You “can” do it: how to can peaches

September 08, 2010

This year I started with 6 boxes of peaches (20 pounds each).  I used many of them for eating, drying and peach cobbler.  When I was done with those projects, I canned the rest.  I canned about 140 peaches which translated into about 37 canned quart jars.  Below is my process:

  • I use a Back To Basics Steam Canner.  It can be purchased threw Amazon as well as Walmart for about $39.99.  This canner is easy to use and doesn’t require a lot of water.  This piece of equipment can be used as a processor for fruit, jams, marmalade, preserves, pickles, relishes and tomatoes.  Other foods (such as vegetables, meat, poultry or seafood) need to be processed in a pressure cooker in order to destroy the spores of Clostridium botulinum.

  • Other items you will need to have on hand: clean jars, new lids and rims, a jar lifter, wide mouth jar funnel, tongs (to retrieve the lids out of the pan), a sharp paring knife, a timer, dipper or ladle and a large sauce pan.
  • To start, get your kitchen ready.  Clear off your counter-tops and fully prepare your “stations” so that you can be efficient in each part of the process.  Make sure that everything you use is completely clean.  To sanitize my jars I run them though a cycle in my dishwasher.  Another alternative is to boil them for 10 minutes.  Jars do not officially need to be sterilized before canning if they will be filled with food and processed in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes or more or if they will be processed in a pressure canner, however it is good practice to take the extra time and sterilize anyway. You can never be too careful when it comes to food safety.
  • Fill the bottom of your steam bath with 2 quarts of water.

  • Put the burner on low and cover it with the lid to allow the water to warm up while you prepare your peaches.  Water should be hot but not boiling when filled jars are placed into the processor (jars may break if placed into boiling water).
  • Next, warm up your jar lids.  The water should be simmering (don’t boil them) until you are ready to use them.  I place my lids in the pan in an alternating pattern (face up, face down) to make it a little easier to retrieve them out of the pan when I am ready to use them.  For now simply set your bands aside.

  • Now it is time to make the syrup that will cover your peaches once they are peeled and in the jars.  I use a “very light” syrup with a 4 to 1 ratio: 4 cups of water and 1 cup of sweetener (honey or sugar).  In the past I have only done sugar but this year I did some with a honey water syrup and am interested to compare the taste of these two syrup options.  Please note that if I had any children under the age of one, I would not use the honey syrup method due to the potential risk behind feeding honey to infants. A friend came over to can with my mom and I this year and she used brown sugar for her sweetener (as shown in the photo below).  I will also be interested to hear how that turns out.  Other options for syrup ratios include: “Light” syrup with a 3 to 1 ratio, “medium” with a  2 to 1 and “heavy” with a 1 to 1 ratio.
  • Mix your water and sweetener in a saucepan; bring it to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar.  Boil 5 minutes.  Cover to prevent evaporation and keep it hot until you are ready to use it.
  • Allow for about 1.5 cups of syrup for each quart jar.

  • Once you have your canner water warming, your lids simmering and your syrup ready, it is time to work with the peaches.
  • Use peaches that are fully ripe but still firm and unblemished with no signs of spoilage.
  • Blanching peaches is often the easiest method to removing the skin.  To do this warm up water to boiling in a sauce pan and submerge your peach for several seconds (15-60).  Remove your fruit from the hot water and immediately dip into cold water.

  • Remove your peach from the cold water and cut it in half and twist it apart from the pit.  Cut each half in half again (if you wish) and peel back the skin from the flesh.  Ideally, the skin will come off in a long strip.  If the skin does not come off easily, it may be a sign that your peaches are not fully ripe.  In this case you can allow them more time to ripen or use a vegetable peeler to help you remove the peel.  This is a good time to note that some peach varieties are “cling free” meaning they don’t hold on to the pit.  You want to look for a cling free variety or else you are going to be ripping your hair out the entire time with frustration.  I use Red Haven peaches and in my childhood days growing up on Juice-E-Fruit orchard (yes I know it was a clever name, I was the one who named it ;) ) this was the variety that my mom always suggested to others for canning.
  • Wondering what to do with your leftover peach peels?  I just found out that you can use your them to make peach honey!  I am going to try this next year.

  • I find that it takes about 3-5 peaches to fill a jar (depending on the size of the peaches).  Failure to pack the jar full will result in “floating fruit” (this isn’t really a problem but you may as well fit as much fruit into the jar as you can).  Pack fruit tightly into your jars without crushing.  Once the fruit has reached the top of the jar without surpassing the top rim, it is ready.  If you are unsure if it is packed to full, simply run the flat edge of a knife over the top of your jar.  If no fruit touches, you are good to go!
  • Once the jar is full, ladle your warm syrup over your peaches leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace at the top (I fill to the bottom ring of the jar as a guideline).  Leaving this room at the top of the jar is important for allowing the vacuum seal to properly occur.  If you leave too much room your fruit may discolor and the jars may not seal properly.

