19 August 2013

Canning and Freezing Peaches

 I grew up in a home where we canned and froze as many kinds of fruit as we had energy to work with in the summer and early fall.  Applesauce, canned pears, and of course frozen and canned peaches stacked up in my parents' extra freezer and in an insulated "fruit room" in a corner of our shop/garage.  I still believe there's nothing quite so beautiful as shelves full of fruits you've canned yourself, and no sound quite so exciting as the pop of a jar as it seals.

So it still surprises me a little, like it did yesterday, when I hear of people who haven't had these experiences like I have.  Or who didn't have a good friend to teach them when they wanted to learn.  If you happen to pop over here from Google wanting to learn how to can peaches, will you let me know if the instructions below were helpful?  Or if you have questions?  I can't stop by and spend the afternoon with you, chatting and slicing and snitching a peach here and there, but maybe this post can get you going.

Here's my first piece of advice:  get a friend or family member to help you with the work.  Canning and freezing takes less than half the time with two people than it does with one.  It just does.  If you don't believe me?  Try it both ways and compare.

For canning, you will need:
  • wide mouth canning jars, with lids and bands
  • water bath canner
  • a jar lifter, such as this one 
  • peaches
  • sugar/sweetener
  • clean water (use filtered water for every part of the process if you filter your drinking/cooking water)
For freezing, you will need:
  • freezer zip lock bags, or freezer safe containers of your choice
  • peaches
  • sugar/sweetener
 The first few steps for freezing and canning peaches are the same, so begin here for either chore.
  1. Buy free-stone peaches.  Peaches that are not free-stone don't come off their pits very easily, which makes them easy to squish and crush.  If the crushed peach look is what you're after, that might be fine, but it will take you longer to process the peaches.
  2. Be sure the peaches are ripe.  The results of your canning and freezing will be drastically improved in flavor if you do.  Ripe peaches don't have any green showing in the stem area (or anywhere else), and are soft to the touch.  Peaches are typically not quite ripe when you buy them in the store or the stand, and will not necessarily all ripen at the same time.  Separate out the ripe peaches when you're ready to freeze or can.
  3. Try to set yourself up ergonomically.  You'll need a work space you can be comfortable in for several hours, so try to make sure you can sit down if you need to and have everything within reach.
  4. Blanch the peaches, a few at a time.  Blanching makes the peaches super easy to peel, which takes your time down by a lot (and saves you from cutting parts of the peach away when you peel each one--blanched skins come off with only the skin).  Bring a large pot of water to boil (enough water to cover the peaches).  When the water is boiling, put as many peaches in the water as will fit in the pot.  Let them stay in the water (even if it's not boiling once the cool peaches are put into it) for 30-60 seconds.  Remove them with a large spoon (preferably with holes in it), and let cool until they are touchable (it doesn't take long).
  5. While waiting for the pot of water to boil, get out a large bowl and fill it about two-thirds full of water.  Add a little sugar, lemon juice, or Fruit Fresh (found on the canning aisle of just about every grocery store).  When you've peeled the peaches, place them in this bowl so they won't get brown while you prepare enough for your jars or freezer containers or bags.
  6. Peel the peaches.  The skins will come off easily now.  I like to slice the peach in half and twist it off the pit before I slide the skin off the peach.  If you slide the skin off the peach before you twist one half away from the pit, it's MUCH harder to get the peach off the pit, even if it's a free-stone peach.
  7. Put the peach halves into your bowl of water.  When that's full, you're ready to fill a few jars or freezer bags.
If you're here for canning, continue to the steps in this section.  If you're here for freezing, skip to the next section.
  1. Prepare your jars--wide mouth jars are best for peaches, especially if you plan to can halves (you can do any size of chop you want, but bigger is faster as far as your time is concerned).  Wash them--the dishwasher is a great option here, if you've planned ahead.  Also wash the bands and lids.  The lids are not re-usable (I've heard of some re-usable types, but haven't tried any yet), but the bands can be used year after year.  Just don't use any with rust. 
