Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way

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Peaches and Tomatoes

We are getting good at this canning stuff. Since nature doesn’t acquiesce to my timelines, I got a bushel and a half of peaches and a bushel of tomatoes in the same weekend. That’s a lot of food to can. It was my preference to do the peaches one weekend and the tomatoes the following. However, the old curmudgeons told me upon picking up my peaches that canning tomatoes could arrive the following day.

Their canning tomatoes are only 10 bucks a half bushel, so I couldn’t really say no without kicking myself in the wallet. There’s no better price out there for fresh tomatoes. I’m a sucker for a good deal.

We had to act quickly. The peaches were ripe, and would devolve into moldy mess in a matter of a few days. The tomatoes, being canning tomatoes, had blemishes on them. Those blemishes can turn into a moldy mess too. We chose to can the peaches first, as just the weight of them in the half bushel baskets could cause bruises and hasten molding.

We canned several varities: bourbon peaches, vanilla peaches, tea infused peaches, spiced peaches, and bourbon spiced peaches. We learned from our mistakes last year. We put the spices directly in the jars last year. This had two effects. First, the flavors were inconsistent. One jar tasted like star anise while the next tasted like cardamom. Plus, the woody spices (the star anise and cinnamon) got an increasingly bitter taste to them the longer the peaches aged in the jar. Notable exception, vanilla only continued to taste better and better as it aged in the jars.

To correct for this problem, we infused the simple syrup with the woody spices, and placed the vanilla in the jars. Time will tell how well this new process will work out. Without question this should solve for the inconsistency in flavor. It’s hard telling how the peaches spiced in this way will age. I will tell you in 2015.

It took a nine hour marathon canning session to work through only two thirds of the peaches. We wearily gave up, partially because we ran out of jars and partially because we were dead on our feet. I got a very early start on Sunday. I was hoping to make our second day canning shorter than the prior. But given that we weren’t halfway through our produce, I wasn’t feeling terribly optimistic.

I started the day finishing the remaining half bushel of peaches. After digging through my jars, I was able to scrounge up enough of them to leave only enough peaches for a pie. By the time Ali arrived with more jars, I was processing the last of the peaches, praise be the gods of sticky simple syrup and having a closet full of mason jars.

Ali arrived around ten, and we started on the tomatoes. Our typical pattern is for Ali to blanch the produce and handle jar packing and processing while I skin and prep the fruit for the jars. Our roles got reversed somehow. There was a plausible reason for this at the time, but I don’t recall it. We packed all the tomatoes in boiling water with about a teaspoon of kosher salt, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and a sprig each of fresh rosemary, thyme, and oregano. We followed a similar process last year, and the resulting tomatoes were lovely in marinara or a tomato soup.

I don’t know how it happened. All I know is we were done processing those tomatoes by 2pm. There were four things that were a bit different about the tomatoes. The tomatoes didn’t require packing in simple syrups. We just had to have steady supply of boiling water, nor did they need to be sliced as the peaches did. All of the tomatoes were put in quart jars, while some of the peaches went it smaller jars. Finally, I was the packer/processor, while Ali was the produce peeler. I don’t know how anyone of those things contributed to us finishing so quickly, but I was grateful for it.

We learned some things. First, we noticed that a half bushel of produce will fill a case of quart jars. So, you can do some math around that and calculate how many smaller sized jars you might need. We also learned that my pot’s maximum jar capacity is 6 quart jars at a time. Finally, we learned that canning two and half bushels of produce in one weekend is too much. Finally, peach pie made with fresh fruit is amazing!!

Next up on the canning schedule? We might make some tomato paste this weekend. Plus, we will be canning pumpkin, apples, and perhaps cushaw this fall.

Half bushel of peaches.

Half bushel of peaches.

Bushel of tomatoes.

Bushel of tomatoes.

So many peaches. These are the peaches that were packed in tea.

