All. Day. Long.
My mom and I were at the canning thing again today. This time it was peaches.
Peaches don’t really grow on this side of the mountains, but they do just a few hours away in Eastern Washington. A fruit stand not too far away gets a huge delivery of peaches that people order by the box, so we ordered two.
That may have been a little ambitious. We finished one box today.
Let’s talk about canning. Water bath canning is pretty straightforward and doesn’t carry risk of a small explosion like pressure canning does, and it works for a lot of things that are most commonly canned, like pickles, fruit and jam.
Water bath canning can only be done if acid is high enough in the food. Most fruits and berries are sufficiently acidic, as is most foods that have acidic liquids like citric acid added during the canning process. It’s very important to have a tried and true recipe.
Anything improperly canned carries a risk of botulism, which is a rare but serious toxin. See, it’s produced by a spore. This spore cannot produce the toxin in certain conditions, such as high acid. (Incidentally, this is why babies can’t have honey before a year old. Their tummy isn’t acidic enough, so if there’s a spore in the honey it can make the toxin.) Any that isn’t acidic enough requires a pressure canner, which uses pressure to create higher heat than boiling water can; high enough to almost always kill the spores. Anything water bath canned must seal or else be refrigerated and used within a few weeks. Do NOT try canning without help if you’re not totally sure of doing it right.
Okay, serious stuff is out of the way.
The first step is prepping the jars and kids. The jars should be clean. They then need to be filled with boiling water. This helps to sterilize and warm them for the boiling water in the canner. Funnels and a ladle help pouring go smoothly. Splashes and burns are no fun. Put the lids and rims in warm water on the stove.
From there, for peaches, the fruit needs to be poked, blanched, and peeled. Poking a hole lets water get under the skin. Blanching involves boiling for only about a minute to help loosen the peel. Peeling goes much more smoothly on fairly ripe peaches even with blanching. The peaches go straight from boiling water to cold water.
When making jams, this step is usually mashing and cooking the berries.
Then, the fruit needs to be peeled, sliced, and pitted. We did fairly thin slices rather than halves since we tend to eat canned peaches with cottage cheese. Very ripe peaches sometimes have split pits, so it’s important to get the whole pit out if that happens. The flesh of the peach is still fine to use with pits like that. The brownish ones in the picture are split pits. The slices should go in water and fruit preserve, which prevents browning.
Then you’ll fill the jars with the syrup using your handy-dandy ladle and funnel, leaving 1/2″ of head space. Head space is the space between the top of the food and the rim. Each different recipe will give you it’s head space requirement, and canning kits come with a tool for easily measuring head space.
Wipe the rims. It may not seal because of food residue if you miss this step. We got lucky when this step was missed for one batch when canning blackberry jam last week, but you could potentially have every jar fail to seal from missing this step.
From there, use a handy magnetic wand from a canning kit to get the necessary number of kids and rims out, and close the jars using one of each. The rims should be twisted snug but not cranked down, and should not be tightened again after being taken from the canner until the jars have fully cooled the next day.
Now place the jars on the rack, putting them in opposite each other to balance it. Lower the rack into the water. For peaches, they had to process for thirty minutes once the water reached a boil.
When they’re done, lift the rack out of the water. Obviously, it’s hot. Use mitts. We carry the rack to the table and set the jars out on dish towels using the can lifter. These should be allowed to cool for a day, and the safety tabs on the lid should be depressed. If you can push the lid down, it hasn’t sealed.
One of the most satisfying things about canning is hearing the lids “pop!” as they seal and the tab sucks down, but between the loooong water bath and the cans being placed in the dining room, we only got to hear a few today, so we had to check tabs to verify the seal. The fun one was the two that sealed before even processing in the canner. One sealed when Mom thumped her water bottle down on the counter, and another sealed when it was immersed in the boiling water and then pulled back out for a moment while the excess water was removed from the canner to prevent boiling over. Both were still boiled for thirty minutes to be extra safe.
The final touch is labeling. Canned goods stay good for at least two years. Safety and quality isn’t guaranteed after that. Labeling the jars with the type of food and the month/year is important for getting the best and safest use from canned goods.
We ended up with twenty quarts from one box of peaches. The second box of less-ripe peaches will be done in a week.
Even water bath canning is not without risks. Thankfully, it’s not really any riskier than regular cooking; we just were unlucky today. Mom got a little burn from hot water. A little aloe on it during a food break helped some. I sliced my finger with a knife, but it was such a clean straight cut that it didn’t really bleed even though it wasn’t shallow, and a band-aid helped it seal right up.