In my family, preserving food for the winter has been a way of life for generations. I have fond summertime memories of helping my grandmothers and mother with gardening… and preparing fresh fruits and vegetables to be preserved through the processes of canning or freezing. Now our 4 children are part of the harvesting and preparation crew!
Sitting on the back porch shelling peas or working together in the kitchen peeling peaches, my mother would take the opportunity of our time together to talk, sing or play educational games. In our early years I am sure we practiced our counting as the jars were being put into or taken out of the canner. Later on my three siblings and I mastered the US States and Capitals while working together to prep fresh food to preserve for the winter. And each of us had our favorite fruit on the canning shelves in the basement- my mother knew what the canned fruit dessert would be according to who she sent to choose a can for the evening meal. Mine was always cherries… my brother’s choice was pears.
I would like to take this opportunity to share more detailed information about canning. Canning interrupts the natural ripening process through heat. It destroys enzymes, spoilers (molds, yeasts), and bacteria. By creating a partial vacuum in the sealed jars it also prevents other microorganisms from entering the jars and re-spoiling the food.
The common canning foods fall into one of two categories: acid foods or low acid foods. Acids, such as fruits, tomatoes, pickles, and relishes, can be processed at 212 degrees in a boiling water bath. The low acid foods, which include most vegetables, meats, and mushrooms, should be processed at 240 degrees in a pressure canner.
The vital supplies needed for canning are as follows:
• Canning jars
• Rings / lids
• Jar funnel and jar lifter
• Regular kitchen items- knives, sauce pans, etc…
I prefer to use the cold pack method for canning fruit and would like to share the specific example of canning peaches. The first step for preserving fruits or vegetables is to begin with quality produce. Of course my favorite place to acquire quality fruit is Weaver’s Orchard! You can purchase them in the store or pick your own!
Peaches are ripe and ready for canning when they are soft to the touch at the stem end of the peach. Using over-ripe fruit will result in a softer end product; while using unripe fruit results in more work in the peeling and preparation process- not to mention a less flavorful canned peach.
Preparation: Before you begin preparing the fruit, it is helpful to prep the jars by washing them thoroughly. Then the fruit preparation can begin! Since canning is a labor intensive endeavor, I always wait until the peaches are freestone. I shouldn’t tell you my favorite variety of peach to can because it changes over the years… you can pick your favorite peach and try your hand at the preservation of the summer’s bounty.
Place the peaches in a bowl or sink of warm water.
This washes them and helps the skin be ready to peel right off. Cut the peach in half and take out the seed. Proceed to peel the peach halves and cut them to the desired size before putting them into another bowl.
Note: some people like keeping the peaches in halves. I personally have started quartering them. I have found I can get more into the jars which means I am using less sugar water syrup (therefore less sugar per peach), fewer jars and lids for the equal amount of peaches, and there is less syrup space at the bottom of the finished jars of peaches. You can also dice the peaches so they are ready for your younger children as soon as the jar is opened.
Filling the jars: When you have prepared the peaches to your preference, fill the jars & tap them on the counter a few times to help the fruit settle in. You can fill the jars up to the neck of the jar. Next, add the HOT syrup mixture – again, up to the neck of the jar / about ½ inch from the top. The syrup mixture should be heated in a saucepan, hot and ready to go when you have put the fruit into the jars. Here are some suggestions for syrup mixtures for fruit:
* Light Sugar Syrup: 1 c. of sugar per 3 c. of water
* White Grape Juice: a non-sugar option
*Agave: pour hot water into jar and add 1 T. of agave sweetener
Closing the jars: Clean the rim of the jar and put a jar lid on top. For better results with sealing, I heat the jar lids in water before placing on the jars. Next, put a band / ring on tightly and place the jar into the canner filled with water. The water in the canner needs to cover the jars by about ½ – 1 inch.
Processing the jars: Bring the canner water to a boil & process the peaches in a light boil as follows: quarts – 20 minutes; pints – 15 minutes (do not start the timer until the water is boiling). After turning off the canner, allow the jars to set in the canner for 5 minutes before removing them from the canner to cool. *If you remove the jars immediately the syrup might seep out of the jars.
Storing the jars: Give the jars several hours (at least 8) to cool and seal- if a jar does not seal, put into the refrigerator and use within a week. Remove the jar rings and wash the jars before storing for the winter in a cool, dry place. The canned product should be a great tasty treat for at least a year (if they last that long on your shelves!).
Now is the time to purchase your favorite fresh fruits & veggies and turn them into a quality end product which will sustain your family throughout the year. For me, the reward of summertime labor goes beyond the satisfaction of delicious food in the winter. The benefits also include time spent with family as we work together on the task at hand. And when I send my son to the basement for a jar of canned goodness, I know what he will bring – it is the same thing my brother would choose 25+ years ago!