Well, August has come and gone, and we’re into cooler weather now. Which means that I feel more like cooking. I’ve also been giving my kitchen a “deep cleaning”–down to scrubbing the cabinet faces and moving the microwave to clean underneath it–which also means I feel like spending more time in the kitchen.
Unfortunately, all of this comes about three weeks too late to really help with the late-summer canning. We have peach trees in our yard, and some years they’re very prolific, while in others, they’re less so.
This year, because of the heat and drought, we only ended up with one branch full of peaches, and they were small at that. It was just about enough (well, I had to supplement with a couple of Palisade peaches I picked up at the store) for a single batch of my peach-ginger jam.
I first made jam a couple of years ago, when–even after giving a couple of gallons’ worth away to my mom–we still had a bumper crop of peaches. It was “can or die”.
That’s when I learned that canning isn’t really all that hard. There’s a certain investment in equipment (a canning kettle, a rack, a jar lifter, a funnel, and that little magnet-on-a-stick for fishing the lids out of the hot water), and supplies (canning jars, lids, pectin, sugar), but once you’ve done that, and you have fruit trees in your yard, the rest is free.
Here’s the basic process:
- Start by washing canning jars and rings and canning tools, either by hand or in the dishwasher. (Do not put the lids in the dishwasher: the dry cycle will ruin the sealing compound on them).
- While your jam/jelly is cooking, fill canning kettle about 2/3 full with hot tap water and put it on the stove over high heat. Put the jar rack over the top and put washed jars, rings, and all other tools that will come into contact with the jam into the jar rack. Do not put the lids in yet. Lower the basket of goodies into the water, cover, and bring to a full rolling boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let cool for five minutes, then put the lids in the hot water with everything else. Let sit while the jam finishes cooking.
- Place a cutting board on the counter near the stove and cover with clean paper towels. Lift the jar rack out of the hot water and set it across the top of the canning kettle. Using the jar lifter, lift out just the jars, drain out as much water as possible, and set them on the towel-covered cutting board. Inspect the jars carefully for any cracks or chips. Set any cracked or chipped jars aside and do not use them.
- Using the sterilized funnel and ladle, fill each jar to the bottom of the threaded section. With a damp paper towel, wipe the rims of the jars. Using the nifty magnetic picker-upper thingy, pluck the lids out of the hot water and set them on top of the jars, being careful to touch only the outside of the lid. Fish out the rings and screw them lightly onto the jars. They should be barely finger-tight.
- Using the jar lifter, return the filled jars to the jar rack. Lower the basket into the water and turn the heat on high. (Note: there should be enough water in the kettle to cover the jars by at least an inch.) You will see bubbles escaping from the jars. That’s okay. Bring to a boil and boil for the proper amount of time. This will depend partly on the size of your jars and partly on your altitude. I live in Denver, so I boil 4- and 8-ounce jars for 15 minutes, pints and quarts for 20. (The chart telling you how long to process things is probably printed on the box your canning jars came in.)
- Turn off heat and raise the basket out of the water. Let cool for a few minutes before transferring the jars to your paper-towel-covered cutting board. During this time, most, if not all, of your jar lids will “pop” as they vacuum seal. This is A Good Thing.
- Leave jars to cool for at least 8 hours, preferably 12. Check to make sure the lids all sealed properly. If any jars did not seal, refrigerate and use within a couple of weeks. Label with the contents and date. At this point, you can remove the rings from the jars, unless you’re giving the jam away, in which case, keep the rings on them for the time being to help keep the lids from accidentally getting popped off in transit.
Really, not all that difficult. Just intimidating when you’ve never done it. But once you’ve done it, you’ll feel like an old pro.
So now that you know how to can, here’s a suggestion for what to can:
6 cups diced peaches (measure after peeling, pitting, and cutting)
8 cups sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons ginger
1 package dry pectin
1/2 cup maraschino cherries, cut up (optional; I keep forgetting to put them in)
24 4-oz or 12 8-oz canning jars with lids and rings
If you haven’t already done so, peel and dice peaches and measure out 6 cups’ worth. Use a knife to cut the peel from the oranges, cutting off as much of the pith as possible. Remove the core and “navel” end and dice the rest. It will probably end up being about 2 cups’ worth. Mix all the diced fruit together in a big bowl. Process in a food processor until not quite smooth (I gave mine 8 pulses). Measure again to make sure you have 8 cups total fruit puree. (If not, add more peaches.)
Pour fruit into a non-reactive pan (not aluminum unless it’s anodized, and not cast iron unless it’s enameled). Mix sugar and ginger and stir into peaches. Sprinkle pectin over the top and wait until it starts to dissolve, then stir it in. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Watch it carefully near the end to make sure it doesn’t burn. (It will try really hard to burn.)
About five minutes before the end of the cooking time, stir in the maraschino cherries (if you remember them–I haven’t yet).
Ladle into prepared jars and process per canning directions (15 minutes at 5,000 ft. altitude).
Makes 24 4-oz jars. You may have a little left over. Gosh, darn, what a shame. Someone’s going to have to eat that before it goes bad. Might as well be you.
So those are the basics. Next week, I’ll talk a little about what happens when canning goes wrong.
What adventures in canning and preserving have other people had?