High on the list of the many things my mother does very, very well in the kitchen is pickling and preserving. During the summertime, my telephone conversations with my parents usually go something like this:
Me: What have you been doing?
Mom/Dad, triumphantly: We now have 27 quarts of blueberries from our own bushes!
We bought a bushel of tomatoes at the farmstand!
We picked three huge baskets of chanterelles!
And then later,
Your mother made the most incredible [insert] [jam/pickles/sauce/pie/vegetable tart/canned peaches/pears/plums]!
Which is why, when I returned from the Yakima Valley with 25 pounds of peaches, my parents scoffed at me. “25 pounds? That’s nothing,” my father said. “When you said you had a lot, I thought you had bought at least a bushel,” my mother said. Then she patiently outlined for me her peach canning method.
I am biased, it is true, but my mother’s canned peaches are the best I’ve had. Not too sweet, still firm, and soooo wonderfully summery when the gray days and long nights of winter become oppressive.
For six quarts of peaches, you will need:
Six quart-sized canning jars, preferably wide-mouthed, and six vacuum lids and ring tops (washed and completely dried)
A pot tall enough to almost fully submerge your canning jars
A baking tray
A rack small enough to fit in your pot, or an assortment of dishcloths and potholders (what I use)
25-30 freestone peaches, preferably canning peaches
500 grams (1.1 pounds) sugar
2 liters (2.1 quarts) water
6 tablespoons lemon juice
Sterilize the jars by arranging them upside down on the baking tray and putting the baking tray in the oven. Turn the oven up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). When the oven has reached temperature, turn it off and leave the jars in the hot oven for 10-15 minutes.
Prepare a sugar syrup by combining the water and sugar in a pot and heating over medium heat until the sugar is fully dissolved, and the mixture is hot but not boiling.
In another pot, create a boiling water bath. Blanch the peaches in the water for about 30-45 seconds, then remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a bowl to cool. You obviously will not be able to blanch all the peaches at once. When the peaches are cool enough to handle, slip them out of their skins, slice the peaches in half, and remove the pits.
Take the hot jars out of the oven and turn them right side up on a dry surface. Fill the jars with the peach halves. Don’t be afraid to cram them in. Your aim is to get 5-6 peaches in each jar.
Fill the jars with the sugar syrup, leaving at least a centimetre of space at the top. Top each jar with one tablespoon of lemon juice (important to prevent botulism). Clean the tops of the jars carefully in case any sugar syrup or peach pulp has slopped over the sides, put the vacuum lids on the jars, and firmly screw on the ring tops.
Line the base of your giant pot with a small rack or an assortment of dish towels and pot holders. Arrange the jarred peaches on top of this insulating layer, and carefully fill with water to just below the bases of the ring tops. Heat the water over medium-high heat until it boils, then immediately reduce heat to its lowest setting so that the water is gently simmering. (If the heat is too high, your peaches will float to the top after they’ve cooled. I can’t explain why this happens.)
Simmer the jars in the water bath for 35 minutes. Remove them the from water bath with tongs or an oven mitt. As the jars cool, a vacuum seal should be created. If this does not occur, return jars to the water bath.
You’re done! Consume within a year, if they last that long.