Trying out Preserving

A guest post from Tom...

On Sunday, I woke up to find a bunch of peaches on the ground, and while it's great that the chickens were going to get a treat, I've been hoping to capture more peaches for ourselves. Since my personal limit on peach consumption is about one or two a day, this means trying my hand at preserves.

For Christmas, Elizabeth's mom got her one of the books on her list – Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving. It's a tome that covers a variety of preserving techniques – canning, pickling, curing, the works. She's got a standard process for making fruit preserves that starts with three pounds of fruit and makes four half-pints. The recipe can be halved, so that's what I tried.

The process starts by peeling and slicing up peaches, adding sugar and lemon juice, and letting it macerate for several hours.

Next, strain the syrup from the fruit, put it in a pot, and bring it up to a boil.

Once the syrup boils, add the fruit back in, then boil it some more until the mixture gets thick. While I planned to get two half-pint jars full, I wound up with only about 1 3/4 jars of preserves. I processed the one jar in a water bath so that we could put it up on our new canning shelf, but the 3/4 jar was put into the fridge, as it has too much air at the top to safely jar.

The final product
So, it was a lot of work for what wound up being just one real jar of preserves, but it was a good first experiment:

I'd never really tried making fruit preserves before, so it was interesting working through that whole process – watching the syrup and the fruit boil, trying to figure out how long is long enough for the boil, wondering about pectin and seeing if there was enough natural pectin in the peaches for the preserves to set.

Also, I'd done some water-processing before (pickles, a few years ago), so it was good to go through that again and see it work.

It was also nice to try something small-scale and minimal impact. It's nice to have peach preserves, but it's not the end of the world if it fails miserably. Practicing on these preserves will hopefully lead to confidence when we get to a place where we have a lot of food that we'd like to preserve (I'm looking at you, tomatoes).

I tasted some of the final product from the bonus 3/4 jar, and while it's generally peachy, it's not super-peachy, and the preserves have a pretty hard set. This is probably the product of working with underripe fruit and/or an overly-long boil. It's a little tricky with the ripeness – you want to start with some slightly underripe fruit because the fruit loses pectin as it ripens, but underripe means not as flavorful. Timing the boil is tricky too – I want to watch some videos to see if I can get a better sense of what "done" looks like.

I'll definitely try making some more fruit preserves – my next thought is to work with some of the strawberries in the market now, and perhaps try introducing some additional flavors, using some herbs from the garden.

I'll end with a relevant quote from Adventure Time: