#Canning summer’s bounty: up to my elbows in peach jam & tomato sauce
It’s 9 o’clock on a Wednesday night, and I’m elbow deep in peach juices, trying to recall the satisfying feeling I felt a week before when I sealed off the last few jars of tomato sauce. This time, it’s peaches. Millions of peaches, it seems. I’m not even halfway through my half bushel (it didn’t look like this many in the cute basket at the market!), and I’ve already quadrupled the recipe I’m using. What on earth am I going to do with all these peaches?
Between my obsessions of late with fermentation and kombucha, it was clearly the next step, right? Not to mention, I’ve been reading far too many Joel Salatin books. Whatever the cause, I’ve been drawn against my will into the romance of food preservation, of making the bounty of summer last into the winter — although we have neither a farm nor the “larder” space to accommodate it. I even bought the book, Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity, to try to understand this passion that’s bubbled up in me (although, I’ve long blamed it on that Proverbs 31 woman).
It could be that mason jars are just so cute (and come in irresistible designs and sizes from this Pennsylvania company). Or that the finished product is so tidy yet beautiful — and all the things I wish my kitchen and cooking were all the time.
Now that I’ve started, I’m a little bit addicted. That beautiful *pop* noise when the cans seal, or when you give a jar of jam to a friend and they open it, makes it a little bit worth it. That being said, I’m not going to tell you it was a day in the park. I read all the posts that said canning is not for the faint of heart and something you should do with friends and — certainly — not by yourself on a weeknight while your husband is elbow deep in a car project and unable to help. But I am determined to learn things the hard way.
If you’re just starting out, like me, I’d encourage you to do the things I didn’t do, to go to a class and buy a canning cookbook, like this one that’s in my online shopping cart as we speak. I wouldn’t recommend buying a 25 pounds of tomatoes or peaches and four cases of mason jars and THEN thinking about how you’re going to with them. Although, it can be good inspiration to get started!
I used this recipe from Bon Appetit to turn 25 pounds of tomatoes into a dozen pints of herby, garlicky sauce. While the process was a bit painstaking and messy, the final product was certainly worth replicating. The pint-sized jars are great for a single recipe of lasagna or a quick stuffed zucchini, like we made the next night (thanks for the idea, Stacey). I feel a tinge of pride and self-sufficiency knowing those jars are stowed away in my cupboard and — just maybe — could outlast the tomatoes at market (I don’t have full confidence in my first go of it, though). Tomatoes are overflowing right now, so take advantage! I just got an email from a farmer that’s selling seconds for 50 cents a pound.
And, if you’re in a pinch to preserve tomatoes, you can always just can them and turn them into sauce later on. (The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great place to start for recipes and overall tips.)
Now on to the main event: the peaches. If you’ve tastes some of the drip-down-your-chin peaches available this time of year, you know why I had this incredible urge to preserve them. And why I could barely stop eating them during the canning process (“Ope, that one looks too good to be canned. In my mouth you go!”) I initially thought I’d make jam with half the half-bushel (25 pounds) and can the other half. But then I remembered that I don’t really like syrupy canned peaches and it’d be easier to add a dollop of jam to my yogurt come December than to struggle with a slimy peach half.
So, jam it is.
I must say, it is quite good. I used a couple recipes as jumping off points, factored in the sweetness of my peaches and dialed the sugar way down. I added a bit of cinnamon and vanilla and even did some math to come up with this one (phew!).
For this recipe, you first want to peel your peaches. The best way to do this is to boil them whole for 1 minute, then transfer them with a slotted spoon to an ice bath in another pot. You can wash and reuse these pots for the jam process (and even sterilize your jars in one of them while you peel the peaches)
FREESTONE PEACH JAM
- Half of a half-bushel of peaches (or, once peeled and sliced, about 12-14 cups of peaches)
- Two dozen 8-oz. mason jars (for cute giveaways) or enough jars to hold about 6 quarts, sterilized in boiling water for about five minutes.
- A couple big stock pots, though you can make do with the smaller jars
- Tongs or the fancy canning tongs, for handling hot jars
- A big bowl
- A cold spoon
- 1/2 cup of lemon juice
- 2-4 cups of sugar (My freestone peaches were sooo sweet and not a hint of tart already, so I only used 2 cups of evaporated cane sugar.)
- 1/2 tsp. of ground cinnamon or a half cinnamon stick
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract or a whole vanilla bean
- Place sliced peaches, sugar, and lemon in a bowl. Cover and let sit for one hour, so the peaches will release their juices.
- Add peaches, cinnamon, and vanilla to a large pot and bring liquid to a boil.
- Using a potato masher and begin to mash peaches down.
- Use a wooden spoon to continue stirring as peaches cook. I cooked mine 40 minutes and used the cold spoon test to see if it had gelled. I tasted several times to see if it needed more sugar. At first, I thought it did, but then the cooking made it come together just peachy.
- Have your sanitized jars lined up on a kitchen cloth — it will get messy.
- Ladle hot fruit into each jar leaving 1/4 inch at the top of the jar (for smaller jars, a 1/2 inch for pint jars).
- Screw on lids using the rings securely, but not too tight. Place in boiling water for 5 minutes. (The water should completely cover the jars.)
- Using tongs, remove jars carefully from the water and set on the counter. Dry and cover with dish towel. As the jars cool, you should hear the lids ping. This is a sign that the jars have sealed off! (A sign that doesn’t always happen but is a nice confirmation.)
Next, I’ll be looking for some food swaps to exchange canned goodies with other items. Or if you’d like to trade whatever you’ve got cooking for some peach jam, just let me know! I’m making another batch this weekend (or I’m open to other peach recipes). I also have these dilly beans in mind next.
Did I already buy about 4 pounds of green and yellow beans? Why yes, yes I did.
So what are your canning recipes and stories? Do tell!