So many peaches. These are the peaches that were packed in tea.

IPA and peaches? Always.

IPA and peaches? Always.

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Adventures in Cooking: Canning Peaches

Neither of my grandmothers cooked much with processed/packaged foods; this is more to do with their age than an ideology. I canned jams and jellies with my dad’s mom until I was school-aged. I grew up eating homemade breads, jellies, jams, and assorted baked goods. It made me picky. I started making my own jams because I grew dissatisfied with store-bought. This little taste of canning made me bold.

A good friend and I got a basket of South Carolina peaches, a mess of jars, and an assortment of spices. We were unsure how well any of this was going to work. Here’s what we started with.

Peaches and jars

Here’s the peaches and jars. That basket was full. We where half way done with processing them at the moment that I snapped this picture.

3-4 vanilla beans

20-20 green cardamom seed pods

15 1 inch cinnamon sticks

20-30 star anise

Several types of chai tea (this will make more sense later)

Several cups of sugar

A few tablespoons of lemon juice

A bottle of bourbon (Ancient Age)

3 cases of 1 1/2 pint wide-mouth ball jars

I’m going to break this up into 4 functional groups. Bear in mind that at any given point in the canning process we probably had jars in all functional states. This is critical to understanding how we managed to do this in about 4 hours.

Sanitizing the Jars

The first step in the process is making sure your jars are sanitary and ready for fruit. In our past jamming sessions we let the jars boil in water for several minutes to kill the microscopic critters. After some internet searching, we found that you can also put the glass jars in the oven for 20 minutes at 250 degrees. We used the oven technique for our peach jars, partially because the jars a bigger would be more difficult to manage in a pot of boiling water. This also freed-up an all-important heating element on the stove. We sanitized our rings and lids in boiling water.

Processing the Peaches

To skin the peaches, we dropped them in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Then we put them in an ice bath for a minute. This allowed easy removal of the skins. This was probably the most laborious part of the process.

Assembling the Jars

We threw the desired spices in the bottom of the jars first. We did a mix of plain vanilla, plain cinnamon, and mixed spices. The jars got roughly one quarter of a vanilla bean, a once inch cinnamon stick, a couple of slightly crushed cardamom pods, and one star anise. We hand packed the peaches in the jars over the spices. Then we poured very hot simple syrup (one quarter sugar to three quarters water) over the peaches. We added 2 tablespoons of bourbon to the jars as desired. We put Indian traditional chai tea in one of the jars, and we put green passion fruit tea in the other. Picture below.

Tea with the peaches

We aren’t sure how the peaches will do with the tea. We have already agreed that we both must be present when the peaches are sampled.

Sealing the Jars

We put the jars in boiling water for 20 minutes. About 9 out of 10 jars came out and sealed nicely. There were a handful that we need to put back in to get them to seal.

Then we waited. I didn’t wait very long. This is partially because I am impatient and partially because I wanted to taste test how we did. We had planned to do another canning session the following weekend. I wanted to know if we should make any adjustments.

I had only eaten commercially canned peaches prior to opening a jar of ours. Eating those peaches was life-altering. Not only do I not understand why no one has commercially canned peaches with some of the spices we used, but I also don’t understand why more people aren’t canning their own peaches. My god. Those were absolutely delicious. I’m ruined for peaches in heavy syrup forever. The simple syrup we used was enough to make the peaches sweet, but not overwhelming. The sugar just complements the flavor of the fruit as opposed to drowning it. I suspect one of the reasons the sweetness in our peaches wasn’t as cloying as commercially canned peaches might be that we used cane sugar as opposed to the high fructose corn syrup.

Some of my friends have offered me money for a jar of our peaches. I am typically generous with our jams. But the peaches. I don’t think I can part with the peaches. My parents will be lucky to get any of the peaches.

Update: we opened the peaches that we packed with tea. They were delicious! We ate them with some homemade vanilla custard. It was divine.