Processing all those peaches

So the day after returning from my journey to the Western Slope for peaches, I had to start processing my fruit or risk losing it. I started by blanching peaches, a few at a time, then dropping them into my bowl of ice water.

Then I slipped the skins off into a separate bowl and sliced the peaches into wedges.

I first tried to simply half and pit them, but the flesh was so tender it practically disintegrated as I twisted the halves apart, so I resorted to slicing each peach into about 8-10 sections.

I dropped the sliced fruit into a bowl of 1 cup lemon juice to 2 cups water, and saved the peels to boil down for jelly later.

Then I sterilized jars and prepared the syrup. I prefer a really light syrup to a very heavy sugary one so I used a 1 to 3 ratio of sugar to water. As with pickling brine, I always prepare more than I think I will need so I don't have to stop midway through canning to boil more.

Once the jars were ready and syrup hot, I packed the jars with fresh peaches and ladled the syrup over, being extremely precise not to over-fill with either peaches or syrup. Half inch headroom MEANS half inch headroom with peaches because the syrup tends to boil over after the long processing time and if you fill it too full, it will boil out too much, leaving you with dry peaches at the top of your jar. I swept my plastic spatula around the inside to release any air bubbles, wiped the rims, and set the tops and plopped each jar into the waterbath canner to process for 35 minutes.

Because there are so many things to boil for canning peaches, I had to do my processing in phases. I would stop prepping peaches when my bowl got full of fruit and then I would take the blanching water off the stove to put the syrup back on to boil. All the fussing and relocating of pots and bowls made the entire event extremely time consuming for just one person to accomplish, but the assurance of peaches through winter will be well worth the energy.

I canned 3 boxes of peaches the first day, but had 2 boxes left to process so I had to keep going. I froze a bunch of fruit by blanching, peeling, pitting and slicing the peaches, as with the canning, but then placing the slices on a non-stick cookie sheet and popping them in the freezer overnight. (The non-stick pan is vital as the peaches really want to adhere until the pan warms up and it's a bit of a trick getting them off...I used a spatula and a little elbow grease to pry them off and didn't damage the fruit at all) Then, once frozen, you can bag them up or vacuum seal them for use in smoothies or pies.

Speaking of pies, I also made the most delicious peach crisp ever.
Here's the recipe:
Grease an 8 x 8 pan.
Peel and slice about 6 cups of peaches.
Add 1/2 tsp almond extract, 1/4 cup of sugar and 1-2 tbsp quick cooking tapioca (depending on how juicy your peaches are) to fruit and let sit while you prepare topping.

In the Cuisinart, combine until the consistency of cornmeal:
1 cup all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 cup butter.

Pour peaches into pan, pour topping over. Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes. As I said, this is the best peach crisp recipe I've ever made, but I doubled this recipe and wouldn't recommend doing that unless you are cooking for an army...it's so sweet and rich that you'll only be able to consume one serving per sitting. Better to make it twice than to make too much the first time.

Finally, with all the peach skins I had accumulated from days of blanching and peeling, I decided to make jelly. I poured the reserved juice from peeling, the lemony juice the peach slices soaked in before being packed in the jars, the peels and all the peach bits and bruised spots I'd pared out of the fruit I'd canned and frozen into a large stockpot and added about 2 quarts of water. I turned the burner on low and simmered it all for 2 to 3 hours until the skins were almost falling apart. Then I pressed everything through a seive. I considered using the jelly bag, but my counter was so messy from all the canning and processing, I just couldn't find the space to set the contraption up, so the sieve it was. I ended up with about 7 cups of very thick, nectar-like juice.

To turn it into jelly, I combined the juice with 2 packets of Sure-Jell fruit pectin, and brought it to a rolling boil on the stove. Once boiling, I added 5 cups of sugar all at once and stirred until the sugar was dissolved. I also added a dash of almond extract to enhance the flavor. Again, I brought it to a rolling boil, stirring constantly and set the timer for 5 minutes, then checked for set. It wasn't quite set so I boiled about 3 minutes more, and then ladled it into hot sterilized jars and processed in the waterbath for 15 minutes. The jelly turned out very sweet, so it was not my favorite, but my kids loved it. Fortunately, as you'll read soon enough, there's no shortage of jelly being made in my house.

Well, that just about covered my 5 boxes of peaches for this year. Just in time too, because the 2 boxes of pears I bought are now ready to process, and the 2 boxes of plums I harvested on Friday are beginning to smell overripe. Oh, and never mind the tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, raspberries, apples and grapes that are all waiting in earnest for their turn for harvest and preservation. More on all of them later!

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