  • Use a knife or something similar along the inside of the peach jar to allow trapped air bubbles to escape.  To do this more effectively, tilt the jar slightly while running the tool between the fruit and the edge of the jar and also pressing inward against the fruit a few times.

  • Wipe the rim of your jar with a clean, damp cloth.
  • Center your hot lid on the jar (rubber ring side down) and apply the band.
  • Screw the band until it is “fingertip tight.”
  • As each jar is filled, add it to your steam bath (taking care to place them so they are not touching each other) and then replace the lid to maintain the heat of your water.

  • Once your steam bath is full and you are ready to can, replace the lid and turn up the heat.
  • Allow the water to heat up until a steady 8 inch steam stream is escaping from the steam holes at the bottom of the lid.
  • Once this point is reached, start your timer for 30 minutes.  If necessary, adjust the stove top temperature to keep the steam at a steady 8 inch stream throughout the duration of cooking.
  • After 30 minutes, turn off the stove, remove the lid of your canner and take the jars out with your jar lifter taking care not to touch or bump your jars together.  Make sure that the room you are in has a constant temperature (this prevents your jars from breaking).
  • Place your jars upright on a surface that is not cold (you may wish to place them on several layers of newspaper, an old towel, wooden board or a wire rack).  Note that turning your jars upside down may break the seal.
  • As your jars seal, you will hear a “popping sound.” This tells you that a good vacuum has been reached and that the jar has an airtight seal.  I often hear the first “pop” within about 10-15 minutes after removing the jars from the canner.
  • Let your jars stand overnight.
  • As you will see in my photo below, I have removed my rims (I rinsed them under warm water first to loosen the sticky residue underneath).  It was not until after I canned this year and was reading up on the process of canning for this blog post in an old 1974 version of “The How-To Canning Book” that I discovered that it is recommended that you leave the rims on.  However, after reading several online tutorials and not finding any that say to leave the rims on, I am going to continue to remove them.
  • Once your jars a clean and dry, label and date them.
  • Store in a cool, dark, dry place where the temperature is as close to 50-60 degrees as possible.  If they are not stored in a dark place, the color of the food may be affected.
  • After one week, it is a good idea to recheck each jar.  Any sign of leakage indicates food spoilage and must be thrown out.
  • It is best to consume your canned food within a year while the flavor is still at its peak, but they will likely remain good well past this point if stored properly.

  • When you are ready to enjoy your canned food (in our house we cannot open the first jar until the first snow storm), unscrew the metal band if you have not already removed it (you will need to run it under warm water to loosen) and puncture the lid with a can opener or remove the lid with a butter knife leveraged between the jar and the lid.  This later method is not recommended however due to possible damage to the jar (so do so at your own risk ;) ).  If you do this, be sure to run your finger around the top of the jar to check for damage before reusing.
  • It is also recommended that you discard your lids after one use.  Bands that are bent, rusty or twisted should also be discarded.
  • As you empty each jar, wash and dry it and store it upside down in a box or clean cupboard until you are ready to use them again!

It is really, really important that your jars seal properly.  If properly sealed and stored, your jars will stay good for at least a year if not much longer.  However, failure to get this right can result in death (not a joke).  To test for a proper seal, press on the center of the lid.  If the lid is down and will not move, the jar is sealed.  Another method is to tap the lid with the bottom of a teaspoon. If the jar is sealed correctly, it will make a high-pitched sound. If it makes a dull sound it means the lid is not sealed or possibly that food is in contact with the underside of the lid.  If a seal is not airtight, refrigerate the food and use it within a few days.  Foods can be resealed by using new lids and reprocessing, however, this is not recommended as it may overcook the food.  When you open a jar, listen carefully for a sucking air sound.  This is also indication of a properly sealed jar.  Also, get in the habit of always looking at the fruit when you first open the jar.  If there is any bubbling or strange odor present or if you are unsure if you heard the sucking sound, throw it out, it isn’t worth the risk.  Want to know more about how lids seal?  Read here.

I used quart jars for canning my peaches (they hold about 4 cups) but you can also use pint jars which hold about 2 cups or one-half gallon jars (about 7.5 cups) depending on your project.  Note that your cooking time will vary depending on the size of jar used.

Also, canning is a job that is much more fun to do with a friend.  I suggest finding someone else that wants to learn the art of canning or (even better) find someone who has experience to lend when you are ready to take on this project!

If you have more canning questions that were not answered here, check out this Canning FAQ page from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Have fun with it and let me know when you try it out!  Canning food is a rewarding skill to master and one that your entire family will enjoy the benefits of!

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