Summer is winding down where we live which means it’s harvest season. I love all the produce that we can purchase from the farmers market or pick from our own garden, but putting it all away for winter can be very overwhelming! I have been very blessed to learn how to freeze and can from my mom and grandma, but I know others aren’t so lucky. I am not an expert, but would love to share some of the things I’ve learned along the way in my adventures to help you be successful too!
We’re going to start with an ‘easy’ one today – a step-by-step guide to canning peaches. I plan to share my spaghetti sauce recipe soon and freezing veggies is so easy…I’ll share my method for that sometime too. The first step to any adventure – canning or otherwise – is to make a plan. Do a double check and make sure you have all the necessary supplies on hand to avoid needing to run to the store or delay a step as you go.
Canning must haves:
- A tall pot – I love my stainless steel pot, but no matter what kind you have a tall one is a must. When you can it is usually with large amounts of food so the tall sides help prevent splatters and overflowing food. And if you want to use a hot water bath you need to make sure it is tall enough to support an inch of water above your tallest jar.
- Jar Grabber – I can’t say enough about how important this is…my sister-in-law attempted to can just using tongs and it did NOT go well, or safely.
- Magnetic Lid grabber – this one is optional, but I love how easy it makes it to get my lids out of the hot water!
- Funnel – canning is messy work and it is sad to lose some of your hard work down the drain because you missed the container. A funnel helps get it all in the right place AND keeps the outside of your containers clean.
- Bag of Ice – depending on what kind of canning you are doing this may not be necessary, but if you are freezing you for sure want to have this on hand. I always keep a bag of ice in the freezer that I just make from our fridge ice-maker so don’t overthink this one.
- Pressure canner – this is optional for peaches, but I actually find it easier to use my canner over doing a hot water bath. Some foods must be run through the pressure canner, but peaches aren’t one of them.
- Jars/Containers – be sure you choose glass (free from chips or cracks), if you choose to can your produce. Plastic is better if you plan to freeze. There are three main sizes of containers typically used to store food…
- Half pint – good for jams or jelly
- Pint (this is a medium size) – I use these to make smaller family portions or for things like pizza sauce, pickles or salsa.
- Quart (largest size) – I would say this is more of a ‘4-5 member family’ sized portion depending on how much everyone eats. There are wide-mouth or regular-sized opening
- Jar rings and lids – You can reuse the metal rings each year, but you must have new lids to ensure you have a proper seal. As a side note they make awesome plastic tops you can use after you open your jars, in the event you don’t use it all up at once.
Before you begin gather all your supplies. For peaches here is what you’ll need:
- Peaches (I prefer to use Red Haven) – make sure they are ripe and as free from bruises as you can manage.
- Jars, Lids, Rings
- Canning tools – jar grabber, funnel, magnetic lid grabber
- Ice and bowl
- Several pans (one tall pot)
- Knife, spoons, etc.
- Pressure Canner, optional
Once you have everything gathered you are ready to begin.
Step number one is preparing your jars.
Once you have determined what size jar you would like to use do the work of getting them ready. You need to wash and sanitize them (some people wash by hand, others use the sanitize cycle on the dishwasher, I personally just pour boiling water into each jar and rinse). Put the rings and lids you will be using into a bowl with boiling water and leave them there until you put them on your full jars.
Step number two is getting the peaches into you jars – you need to remove the skins and pits then slice into your jars.
You can just use your knife to peel the peach, but I have found if you put a small X on the bottom, drop it in boiling water for 30 seconds and then immerse into ice water the skin literally just falls off! I do this with all my peaches, setting them in a pan once they are cool, before I move to the slicing stage.
Once I peel the skin off, I cut the peach into slices and drop them directly into the jar, discarding the pit. You (and everything around you) will get very sticky so I highly recommend making sure you have prepared your jars and set them out before you start cutting your peaches. Personal tip: I put the jars in the sink to contain the mess and so I’m not reaching up so high over the jars. Fill your jars, giving them a shake once in a while to help the slices settle down. There is no exact science to this part, but if you have smaller slices you can fit more in your jar.
