Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Canning peaches: A beginner’s tale

This morning I canned peaches in my first-ever canning experience, and I thought I’d try live blogging about it. It was a sticky process, so the pictures are a little rough, bear with me. So, this is Hanna vs. the peaches: a journey in self doubt. It begins now.
7:28 am. I’ve got the day off of work. Alex is frying eggs on the stove. I won’t tell you that I’m nervous in case this turns out fine, however, I may have panicked and forced a coworker to call her grandmother yesterday. 

I’ve just opened the 16-pound box of peaches that I carried home in my bike basket Saturday morning, and the room has filled with their summery aroma. They are ready. The question remains, am I?
7:41 am. I’m eating a peach. I spent all week googling canning recipes, calling grandmothers, and riffling through how-tos in the bookstore, and I forgot about how sweet and juicy the peaches are when you just eat them.

No canning method is the same, unfortunately, so I’ll be winging this in a way, pulling heavily from here and here. I’ve made the decision not to treat my peaches with ascorbic acid (which preserves color), I hope this isn’t a mistake.

Some people want you to use peaches that are a little over ripe, some a little under, I’m aiming for perfectly ripe. My sacrificial peach is just that.  We’re making good decisions so far.
7:49 am. To prep I’ve cleared the dining room table (yes, Mom, that means I put everything on the floor). Now we’re doing the dishes. Once everything is clean, we will wash our water bath, jars, and lids, in hot soapy water, and then rinse. Because the processing time is over ten minutes, there is no need to sterilize the jars. (Or so I’m told.)
Our kitchen is terribly small, and I’ve estimated that we’ll need one pot on each burner of our miniature stove. As such, it is of the utmost importance that we stay organized. (I’m saying “we” because I’ve convinced Alex to go in a little late and help out—I suspect he wants to play with all the gadgets I’ve bought.) I’ve been collecting tools for a few weeks now:
  • A Victorio water bath canner from my sister for my birthday
  • A wide-mouth funnel
  • Jar tongs
  • Weck canning jars (all glass, baby—no plastic, no chemical coatings—though this may have been a mistake as most of the instructions I’ve read are written for the poison-laden variety of jar)
From as far as I can gather on the Internet, it will be 5 peaches per quart jar—my jars are liters. I’m guestimating we’ll need seven jars for our 38 peaches. But it’s better to have more jars washed and ready to go than fewer.
8:12 am. It looks like my canner only fits five jars at a time. Let’s hope the peaches all fit in one batch!

8:19 am. Perhaps I should have started boiling the blanching water earlier… In any case, I’m preparing my syrup. I’ve decided to raw pack the peaches. The general idea is that you peel the peaches, halve them, pack them into jars, and top with hot syrup. Then you put the rings on the lids, clamp them down, and boil them in the canner.

I’m using honey for my syrup. Amy’s grandmother cautioned against this. But Morgan at Pleasant House Bakery said it would work. Local wins. According to the Internet I’ll need 1 cup to 1½ cups of syrup for each quart. I’m going to start by mixing 3 cups of honey with 8 cups of water. That’s a lot of honey. Red flag?
9:43 am. Just called Mom. I’ve spent the last hour-twenty skinning my rosy baseballs, cutting them in half, and jamming the slippery bastards into jars, only to have them rise up when the syrup is added. Panicking, I switched to hot packing them, boiling the peaches in the syrup and repacking the jars. Will they be overcooked, bruised, and mushy by the end of this?
After hot packing, the peaches are still floating. Can I process them as is? I can’t add more liquid because I’ll invade the ½ inch headspace boundary. Now I have to heat up the giant water bath so the temperature matches the hot jars. What if they don’t match? All of my jars are going to shatter! Alex has gone to work; despair reigns supreme.
9:53 am. Mom has put in a call to cousin Jane, who has real canning knowledge, the verdict: Of course peaches float. It is suggested that I should try inverting the jars post processing.

I have now submerged 5 jars in the water bath canner and am waiting for the arrow on the lid to get to the green zone, that’s when I start the timer for 25 minutes.
10:02 am. Still waiting on that arrow, wondering what I should do with the rest of the peaches. Dare I try canning another round? I may freeze some, but the four still remain soaking in the honey syrup. Snack tomorrow! Mom heard from another contact who cans professionally, he thinks the floating issue should be fine as well. Maybe I should stop writing this until I sound less anxious.

10:05 am. New tactic, lie to make myself look more competent: “Canning peaches is fun and easy! Just follow these few quick steps that disagree with all the other versions and were written in a world where gravity doesn’t exist!”
10:17 am. Arrow hit green zone, timer set for 25 minutes! This. Is. Happening. I should try to make this more vivid for you readers by describing the atmosphere in the stadium right now. Tense, but on an upturn. It smells a little like Halloween candy—any experts out there care to comment on what that means? I can hear the jars jumping about a bit in the canner. I’m on edge, waiting for the sound of shattering glass and exploding peaches. What do exploding peaches sound like? I bet, “PoOOfT! Smlat smlat.” (The “smlats” were splattering shrapnel.)
10:45 am. The timer never went off. I’ve remembered that the peaches exist and have removed them from the bath. There seems to be air in the jars. That can’t be good. I guess I’ll have to wait and see what happens when they cool, but I think we’ve hit the question, “What we gon have, dessert or disaster?”  (Sorry to the multiple family members who received frantic calls at this o’clock.)
12:06 pm. Peaches absolutely floating. I saw them as I was on my way to the kitchen for a celebratory popsicle—too soon. I may as well have canned buoys.

4:30 pm. I’ve cut the remaining peaches into slices for freezing.
5:22 pm. Jars are cool, I’m about to remove the clamps.

5:23 pm. ALL FIVE JARS ARE SEALED. Can you believe it?! I think between this and winning the lottery, Ive used up all my miracles for the year. Tell your leper friends I’m sorry.
The next thing I can will be jam. Because it can’t float. 


  1. I laughed out loud several times at this. I wish I was there to witness. MORE LIVE BLOGS!

    But seriously. Congratulations on your canning! I'm super jeal.

  2. YAY! I am so proud of you. Hilarity and luck--the best! They look GORGEOUS. Success! And good call on the extra freezing. You can always call me panicked about produce, sister. Please know this forever. Keep at it!

  3. P.S. I second Sarah--MORE LIVE BLOGS.

  4. Entertaining AND informative AND amazing: you AND your adventure!

  5. this is absolutely amazing (and amusing) you have to come over and give me some tips!

  6. Love it. I hope you sang the peaches song.