If you've never enjoyed home-canned peaches, I urge you to try them. Nothing brings back the warm days of summer like the taste of a peach in the middle of winter. Sure, you can buy canned peaches at the supermarket, but I have yet to find any that come close to those preserved at home at the peak of ripeness.
I have been canning peaches for the past several years. I still consider myself a novice but I've learned some things along the way that could be helpful. In my opinion, canning yields a more user-friendly result than freezing peaches. Frozen peaches tend to be rather mushy when they thaw. For some applications (e.g., baby food, purées, etc.), that's not a problem. But for use in pies, cakes, or just for eating, I think canning is the way to go. It's a bit time consuming but well worth the effort.
We are lucky enough to live near a family-owned and -operated orchard that practices environmentally safe pest control. We purchase a variety of fruits from them year-round and have found the quality to be far superior to anything in the grocery store. If possible, I recommend buying from a local grower. You might save money and you will most likely end up with a more flavorful product.
The first step in the canning process is allowing the peaches to ripen. Lay the peaches on a flat surface in a single layer, leaving a little space between each one (see above). Check the peaches daily by giving them a gentle squeeze; you can always sample one or two to check their progress. You want the peaches to be ripe but not overripe. We chose Red Haven peaches because it's a stone-free variety that is firm and flavorful.
The next step (pictured above) is to loosen the skin from the peaches. To do this, submerge them in boiling water for 30 to 50 seconds. Immediately move them into an ice bath—either the sink or a large bowl filled with cold water and ice; see below—to stop any further cooking.
After a minute or so, you can take the peaches out of the ice bath and begin preparing them for the jars. First, you'll want to remove the skin, which should slide right off the fruit. If it doesn't, the peach might not have spent enough time in the boiling water, or you might be working with an underripe peach.
Once the skin is off, you'll need to decide if you want to can the peaches in halves or in slices. This year I chose the latter. I cut the peaches into 1/2- to 3/4-inch slices and, as I was working, I put the slices in a solution of Fruit Fresh and water to keep them from browning. You can find the Fruit Fresh at the grocery store. Just follow the directions on the label. You'll drain this solution off before canning.
If you choose to do halves, simply remove the skin, cut the peaches in half, and remove the pit. Soak the halves in the preserving liquid as I did above. Keep in mind that if you can the peaches in halves, you'll want to use wide-mouth jars. They're much easier to fill!
Once all of the peaches have been skinned and cut, you're ready to start canning. The picture above shows me preparing to drain the liquid from the peaches. You'll want to drain as much of this liquid as possible so that you can fill the jars with hot sugar syrup (more on that shortly).
After draining the peaches, you can start filling your jars. (Your jars should be sterilized—the dishwasher will do the trick—and free of chips around the mouth.) This is the raw pack method. If you chose to go with slices, simply spoon them into the jars until they reach the neck of the jar. Don't pack the peaches too tightly or you'll end up with unwanted air bubbles and a sticky mess. If you're canning halves, lay them pit-side down until they reach the neck of the jar. They'll overlap—and that's all right.
Once I've filled my jars (I do seven at a time, since that's what will fit in the canner), I set them around the canner on the stove top. This helps warm the jars before I add the boiling syrup. I also prepare my two-piece lids by placing them in a shallow saucepan and covering them with warm water, which I then bring to a simmer. This warms the seal in preparation for the canner. Be sure to have a pair of tongs nearby to remove the caps from the saucepan.
I use a light syrup for my peaches: 2 1/4 cups sugar to 5 1/4 cups water. As soon as the syrup boils, it's ready to use. You'll want to ladle the boiling syrup into the jarred peaches, leaving half an inch of headspace. Be sure to remove any air bubbles before securing the lid by using a flat, nonmetal spatula and gently pressing along the sides of the peaches. You may need to add a bit more liquid after you've released the air bubbles. Next, secure your lids and rings on the jars and finger tighten (close securely but don't crank with too much gusto). Place the jars inside the canner, in the boiling water.
Visit yearroundharvest.com for more from Matt and Brandi on gardening, canning, and planning ahead. Got a comment? A peach of a tip? Post it below and keep the conversation rolling. Don't have a whole bushel of fruit to put back? Check out our Small-Batch Canning 101—and for further resources and advice, join the Food Preservation group. You can always find more things to plant, grow, cook, preserve, make, craft, and boil in the HOMEGROWN 101 archive.
I notice you are using a ceramic topped stove, which I have read over and over again not to do. Of course I do anyway, but I always have some reservation that 1) my stovetop will crack, or 2) that I am not getting an even temperature to my food to kill any bacteria. There are times we use the camp stove outdoors, but my kitchen is my kitchen where everything I need is, including counter space. Any comments?
We are by no means experts on the matter, but we have not had any issues using the ceramic topped stove. We have only had it for about a year and a half, but so far so good. We not only use it for canning, but we use it frequently for day to day cooking which often involves the use of cast iron. We really don't use any other type of frying pan and we've had good results. As far as not getting an even temperature to kill bacteria, that has never been a concern of ours. We always make sure the water in the canner is boiling before we start the processing time and we monitor the canner to ensure that the water continues to boil throughout. The burner we use is an extra large burner almost the exact diameter of the canner itself which may help.
I too use cast iron on my ceramic stove. Can't justify using much else.