Your peaches will get brown if they sit in jars too long without liquid so it is best to stay focused and move promptly to this step. After you have peaches in your jars you want to fill it to within a half inch of the top with ‘syrup’. It is recommended that you use a medium syrup – two parts water to one part sugar (example: 2 cups water to 1 cup sugar). I put my ‘syrup’ in a pan and bring to a boil on the stove to ensure the sugar is dissolved, then ladle directly into my jars. Once jars are filled, I wipe the rim with a cloth to make sure it is clean and without cracks. Then you can use your magnetic grabber to get a lid and ring to place on each jar. You want the lid to be on tight, but a loose tight (one way to do this is to make it tight, the do a half turn to the left to loosen slightly).
Step four is simply to seal your jars.
With peaches this can be done using a hot water bath or a pressure canner. I’ll briefly explain both methods for you below.
HOT WATER BATH:
You want to take a tall pot and fill 2/3 full with water and bring to a boil (this can take forever so I usually start a half hour before I think I’ll be ready for it). Once boiling you want to use the jar grabber to set your jars in the pan – it is safest to use a basket/rack insert as the glass jars can rattle and crack. After inserting jars, wait (forever again) until the water begins to boil then start your timer. For peaches you want to boil 20-25 minutes. Once they have boiled for that time, use the jar grabber to remove the jars to cool.
These can be very intimidating, but once you get the hang of it are really quite handy. (I have an older version that uses a weight system, but there are plenty of gauge system options out there that I’m sure work great too.) You want to make sure you add the proper amount of water to the bottom of your canner and then add your jars – consult the user manual for exact requirements. I always wipe the ring on the canner lid with a wet rag before tighten it on to make sure I get a good seal. You also need to make sure you have the proper pounds of pressure so again, consult your manual for this one (mine requires 5 pounds). After you have everything in and the lid on you are ready to seal. With my canner you want to set it on high heat until the control regulator starts to jiggle indicating it’s reached full pressure – be patient as this may take a while. Once you hear that ‘jiggle’ you start timing – for peaches it only needs to ‘cook’ for 10 minutes. I don’t recommend walking out of the room during this part.
Again, you want to read the instructions to ensure you are using the proper timing and measurements for your canner, but my canner requires a ‘jiggle’ four times a minute to maintain pressure. This part is slightly tedious as you must watch the clock and count, continually turning the heat down to make sure the pressure stays correct. And please note, there is a risk for injury if a canner does explode (I’ve never heard of it happening because they have a release valve, so I’m sure it’s super rare), but I make sure my kids aren’t in the room while the canner is pressurized, just in case.
Once your canner has processed for the required number of minutes turn off the heat and let it de-pressurize naturally (after allowing to cool we remove the weight with a hot pad to make sure all the pressure is out before removing the lid). Once the canner has cooled down you can remove the lid, very carefully to avoid a steam burn, then remove the jars using the jar grabber.
The final step requires you to wait patiently.
No matter what method you use, you’ll want to let the jars sit on your counter for 24 hours (I usually set them on a hot pad for the first few hours as the contents will be boiling). As they cool you should hear a ‘popping’ sound, which indicates that the jars are sealing properly. After they are cooled I gently touch the center of the top to check the seal – the lid should not move at all. If the middle goes up and down with your touch, the jar didn’t seal properly and should be put it in the fridge to keep contents from spoiling. (You can re-process an unsealed jar as long as you use a new lid. I recommend double checking that there are also no cracks on the top of the jar as even a small pocket for air will prevent the lid making a good seal). I always write the date on the top of my lid then store the jars in a cool, dark spot in the basement to be enjoyed once the snow flies!
The whole process takes time, but I always believe canning or cooking food for yourself is the healthiest way to feed your family, not to mention it’s economical. We can and freeze tons of things at our house – what is your favorite thing to can?
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