be one of our family favorites, for both taste and versatility.
Watch for a couple of future posts, in which I will share my recipe for canned peach pie filling that is convenient and ready for a quick pie, cheese cake topping, or over ice cream. A jar contains the wonderful fresh taste of peach pie, without the effort or heat of the oven. I will also share my easy recipe for peach jam, a wonderful jam for use in a variety of ways.
I do enjoy having our shelves stocked with convenient tasty foods that lack the preservatives and chemicals found in processed foods. Let me know if you try your hand at canning peaches, and how much your family enjoys them!
Just a follow up note. There have been many questions regarding the peaches floating in the jars. This is a natural occurrence. The syrup is heavier than the peaches, and the vacuum created by the processing and seal, also encourages the peaches to “lift” to the top of the jar. If you have several packed well, you will have minimal floating, but they will still float. Don’t worry about this….just enjoy your produce!