A Peachy Can-Do Attitude: The Trials of a First-Time Canner

Peachtopia

Peachtopia

By now you’ve read a bit about the peach invasion of my kitchen and know that I used some of them to make peach almond milk faux ice cream. Others went into a crisp, a buckle (recipe coming soon), or were enjoyed whole by myself and the lucky people I shared them with.

But after all that I was still left with half of the half-bushel of peaches. So I did what any normal foodie with too much time and a desire to learn something new would do: I canned.

Peaches Blanch peaches to remove skins

It turns out there’s a “canvolution” happening across the country right now. Sadly, I didn’t hear about this movement until my own confusing efforts were already well under way and by then it was too late to use all the wonderful resources they had assembled.

Regardless, in the end I gave my canning an A- for effort, but a B for results. I guess a B+ average is acceptable for something this new and unusual.

Diced peaches for jam Peach jam cooked down and mashed

Funnel Peach Preserves

There’s so much to cover here I’m not sure where to begin. I guess the easiest way to approach this adventure is to break it into categories: equipment, panic and paranoia, results, final judgement, and resources.

Equipment: I didn’t own a special pot designed for canning that comes with a rack. Sure I could have bought one, and probably should have, but didn’t for two very important reasons:

  1. I had nowhere to store it in my teeny tine urban apartment.
  2. I didn’t want to wait a few days for the set to arrive if I were to order it online (I severely lack patience when I set my mind on doing something).

So instead I used my deep All-Clad stock pot and a vegetable steamer basket, along with a Dutch oven size pan for sterilizing the jars. If I continue canning I think I’ll give in and order the special pot, which really is very reasonably priced. Anyone want to lend me storage space?

Canning set-up Canning pints

Pot and steamer Sterilizing jars Sterilizing lids

I did buy the other equipment which came in a set from Target for $6 or $7. It included a jar lifter (which I later discovered I was using incorrectly, explaining why it kept breaking), bubble remover, funnel, and magnetic lid lifter. I also bought a bunch of 1/2 pint and pint sized jars from Strack & Van Til.

Panic & Paranoia: The next challenge was finding recipes. Canning is very different from cooking: it’s much more scientific but in a scary way, not in the “oh-well-let’s-just-give-it-a-try-la-de-da” way baking is. It’s a fact, if you screw up people can die.

Okay, that’s a bit extreme but it’s what kept going through my head because of my strange obsession with botulism, a serious illness caused by the Clostridium Botulinum bacteria that can be found in improperly canned foods (look for bulging tops or sides). All through culinary school whenever that particular foodborne illness was mentioned I would crack up laughing. It’s really an awful illness but for some reason the word itself is hilarious to me, something about how it rolls of the tongue. Try saying it slowly, you’ll see what I mean.

However, as I was canning botulism suddenly didn’t seem so funny, which is why I was a bit more paranoid than I should’ve been about it. Essentially, I wasn’t willing to change or alter any canning recipes, and would only use recipes from credible sources. My source: Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, 100th Anniversary Edition.

Results: I attempted three different canning recipes, each from the Ball book using the water bath method (opposed to the pressure cooker method). Overall, I wasn’t thrilled with the results. For one thing, I never got the same yield as the book stated and therefore the ratios and results seemed off. For example, the peach preserves were supposed to yield 9 half pints but I only got 6. On the other hand, I followed the canning procedures to a “t” and all the jars sealed securely.

  1. Peach Preserves: I haven’t tasted the results yet because I’m still waiting to make sure the preserves “set” right. The book advises it can take up to two weeks and if they don’t set it’s possible to re-can. But visually the preserves appear not quite peachy enough. We’ll see what happens…
  2. Canned Peaches: I used both yellow and white peaches and wound up with two pints of yellow, 1 pint white, and 1 pint mixed. All were canned with a light syrup made from 2 1/4 cups sugar dissolved in 5 1/4 cups water. These are what I’m most looking forward to eating in January when the taste of summer will be greatly appreciated.
  3. Peach Jam: The final and most challenging of the three projects. I was excited to find a recipe for sugar-free jam using “no sugar needed powdered pectin.” However, as I was making it I realized how confusing and misleading the directions were. First of all, the book gives instructions including “add sweetener if desired.” It ALSO says to follow package instructions which said to add fake sweetener like splenda, which I wouldn’t do. I followed the directions in the book without adding sweetener until I tasted the jam. It was incredibly tart and tasted like citric acid, or straight vitamin C, so I immediately reached for my sugar of which I only had 1/2 cup left. The jam was still way too tart and needed to be bottled ASAP so I did the only thing I could think of (now following the package instructions) and dumped in a 1/2 cup of honey. Oops. Now my peach jam tastes like honey-apricot. I know!!! What??? It’s good, just not peachy.

Final Judgement: There’s something very Little House on the Prairie I like about canning. It’s so basic yet fulfilling, so practical yet emotional.

On the other hand, it’s so freaking scientific I felt like I couldn’t be creative. I was so worried about doing it right and not making anyone sick that I couldn’t pay attention to taste and flavor, which for me is a big part of the enjoyment of cooking.

In the end I’ve decided I would like to continue to can and may even try my hand at basic canned tomatoes to fill the remaining six pint jars I have. But I’d like to find a more reliable book of recipes with creative flavor combinations that have been tested for correct pH and acid content.

Resources:

Ball and Jarden Home Brands

Ask a Chicago Master Food Preserver (I did this and received an answer within two days)

National Center for Home Preservation

Canning Across America

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  • The American Homemaker posted: 04 Sep at 1:45 pm

    I’m not a fan of canning at all, but I do it every couple of years just so I remember how. Last summer I did sugar-free pears using unsweetened apple juice and they came out great :)

  • Jill, The Veggie Queen posted: 04 Sep at 2:14 pm

    Canning is perfect for what you had — ABUNDANCE. Whatever your results you now have the fruits of your labor to savor later. I have a bunch of pears calling my name and a small amount of peaches and Indian blood peaches which need to get cooked up to make peach butter. It’s all fun (but work), and like you, I prefer to stick to water bath canning higher acid foods — it’s much safer.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Cindy posted: 04 Sep at 3:26 pm

    Thanks for your blog post! I’ve only watched my mother can, and have been very interested in learning how, but I’ve been very afraid. Most of the stuff on the internet seems to be for intermediate/advanced folks, not starting from square one, like you or me. I love the canvolution site, but just found most all of it to be too confusing for a total newbie like me. Your post really explained a lot of things. I’d love to see some photos (video?) of how to use the jar lifter correctly. Getting burned is one of my biggest fears.

  • gloria beck posted: 06 Sep at 9:44 pm

    We had an abundance if tomatoes from our tomato plants,so my husband and I decided to try canning. We did sauce and whole tomatoes.Did the water bath method worked really well.

  • [...] recipe was adapted from Epicuious and provided the perfect opportunity to use one of the jars of peaches I painfully canned last summer then promptly forgot about, along with the vanilla extract and vanilla [...]

  • Jeannie posted: 18 Sep at 5:54 pm

    Sounds like you did fine. Next time will be easier.

    My family has canned since I was young. It was always so nice to have the canned fruit, jams, jellies and canned meat in the winter.

    It is a lot healther for you too in the glass rather than to purchase cans, as they have plastic liners.

  • Sharon posted: 04 Jan at 5:33 pm

    The peach jam sounds good even if it tastes of apricot and honey. Have you tried the canned peaches yet?


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