Wednesday, 26 September 2007
(click on image for larger view and more photos)
Yes, that’s peach chutney in those jars! Don’t they look lovely?
I confess that I’ve never actually done any canning, and on the day that we decided to take the plunge, I sent a panic email to my mom to ask her how she did her final processing.* And while we were waiting for Mom’s response, we searched our cookbooks and the internet to learn what we could about safe canning methods. I tell you, the things we do for the folks who created WTSIM…!! If we didn’t like them all so much, life would be so much easier!
It’s not as if others before Johanna hadn’t been pressing us to do some canning. Barbara Kingsolver was clearly writing directly to me in her wonderful novel Prodigal Summer with the most brilliant description of newly jarred preserves lined up on the counter gleaming in the late summer sun – that chapter alone is worth reading the book. Tea (Tea and Cookies) whose wonderful posts about canning, particularly “An Unexpected Obession“, kept haunting me. And Ivonne’s (Cream Puffs in Venice) post about her family canning parties in their garage was also so compelling. So what has stopped us??
We had plenty of good quality mason jars. And TWO unopened boxes of lids just waiting to be sterilized. Perhaps our hesitation was the fact that nobody has offered to make us any Walnut and Espresso Cake??? Was that the reason?
NO. I confess it. It was fear. Deer in the headlights fear.
Especially after I asked my sister out west about her canning adventures and she looked at me in horror and said she’d NEVER done any canning! And my mom was right there again! (Why oh why didn’t I ask her?? We were all too busy having fun and preparing and eating other feasts to be distracted by taking/giving lessons in canning…)
Yes. It was fear that was stopping us.
But we had all these peaches! That we thought we were going to use for one last peach-pie-hurrah. The peaches smelled fabulous. They looked correct. And with a light touch, they felt correct. But inside, they were hard as rocks.
Which enfuriated us! I’ve raved about this before. Why on earth do they insist on picking fruit so green?! We foolishly thought buying the fruit in a basket would protect us from having to buy rocks that smelled like peaches. Alas, no.
We contemplated what to do with a basket full of peach scented rocks. Let them sit on the counter to falsely ripen some more?
Or conquer our fear?
I leafed through a cookbook or two. It turns out that ALL the peach preserve and chutney recipes say to use firm fruit. Well, we had that all right.
So Johanna, be proud!! It’s because of you that we finally drummed up our courage and did some canning. Well, you and those stupid pickers who tricked us into buying the rock hard peaches.
After consulting our cookbooks, the first place on the net I looked was Alanna’s (A Veggie Venture) Practical Home Canning Tips that I bookmarked last year when I first imagined I might give canning a shot.
- A large “hot water bath” pot
- a metal insert that keeps the jars upright during processing
CHECK! We decided to use the round footed rack we use under roasts. …ummm “keep the jars upright“? But we don’t have any pot that size. And what if we HATE canning?!? We decided we would process the jars on their sides…
- a jar lifter
Ummm… Tongs! CHECK!
- a magnetized lid/band lifter
Ummm… nope… oh.oh.
- a poker to release air bubbles
Ummm… nope… a poker?? Knife! We’d use a knife!
- Glass measuring cups (1cup, 2cup, 4cup) are useful
Oh dear… we have a couple of 1cup glass measuring cups….
- Multiple stacking colanders
Multiple?? Stacking??? Ai yai yai!!
- A food processor for chopping in large quantities
What a relief. Finally we have one. CHECK!
- A wide-mouthed funnel for filling jars without getting gunk on the lips
Rrrrr… ~whimper~ …nope
- A “jar lifter” to remove jars from the hot water bath
Ummm… what to do, what to do… (Ha!! T has asbestos hands. HE’D take the jars out of their hot water bath!)
- A “lid wand” with a magnet on one end to lift sterilized lids and bands from boiling water.
Fiddly dee dee!!! We don’t need no stinking lid wands!! We’ll just wing it!
measurements?? you expect measurements???
