Wednesday, August 28, 2013

if you don't want no peaches, honey

It's a learning curve. Canning. Preserving. Putting up peaches. I've been holding my breath for the ripening of the Maryhill peaches, famous for their uniformity of size and flavor. Now finally ripe, they are good, but not so good as the smaller "Starfire" from Jossy Farms in Northplains. I've canned 22 quarts this week, and one peach cobbler. I tried baking a peach pie while on vacation, and it turned out okay, but not great.

The zen of peaches is all about getting the fuzzy skin off. If you like the fuzzy skin, then I think we would have little else in common.

Canning Peaches 101

Boil a kettle of water, prepare an ice bath in a deep bowl. I use one of those wire wok utensils to dip the peach in the hot water and transfer it to the ice bath. I've seen most websites tell you to leave the peaches in for 30 seconds. That's a long time. I think I leave mine in for ten or so, maybe 15, or the peaches cook. If your peaches are truly ripe and you're not playing god and trying to push your way to the head of the line, you shouldn't need more than 15 seconds.

Now comes the fun part: getting them out of their slippery little nasty skins. If you have 1.) patiently waited for ripening, and 2.) done the hot/cold baths properly, you won't even need a knife for this part. I just pinch the skin around the stem area and pull it away. I compete with myself to try to peel all of the skin off with one pull. It can be done, but I can't really explain it. I could show you, but you're not here. Duh.

So now you have a bowl of nekked little orbs of wonderfulness. Now you need to step it up just a bit or they'll go brown on you. You can toss them with lemon juice and they will stay nicer, or you can snap it up and toss a sixteenth of a teaspoon of ascorbic acid into each jar to acheive the same result without blurring the flavors. Nothing against lemons. Really.

So, now you halve the peach with a paring knife, and if it is a kind peach it will fall apart in two perfect segments into your hand. If it is a stubborn little bitch, you may have to pry it apart ever-so-gently, and what you wreck, you may eat. Then, I quarter the peach and just start tossing the quartered pieces in the pretty clean jar.

Pretty clean means it was boiled before you started this process two hours ago and was, at one point, damn near sterile, but not quite.

So, you keep tossing peach quarters into the jar until it is full. shake it around a bit to let them settle. Go ahead and push 'em in, just so long as you leave a good half inch of "head space" (we all need this.).

Then, oh shit, I forgot to tell you to make the syrup. So, make the syrup. You can can with plain water if you like, but the peaches will taste, you guessed it, watery. So a lite sugar syrup is indicated. You won't get to heaven any sooner if you skip the sugar and the peaches you eat will taste better. But, if sugar is your enemy, which it should be but I live in constant denial of this fact, then a couple cups of sugar in a gallon of water should do it. Most sugar syrups call for four or five cups. Yeesh. So you make up your mind to do whatever. Sugar doesn't do anything magic for preservation, it just keeps the fruit from tasting washed out. Your call. I use a little sugar. Sue me.

So set up your table with the sugar syrup -- hot, the ascorbic acid, a rubber handled spatula, a damp cloth and a magnet for lid-getting.

Pack the jar; add ascorbic acid; fill with syrup to leave a good half inch; slide the rubber handle down inside the jar to release trapped air bubbles; wipe the top of the jar; go get the lid with the magnet thingy; put on the lid without touching the lid.

So, the thing with canning peaches is putting on the lids. You do understand by now that we're not working in a sterile environment, right? Tossing just-cut peaches into a pretty clean jar and wiping the jar clean with a damp cloth is not sterile. Then you drag the hot but not boiling lid with a weak magnet across the kitchen hoping it doesn't crash to the peach-strewn floor, and dangle it over the rim of the pretty clean jar, land it like a robot arm on the moon, and voila! its ready for the ring.

Now for the rings:  "Finger tight" can have many interpretations. For me, I read it as: spin on the lid and give it a little push when you reach the end. NONONONONO!! If you tighten the lids too tight, here's what happens. As you lower your perfectly peeled and glossy yummy fruit that you've slaved over for two hours, down, down, down into the boiling water, you will hear this ever so subtle snapping noise. This, my lonely readership, is the sound of jars breaking. You'll know for sure as peach bits begin to float around in your water. So, without scalding your legs, pull the jars from the water as quickly as you can and undo the damage. Get them to solid ground and unscrew those lids. I don't need to tell you to dispose of the fruit from the broken glass, do I?

Turns out finger tight really means finger-tip tight. Really. Just barely. A butterfly could do it. AND, start those jars out in warm water. Not lava-hot boiling oil water.

So you get the jars into the water, boil them for awhile. At least ten minutes, maybe 15. The old ways would have you boil them to death. A good roiling boil for 10 to15 is fine. I didn't die, right? But then, I believe in bacteria. I'm a fan of dirt. I am immune.

Then, you wait for the good popping noises. The noises that mean it worked. It is not uncommon for a jar or two our of 20 to fail. If this happens to you, put these little personal failures in the fridge and eat them within two weeks.

I only lost one jar to breakage, all the rest of them sealed and I have 22 pretty little jars of peaches.