This is the year I have taken the big leap into pressure canning and water bath canning. One thing that I have always loved out of mason jars are peaches. They are one of my favorite fruits ~ so sweet and juicy all on their own!
Although we don't have a peach tree of our own to harvest from, there are always plenty of farm fresh peaches available around here in the season, as it's just a short drive to my home state of South Carolina where it is a huge crop (don't let Georgia's slogan of being the peach state fool you ~ SC grows more peaches and nobody ever talks about a "Georgia Peach" unless they are referring to an amazing lady!).
That means most every roadside stand and farmers market sell them by the basket, the bushel, or whatever amount you would like "just five miles from wherever you are" in this geographical region of the country!
We picked up a half-bushel at our local farmer's market last week. These peaches were huge, juicy, and so perfectly sweetened ~ nature really is perfect in it's design!!
I did save a few back for the family to eat raw, but it was a race to get into the instructions and recipes to try my hand at canning these royal fruits.
The first step for processing peaches is the blanching process. You will need a pot of boiling water, a pot of cold water, a utensil to get the peaches out of the water, a container for the peach peels, and a container for the skinned peaches.
The directions I read said the peaches need to be in the boiling water 30-90 seconds. I kept my water just under boiling the whole time, so I left them pretty much 90 seconds before switching them to the cold water.
We don't use much ice so I just used our cold water out of the tap (mountain well water gets pretty chilly) and switched it out every few times when it didnt feel cool anymore. The directions said you can use ice water, or the pot of cold water in an ice bath, for those of you who might have ice on hand.
If the skin doesn't come off very easily, just repeat the hot/cold water process with that peach. When it is blanched the correct amount of time, they peel off so easily!
Once all the peaches are peeled, the next step is removing the pits. I was using these peaches for two different types of canning (hot packed in syrup, and preserves) but it was pretty easy to take each peeled peach, use my paring knife to slice around each one two times perpendicular, and pull apart four slices with a pit to discard.
This is the part where I will tell you to save your peels (and if you like, your pits). I have my pits in a ziploc in the freezer for later use, and the peels are in tupperware in the fridge so I can make an easy peach peel jelly with them. I found one suggestion for the pits to be used for tea, but I am still debating what I will do with the pits. Who knows, maybe I will even let you all in on the secret once I figure it out!
Now that you have a big pile of peaches that are free from skins and pits, it's time to put them in a pot, add sugar and water, and get them ready for the jars.
The idea is that you are making a syrup to pack them in, and then water bath canning. I have been really enjoying the "practical self reliance" website for easy go-to reading on canning as I prefer reading to videos. You can find the recipe I used here, but since it's not my creation I ask that you visit their site to get the actual recipe:
The "hot pack method" process is extremely simple. You combine your peaches, sugar, and water in your pot. Cook them for a few minutes, pack them in the canning jars, and then water bath process them for the recommended time.
Once you finish the water bath process, it's just removing the jars, letting them cool, and listening for the wonderful sound of the "ping" to let you know the jars are sealed!
Please note that you don't have to have a pressure canner to water bath can. I did so because I am excited about my new pressure canner and it's easier than lugging it back and forth between water bath and pressure canning. I have used my tamale pot, regular large pots, etc for this step.
The preserves I made with the rest of the peeled, sliced peaches was a longer process, where you cook the peaches/sugar/water/lemon juice mixture down over time and then pack it and water bath can it.
While I have no desire to rush to the cold dark months of winter, I am happy to think about the little ray of warm sunshine that will be found in each jar of peachy goodness long after the leaves have fallen. I even took the extra "light syrup" that was in the pot after I removed all the peaches to quart-sized jars and canned it into a few pint-size jars for later use in cooking adventures!