  2. Prepare your syrup.  Now, I have canned peaches without any kind of sweetener in the water, but I DON'T recommend it.  Here's why--and it's exactly what happened the year I experimented with the no-sweetener canning:  You start with naturally sweet fruit, and put it in jars with water, which has no sweet in it whatsoever.  The sugars in the fruit escape into the water, to make everything in the jar sort of equally sweet.  So your unsweetened water ends up sweet after the canning process, but your peaches end up less sweet than they were to begin with.  So use a sweetened syrup of some kind.  I have used two methods, and I'll share both with you.  They worked equally well.
  3. Syrup #1:  Put 1/4 cup sugar of choice in each quart sized jar.  Put a little water in each jar, stir it up, and add the fruit up to the neck of the jar.  Then cover the fruit with more water until none of it sticks up above the water.  (Again, this should be about up to the neck of the jar.)
  4. Syrup #2:  Put 1 cup of sugar in a 4 cup measuring cup, and then fill with water.  This will end up being more than 3 cups of water, of course, because the sugar dissolves into it.  When it's dissolved, pour the syrup over the peaches in the jar as described above.
  5. Once the jars are filled,  wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, wet cloth or paper towel.  For the jars to seal, the point of connection between the rubber on the lid and the glass rim have to be completely clean.
  6. Screw the lids on with the bands, and place in the water bath canner.  Fill the canner with water up to the necks of the jars.  Bring to a boil, and let boil for 20 minutes.  And know your stove--don't let the peaches boil so hard that the liquid in the jars boils over and out of the jar.  This can hinder the jar from sealing when you take it out of the canner.  You may need to turn the temperature down when the water boils.
  7. Remove the jars from the canner.  I like to use a kitchen implement specifically for this purpose, which you can purchase on the canning aisle of most grocery stores, and even stores like Fred Meyer or Walmart.  I place the jars on a couple of layers of kitchen towels on the counter to cool.  When you hear the lids start to "pop"  and you can see that the lid is dented in instead of out, the jar is sealed.  You can also tell if a jar has not sealed when, after sufficient time to cool, the fruit is not floating in the syrup but resting on the bottom of the jar instead.
  8. When the jars are cool, remove the bands from the jars and wash both the bands and jars.  They can get a little sticky in the water bath process.  (Once the jars are sealed, the bands make no difference to the seal--just the lids do.)  Store the jars with the bands or without.  
  9. Your peaches will keep for several years...but I've never had them around long enough to find out just how many!  I like to aim for a total of jars that's a multiple of twelve, so I can average a certain number per month (ideally, a minimum of 48, so I can average four every month or nearly one per week of the year until the next canning season).
  10. A note about water temperatures:  If you're planning to put your jars into water that is boiling or close to boiling, you need to bring the jars to a boil with the water, and you need to pour near-boiling syrup over your fruit (into the already-very-hot jar).  I personally don't like to do this, because I am clumsy enough to burn myself on the jars or with the water at every turn.  I make cold syrup, and begin the canning process in water that's cool enough to keep my finger in for a few seconds.  If you put cold jars with cold contents into boiling water, they will shatter during the canning process.  If, however, you begin with water that's comfortable to the touch (both inside and outside the jars), the jars will be tempered as the canning process happens.  Cold jars need to be heated gradually, right along with the water--otherwise, you will risk losing your jars and your peaches.
Continue here if you're freezing your peaches.
  1. Chop your peaches to a size that will efficiently fill your freezer bags.  My mom and I like to chop them down to bite-sized chunks.
  2. Mix them with a little Fruit Fresh or sugar (similar concept as described in step 2 of the canning section).  Even though these peaches will not be surrounded by water, like in canning, they do have the potential to get brown and to lose their sugars into the peach liquids that inevitably come out of the peaches as you process them.
  3. Put them into the freezer bags or containers of choice.
  4. Lay bags flat in your freezer--you don't need randomly shaped bags of peaches running around in your freezer.  If they're laid flat to begin with, they'll be much more stackable and rearrangeable when they're frozen in solid blocks.

1 comment:

  1. It delights me that you remember our home as one where we did a lot of food preservation -- in spite of my laziness on that front in recent years! :)


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