Monday, August 20, 2012

In The Can

I am devoting my blog space this week to celebrating the time tested process of preserving foods at home.

More than ever many of us are concerned about where our food comes from and what is in it, so it's no surprise that canning is making a comeback. Canning means having more control over what we eat, and using food when it tastes best, is the least expensive, and is grown locally. Plus you use a simple, chemical-free preservation process. And really, there's nothing like opening a jar of summery tasting preserves in the middle of winter.

I started canning only a few years ago, when a friend and I took a class at the Waltham Fields Community Farm. I know some folks are squeamish about canning for fears that it is either too much work or not safe, but neither are true. In terms of safety, all that is needed is a plenty of boiling water and some care. The Ball Jar website is invaluable for tips on safety, process and equipment.

In terms of cost and time, for about $50 and five hours work, I churned out twenty 1/2 pint jars of delicious peach butter (a cross between a spread and a jam) from peaches I bought at the Arlington Farmer's Market. So I have a yummy peach spread for my toast all winter, plus several holiday gifts to boot.

You can get easily overwhelmed by the available canning equipment. But you don't need them all to be successful. For peach butter, I used three pots: a big one (a 12 quart with the strainer insert) to sterilize jars and create the vacuum seal, a medium one (6 quart) to cook the jam, and a smaller one to skin the peaches. For any canning project, I use a magnetic stick to pick up the flat lids once they are washed and keep them clean, a grabber to move the cans in and out of boiling water without boiling your fingers, and a wide mouth funnel to get the food in the jars. All of these can be found in the canning section of any hardware store or here. So give it a try!

Peach Butter
adapted from Smitten Kitchen, makes about 12 1/2 pint jars

10 pounds peaches
3 c. granulated sugar
The juice from 3 lemons
1 t. salt

Start the largest pot of water to boil with empty glass jars and bands in it. Bring it to a boil, then turn off and let the jars and rings sit. In a bowl of hot (not boiling) soapy water, wash new lids.

At the same time, fill a smaller pot with water and bring to a boil. Set up a bowl with ice water and the jam cooking pot nearby. Use a sharp knife to score the bottom of each peach with an x. When the water is boiling, drop in peaches. After about 1 minute, you will see the skin start to peel away from the fruit. Remove the peaches and place in the ice water bath. When the peaches are cool enough to handle (about 30 seconds), the skin should peel right off. Cut the peaches in 4 pieces directly into the cooking pot. Repeat the process as needed until all peaches are skinned and cut.

Add sugar, lemon juice and salt to the pot of peaches and bring to a simmer. Allow to cook about 40 minutes at a simmer, or until the peaches are soft. Remove from the heat and, using an immersion blender, puree the peaches until smooth (this is optional but worth the effort). Return to the heat and cook at a simmer until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 20 minutes. While cooking a second time, keep a spoon and bowl nearby and skim off any froth/scum that rises to the surface.

When the butter is getting close to being done, remove the glass jars and bands (with tongs or the grabber) from the warm water and place on a clean towel nearby. Rinse the soapy water off the lids and, using the magnetic stick, place them on the clean towel. Bring the large pot of water back to the boil.

When the butter is done, ladle it into the jars, leaving a 1/2 inch of space at the top. Wipe the rims and put lids and rings onto the jars. Place jars back into the boiling water, making sure they are fully submerged, and boil for 10 minutes. Remove from the water and place on a clean towel. You should hear the lids form the vacuum seal quickly. Allow jars to sit undisturbed several hours, until cool.

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