- firm fresh peaches, cut in wedges
- cider vinegar
- cinnamon sticks
- brown mustard seeds
- onion, sliced thinly
- red pepper, julienned
- green chilli, cut in coins
- Thompson raisins
- Sterilize jars on a rack in the large pot. Try not to freak out that the jars will HAVE to go on their sides for processing.
- Bring water to a boil in a medium pot. Put in peaches for a minute or so. Plunge the peaches into cold water to expand the skin so it will slip right off. Start arguing that you’ve NEVER plunged them in cold water before and last time the peach skin was so much easier to take off. Put the peaches back in the boiling water for a second and try to peel the skin away WITHOUT plunging in cold water first. Curse the farmers for picking green peaches. Get out a short bladed knife and the potato peeler and peel the skins away. Slice peaches into wedges and place them in a medium sized pot.
- Put sugar over top – more sugar if the peaches are ridiculously tart – less if they’re wonderfully ripe.
- Add some cider vinegar and bring the whole mess to a boil.
- Add cinnamon sticks, mustard seeds, cloves and boil gently til the peaches are soft but not mushy.
- Stir in the raisins. Oooops!! What are those doing on the counter?? Add the onion and peppers BEFORE the peaches get soft. (Next time, next time!!) Boil for a few minutes more. Stop cursing the farmers; they are BRILLIANT to have picked the peaches so green because this way they take much longer to cook…
- Pour the mixture into the sterilized jars leaving about a half an inch space at the top.
- Place sterilized lids on jars.
- Argue some more about whether the jars should stay upright. Point out that Mom NEVER put them on their sides. And be pretty sure that she didn’t immerse them in water. Counter with the fact that ALL the cookbooks and ALL the websites say the jars should be completely immersed for processing. Realize that your memory might be playing tricks because really, how much did you pay attention when Mom was canning?? Hmmm???
Process the jars on their sides (eeek) on a rack in the biggest pot covered in boiling water for 10 minutes.
- Remove from pot and place jars upright on a tea towel. Leave them in a draft-free area to cool for 24 hours. Stop poking at the top of the lid to see if it has popped down yet. Notice that it suddenly pops down. Stop poking at it some more to see if it has really popped down.
Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it? We should do this EVERY year! What?? Forgot to put in the ginger??? Put it in next time!!
Thank you, Alanna, Tea, Ivonne, Barbara, Mom, and of course, Johanna, for getting us to finally take the plunge.
Next time, we’ll use smaller jars though. Or maybe we’ll go crazy and spring for a deeper pot.
This month’s WTSIM… is hosted by Johanna (The Passionate Cook). She wrote:
[W]e’re not jammin’, we’re talking SAVOURY PRESERVES only [...] in some sort of jar/bottle. [...] Your entry must be a new post, published between now and the 28th of September  [...]
Happy preserving and whatever you do, just don’t get yourself in a pickle!
Once again, the deadline for WTSIM… savoury preserve! is Friday 28 September, 2007. If you would like to participate, please read the following for more information:
edit 2 October 2007:
* Naturally, Mom’s calm response to my email (only about three or four hours after we had finished) was most comforting. She reminded me that she always uses my great grandmother’s steamer, a precursor to the pressure cooker, to process all of her preserves and stands the jars upright on the stand inside the steamer, filling to just below the metal lids.
(Ha! I KNEW she hadn’t emmersed the jars!)
Plagued with fruit flies? Use this wonderful recipe my parents-in-law told us about:
Fruit Fly Trap
- 3 Tbsp vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
- dregs from red wine bottle
- liquid dish detergent
- Pour vinegar into a small shallow dish. Stir in sugar until it is dissolved. Add dregs from red wine (for colouring so you’ll notice the dish…)
- Squeeze a tiny bit of dish detergent on top.
Leave on counter near the fruit basket that is teaming with fruit flies. You’ll be amazed at how many fruit flies you DON’T have the next day.