Preparing for Winter & Peach Canning Tips
Getting by with a little help from local farmers.
We are deep into squirreling this time of year. Fill the pantry, the cold room, the freezers. Can everything! This year I feel called to can more than I normally do, not so much in quantity, but in variety. My routine canned goods include jam, applesauce, tomato sauce, peaches, spiced apples, salsa, strawberry sauce, pickled beets, relish and pickles. Bone broth is canned throughout the year. I think that’s about it. Some of these things are canned every year, some every two to three years.
For the most part, we can things that work well for us as canned goods - maybe it’s for flavor, maybe it’s out of convenience, maybe it’s family tradition; the rest of our food gets preserved in freezers, cold storage, fermentation, or dehydration. But this year, I feel like we need a few extra canned goods on the shelves. Our first winter and spring here taught me two things: extended power outages are the norm (especially in colder months), and spring food comes about a month later than I am accustomed to. I mean, I knew spring food would come later, but to feel it was another thing. In time, as our set-up here improves, we’ll be able to push the growing season a bit in springtime. Thankfully, we’re able to forage a nice variety of green wild food come late May/early June, but April and most of May are pretty slim. No greens in the garden and not much in the wild, potatoes in the cold room are sprouted and ready for planting, winter squash has dwindled and the few that are left will soon begin to rot, any remaining stored carrots and beets are looking weary. Precious frozen peas and broccoli are long gone. Sauerkraut and fermented green beans are still available, but let’s be honest, don’t offer the same excitement as fried buttery potatoes. Thankfully we usually still have green beans and corn in the freezer, and now, hopefully kale pucks, too!
This year I’m planning to can some potatoes, carrots, green beans, and maybe some stew meat. Nothing crazy, perhaps a dozen quarts each of the vegetables, and half a dozen of meat. Not exactly sure yet. This could help with two things: the potatoes and carrots can add interest to our bleak springtime diet, and all of these things can be worked into easy stews during those inevitable power outages (our wood cookstove will be installed soon). When the power goes out, the first thing we do is NOT open the freezers. We have a generator, which is essential for protecting our freezers if needed, but we’re not quick to flip the switch on it. It’s loud and takes away from the temporary sweet silence of no electricity. The deep freezers, left untouched, are fine for at least 48 hours during a power outage. If the outage is longer than that, then we’ll get the generator going for a period of time. Having some canned meat and green beans on the shelf would be helpful. Winter power outages would mean I could still grab carrots, potatoes, onions, etc from the cold room. Spring eating though? I think we’ll appreciate having some shelf stable carrots and potatoes, even though it is not our preferred way to eat them. I have a feeling they’ll be a much appreciated way to fill that April-May gap. It’s also possible we will find it’s an experiment not worth repeating, but there's only one way to find out.
Last week I canned peaches and that prompted a few questions from some of you, so I thought I’d answer those today. You’re not looking for canning instructions (those can easily be found here), you’re looking for troubleshooting help. I get it! Each type of canned food seems to have its own quirks to understand.
Tips for Canning Peaches (and other fruits)
Freestone vs. Cling - Your orchard will likely have peaches in two varieties: cling or freestone. The characteristics of these two varieties is such that the flesh of cling peaches is securely attached to the pit and not easy to remove, whereas freestone peaches have flesh that is hardly attached to the pit at all. The farm we get our peaches from has freestones available later in the season, so as excited as I am to snap up those first peaches in July and get to work, I wait until August when the freestones are in season.
Removing Skins - Most people prefer to remove peach skins when canning or baking. You'll find most canning recipes suggest blanching peaches in boiling water for 30-60 seconds, then dunking in ice water and skins will come off. I do this too, the only difference being that I first score the bottom of each peach with a large "x" using a paring knife. This gives you an easy place to grab onto the skins for peeling. They come off so easily this way.
Avoiding Fruit that Floats - There are two methods to canning fruit: raw pack and hot pack. Raw pack is when you can raw fruit, and hot pack is when you can fruit that has been cooked for a brief period of time first - in syrup, juice, or water. Usually just a couple of minutes. I get the appeal of raw pack canning, and have done plenty of it myself, but the truth is most of the time you're going to get a better product if you hot pack. The reason you will have a better product is because you'll get some shrinkage as air in the fruit is released when it's pre-cooked, so you'll be able to have a truer jar-fill when you pack it. Alternatively, when you raw pack fruit in the jar, and it heats up for the first time in the jar, your shrinkage will occur there, which will result in unused space in the jar, causing fruit to rise up. Now, I've canned plenty of raw pack fruit and have not had the float issue every time, and plenty of canners will say this has never happened for them. But it is true that side by side, I do get better results when I hot pack.
There are a few other considerations:
- Be sure your fruit is at peak ripeness. Unripe fruit will have more air in it. Heavy, dense, perfectly ripe fruits will give you best results.
- Pack jars well. I pick up jars and kind of spin them back and forth in my hand a few times to settle fruit, and add more as needed.
- Heavier syrups result in less float. Light syrups create an environment in which fruit equalizes its sugar content with its surroundings. The fruit releases its own sugar, becoming lighter. I do not have experience in this as I usually go with the lightest possible syrup, but I do still get occasional fruit-float so I guess that's the trade off. Canners do consistently report that heavier syrups result in less float.
Wide Mouth vs. Regular Mouth - This is a matter of personal preference. Wide mouth jars are often preferred because they are easier to clean, but I find they come with a higher seal-fail rate. Nothing terrible, but noticeable. This year I canned 50 quarts of peaches, mostly using regular mouth jars. I think I only used about six wide mouth quarts, and of those, two seals failed. None of the regular mouths failed. Having said that, I do find when it comes to peaches, the fruit tends to settle better in a wide mouth jar. So, as you can see, they each have their pros and cons. In time you will find your personal favorite.
Siphoning - This is when your jars lose liquid during the canning process. The main reasons for this are headspace that is not quite correct in the jar, or rapid changes in pressure or temperature when canning. Most of us are water bath canning peaches, so the main tip to prevent rapid change here is to let your jars sit in the water, lid off, stove off, for five minutes after processing is done. This allows for the temperature and pressure on the jars to come down a bit before you remove. One final thing that can cause siphoning is if you tip the jars sideways while removing from the canner. This can cause you to lose the seal, which will change the pressure, and contents of the jar can spill out. Always keep jars straight up and down when removing from your canner.
Having shared all these tips, please know that I still don’t get picture-perfect jars each time. That's the nature of this sort of thing. As long as there is a good seal though, your jars are safe. Sure, if there is a little siphoning or fruit rises above the juice there could be some slight discoloration in time, but just eat those jars first, and save your prettiest jars for gift giving or to keep at the front of your shelves, if you feel it is important to see those jars up front. I won’t tell that your jars in the back are less than perfect looking, if you don’t tell that my jars in the back are less than perfect looking. Happy canning, friends. I hope this was helpful.