I was very pleased to find the first of the local peaches when I went to my local farm market on Thursday. Of course, the smallest amount I could find was an 8-quart box.
I set some aside for eating (because my husband loves peaches) and some aside for a pie, and the rest I decided to can!
I've only canned jam before, never fresh fruits, so I sort of did the whole thing with my fingers crossed. But I went at it, armed with my arsenal of Ball Canning supplies, six quart jars, and the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.
First, I washed six quart jars, lids, and bands.
Aren't they shiny and awesome?
The next thing I did was fill up my water bath canner and set it on the stove to come to a boil. It will seriously take about 45 minutes for this to happen, so in the meantime, start preparing your peaches.
I will warn you up front that preparing peaches for baking or canning is messy and a little time consuming. I suggest not using peaches that are too overly ripe, or they'll end up as mush by the time you're done. This isn't such an issue if you're making jam or pie filling, but if you're planning to preserve whole fruits (or halves, as I was doing), the firmer the peach the better.
Whether you're canning or baking the peaches, you need to peel and pit them. The easiest way to peel peaches is to blanch them. Here's what you need to do.
Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. I decided to do three or four peaches at a time, for ease and also because the water bath canner takes up so much space on the stove, I couldn't fit a larger pan. Once the water has come to a boil, drop your peaches in and let them simmer for 30 seconds to a minute. The longer the peaches sit in the boiling water, the softer the outside is going to get, but the longer you let them sit the easier it is to peel them.
Once you've blanched all your peaches, hopefully your water bath canner has come to a boil. You need to sterilize your jars and lids. The lids can go in a small saucepan of simmering water for about ten minutes or so. The jars need to sit in the water bath canner, in simmering water, for at least 10 minutes, but longer is fine (they're glass and intended to take the heat. If your dishwasher has a sanitize cycle, you can wash and sterilize the jars in the dishwasher and just remove them one at a time as needed, but DO NOT put the lids or the bands in the dishwasher - they must be washed by hand, and the lids must be sterilized in a pot of simmering water. You don't have to sterilize the bands.
While your jars are sterilizing, peel the peaches, cut them in half, and remove the pit. I promise, the skins will slide right off if you've blanched them properly. Also cut off any bruises or brown spots.
The next thing you'll need to do is prepare a simple syrup. According to the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, you have the option of doing either a raw pack or a hot pack. The only difference is that with a hot pack, you cook the peaches in the sugar syrup for about five minutes before packing them in the jars, whereas with a raw pack, you just pack the peaches in the jar and pour the sugar syrup over them.
I decided to do a raw pack with a light syrup, so in another pan I combined 2 and 1/4 cups of sugar with 5 and 1/4 cups of water.
Heat the mixture, stirring constantly until the sugar completely dissolves. It takes about five minutes or so. Then just keep the syrup hot.
Now, carefully remove the sterilized jars from the water bath canner, using tongs or the jar lifter tool from the Ball utensil set. Pack the peach halves in, cavity side down, as tightly as you can. I suggest packing them up to the bottom of the jar's threads. Then, ladle the sugar syrup over the peaches, leaving a 1/2 inch headspace. Then slide the headspace/bubble remover tool down the side of the jar to remove any air trapped between the pieces of fruit.
Wipe the threads and the edge of the jar clean with a damp cloth, use the magnetic lid lifter tool to get a lid out of the pan of simmering water, and position the lid on the jar. Then screw a band on finger tight. Put the jars back in the water bath canner (add more hot water from a tea kettle if necessary) and make sure there is at least an inch of water above the jars. Put the lid on the canner and bring it back to a slow boil.
The jars need to process 30 minutes in the canner (25 minutes if you've used the hot pack method). Remove them from the canner and let them cool with plenty of space in between the jars. You may hear a "pop" when the lids pull down from the vacuum formed when the jars cool, but don't take that as the only sign that they've processed and created a seal. When the jars are totally cool, remove the bands and gently pull on the lids (not too hard now!). They shouldn't move - basically you should need to pry them off with a spoon or butter knife to open the jar. If the seal is good, you can leave the bands off if you want (I keep them on just so they don't get lost) and store the jars in a cool, dark place.
If you've used the raw pack method, the fruit can float on the syrup. From what I've read, this is normal, and as long as the seal is good and the fruit doesn't start to visibly start to spoil, you should be good to go. When you open the jars to eat your fruit (in the dead of winter when peaches are trucked in from who knows where), a quick sniff should let you know if the fruit has spoiled or not. If you've done everything right, all you should smell is peaches.
Sweet, sweet peaches!