On my grocery foray yesterday, I found much to my delight that I had not after all missed the cases of Colorado peaches that appear once a year for only a week or two. (I’d thought I missed the window while on vacation.) So I happily bought a case, and will spend a few hours this afternoon processing them. What do I do with all those peaches? you may ask. Aha! I make cans of sunshine for the dark winter months.
Actually, I do two different things: can halves of peaches, and make jars of peach syrup. Both processes, though somewhat tedious, are worth the joy of opening a jar of golden sunshine in February–and INFINITELY more tasty than the storebought version.
To can peach halves, I start with the requisite clean canning quart jars, lids and rings, and set my canning kettle to boil.
Then I put another large pot of water on to boil. When it’s boiling, I drop the peaches into it by 3’s or 4’s, leave them for 3-4 minutes, then fish them out and drop them into a sink full of ice water. The boiling-to-cold effect loosens the skin, which you can then slide off pretty easily.
After taking off the skin, I cut the peaches into halves, putting them in a large bowl and sprinkling them with a little lemon juice to keep them from turning brown and mushy.
Then I make the sugar syrup, which I usually make simply by boiling water and sugar together in a 4:2 or 4:3 ratio. (i.e. 4 cups water to 2 or 3 cups sugar–depends on how heavy you want the syrup.) After it has boiled and the sugar has dissolved well, I’m ready to pack the jars. I slide the peach halves into the jars, trying to get them open side down (but not really sweating that much about it), until the fruit reaches just below the threads on the neck. Then I pour sugar syrup over the fruit until it is 1/2-3/4 inches below the top.
Then the lids and rings go on, and the jars go into a boiling bath for 15 minutes or so. I lift them out with my handy canning tongs, and set them to cool on wire racks (or towels, or brown paper bags) on the kitchen table for several hours. These definitely need to be stored someplace cool and dark, if they are to retain their beautiful color.
For peach syrup, it couldn’t be easier: Follow the same skinning routine as for canned halves, but cut the peaches into smaller chunks. Use a pastry cutter ring or a food processor to break them up into a chunky mush, or even to a peach slush, if you don’t want the texture. Add a little lemon juice.
Put the fruit into a large pot over medium heat. When it is rolling and bubbling, add sugar a cup at a time, until you have added an amount equal to the fruit. Stir in to dissolve, and keep stirring until the mixture reaches a full rolling boil (i.e. the bubbling doesn’t stop even when you stir it). Allow it to boil another minute, then remove from heat. Pour into very clean jars (I like to use the pint jam jars with narrow mouths). Put the lids and rings (also excruciatingly clean!) on the jars. Put the jars into a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (counting from the time you put them into the boiling water, not from the time it comes back to a boil.) Remove from the bath with canning tongs, and set the jars to cool on wire racks. You will know that the jars have sealed when you hear them “POP”–this is the sound of the lid being sucked inward by the cooling/contracting air in the headspace of the jar.
And incidentally, I use the very same syrup method for blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, apricots, and whatever other fruits I want to use to make syrup. I may try apple syrup this year, since we have such good apples in MN–I’ll let you know how it turns out.