Since I was a child, the end of summer has always been met with both longing and trepidation. Trepidation because summer vacation was over. Longing because it was canning season. We would generally can peaches, apples and applesauce, tomatoes, and chili sauce.
My grandmother was a young adult during WWII, and her family, like many others, had to deal with the privations of rationing. One way to deal with that was to preserve their own food. Even if they didn’t grow their own food (they did a lot of that as well, but there were some things, like apples and peaches, they just couldn’t grow in their back yard of a Chicago suburb), going to one of the local-ish farms in the outlying areas would bring bushels of produce ready to can.
Even after the War, Grandma kept up canning. The food just tasted so much better, because she processed it after picking it that morning. When doing your own canning, you can also control the amount of sugar and seasonings that go into the final product.
As an adult, I’ve kept the tradition going. I might not be able to get locally-grown strawberries (haven’t found a strawberry farm in the area yet), but I do get local produce and turn them into yummy things. This time of year is peach season, and I have 28 pounds, minus what Conall and I have already eaten because we couldn’t wait.
Some will become pie blanks that I’ll freeze for the midwinter months when a taste of sunshine will be appreciated. The rest will be made into peach marmalade and peach syrup and peach butter.
If you’ve never canned before, it’s not that difficult. For the type of recipes I’m including, you don’t need a pressure canner. A plain water bath will work. However, there are a few things you have to make sure to do:
- You need to make sure the jars are sterilized. One round through the dishwasher on “hot” with a “hot dry” cycle will work. If you don’t have that, then dip the jars into boiling water for 5 minutes (this step is different from the hot water dip to heat the jars). You don’t want any free floating bacteria or yeast in there.
- You have to make sure to wipe the tops of the jars after they are filled with a clean cloth. If there is a bit of food on the top of the jar, it will interfere with the seal of the lid and can allow bacteria or yeast to get into your food.
- You need to know what altitude you are at. The processing (boiling) time varies depending on what your elevation is. A good rule of thumb is to add 5 minutes onto your boiling time for every extra 1000 feet of elevation you have. So, for me at 6600 feet, I process my jams and syrups for 45 minutes.
Processing canned foods is relatively easy. You take the hot food (jams and syrups always go into the jars hot), and put them into hot jars (jars that have been dipped into boiling water for about a minute), cover them with hot lids (lids that have been dipped in boiling water for at least a minute), and screw on the hot twist rings (rings that have been in hot water for at least a minute). When all the food is in the jars, you put the jars into a canner filled with boiling water and process for the amount of time your altitude requires.
Basic canning instructions: put hot food into a hot jar. Leave 1/4″ or so space at the top and wipe off the top of the jar. Cover with a hot lid (wax side on the jar) and secure with a hot twist ring. When all of the jars are filled, place into a big pot of boiling water. When all the jars that will fit in the pan are in, the water must cover the jars by at least an inch. Boil for the amount of time that’s good for your altitude. When finished boiling, take the jars out and set on a towel on the counter. Over the next few hours, the jars will “pop” as they cool, and the food is sealed. If the lid does not pop within 12 hours, you must open the jars, reheat the food and do the canning process all over again.
Now to some peachy goodness recipes:
3 pounds peaches, peeled and cut into small pieces
1/4 c. water
1 package pectin
5 cups sugar
Peel, pit, and chop the peaches into small pieces. Wash the orange and lemon with soap, rinsing well (to get rid of the wax on the rind), then chop both citrus, rind and all, making sure to take out all the seeds.
Put all the fruit, plus the 1/4 cup water and the pectin, into a large (8 to 10 quart) pot, and bring to a full rolling boil. Once at a full boil, stir in the sugar and bring back to a full rolling boil again. Boil for at least 1 minute longer (if you are at altitude, you may have to boil between 5 to 10 extra minutes — boiling longer will not hurt the end product, so if you don’t know if your jam will set, you can always boil it for the full amount of time). After it’s finished boiling, take it off the heat, and skim off the foam. Pack in half pint jars and process as mentioned above for 5 minutes plus altitude variations. Makes 7 to 8 half pints.
Peach syrup and butter:
18 medium peaches
1/2 to 1 c water
4 c sugar
Juice of one half lemon (to add the appropriate amount of acid)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon each cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg (cardamon goes good with this as well).
1 tablespoon vanilla
Peel, pit, and chop the peaches. Put the peaches and water into a big pot and cook until the peaches are tender. Once the peaches are tender, puree them in batches in a blender. Put them back into the pot, add the sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, and spices, and cook until everything is boiling and the sugar is all melted. Let it boil for 5 to 10 minutes, until it reduces and the sauce looks like a syrup. Take the peach sauce and put it into a jelly bag (a fine weave muslin bag) and let the juice run into a bowl. This part can take a few hours unless you are impatient (like me) and “help” it along with a rubber spatula pulling the solid peach particles away from the side of the bag.
When you have as much liquid out as you can get, reheat both the syrup and the solids (butter), and hot process as described above. Boil in the canner for 10 minutes for pints, 5 minutes for half pints (plus altitude variations).
Now, in my family, tradition had it that we can’t have any of our canned produce until the first snow. Part of that is so the flavors can marry, and so that there would be enough yummy canned goods to last until the summer and fresh fruits and veggies are plentiful again. However, I live in a climate where the first snow can be as soon as September 15 (no, really, it was three years ago) or as late as November 23. I used to live in the south, where the “first” snow fall after canning could be a year and a half later. So I went with an arbitrary time: November 1.
That doesn’t mean the food won’t be good before then. It just means that sometimes I have self control! No, really what it means is that I still have some left from that one jar that wasn’t quite full and I put it into the refrigerator to eat immediately.