Thursday, August 13, 2009

Canning peaches this weekend

This weekend, I am getting a group together to can peaches. I've been involved with a local food group that gets together on Fridays for breakfast, and we want to put food by for our breakfasts this winter. Some of us have canned before, but most haven't, so it's going to be instructional as well as nutritional! Last year was my first time canning peaches - I knew enough to get a freestone variety. I didn't realize that unless the peaches are perfectly ripe, the peels will not come off them easily when I dipped them in the boiling water. Peaches are climacteric, which means they will ripen after picking, so they can sit around for a while to ripen before canning. Russ Parsons reminds us that they won't get any sweeter, though, in his book "How to Pick a Peach". Since I buy peaches locally, they have been left on the tree long enough to get sweet, since they didn't have to travel far.

My second batch came out much better than my first, after I got that figured out. When canning peaches, it's important to do a hot pack instead of a raw pack. Peaches have a lot of air in them, and peeling them and hot packing, which is a very brief cooking, helps them release their air and prevents floating peaches in the jar. Also, adding some ascorbic acid is a must to prevent browning. I use Fruit Fresh. Floating brown peaches taste fine, they just don't look as good in the jar as some perfectly canned ones. Yes, I am vain about my canning! Looks are important to me!!

Last weekend, we were out on the west side of Michigan, and there are peach orchards all over the place. It got me thinking about Michigan peaches. The first peach tree was planted on the west side of the state in 1780, in Michigan's famed fruit belt. Some believed soil to be the reason for the successful growth of peach trees, others suggested that it was the influence of Lake Michigan. The "lake effect" insulated the peaches from extreme hot or extreme cold. Michigan peaches developed into a monopoly in nearby Chicago, at least until the invention of refrigerated railroad cars. A boost to Michigan peach production happened in the 1950s, when the Gerber baby food company (a Michigan company) encouraged growers to plant clingstone peaches for baby food. Clingstone peaches are non melting types, which means they hold their shape better for commercial canning applications and have no red color to them, which is undesirable, evidently, for baby food.

Probably the most famous peach in Michigan is the Red Haven peach. Clingstone peaches ripen before the freestone peaches, and the first freestone to ripen is after the Red Haven. Some folks call the Red Haven a freestone peach, it is more accurately called a semi-freestone. I've had some that were "more free" than others. Melting flesh types can be clingstone or freestone, usually depending on expected harvest date for a particular variety. Red Haven is sort of the "ground zero" for peach varieties. Harvest dates are measured in units of positive or negative RH - and RH is when the Red Haven is ripe for picking. According to the Michigan Peach Sponsors, home canners may prefer either melting or non-melting flesh. Any of the major Michigan varieties are recommended for canning and freezing. I don't think I have ever seen a non-melting variety for sale around here in southeastern Michigan, so I have only canned melting flesh thus far.

Last year I bought some Red Star peaches from a farmer up in Romeo, Michigan, home of the Romeo Peach Festival. Always held Labor Day weekend for over 70 years, the festival is always a good time, with plenty of peach shortcake and a peach queen and a beer tent. Romeo is our side of the state's answer to west Michigan's fruit belt. I was going to buy some Red Havens, but the farmer said to try the Red Stars, because "everyone's growing them now". They were great.


Kate said...

What great peach history! I love that everyone measures by RH. Particularly relevant as I just ate a piece of RH pie :)

Mary Ann said...

I just found your web site while my big pot of water is heating up for canning peaches. I bought a 1/2 bushel yesterday but they feel a bit firm to me. After reading your info about Red Havens, I might wait a couple of days.

I was born and raised in Toledo but a year and a half go I moved to Holmes County Ohio, where all the women have horses, cows and put up food!

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Well, my family room (the coldest in the house) is filled with tomorrow's peaches. Yay!

Buttercup said...

Last week's New York Times magazine had a recipe for canned brandied peaches - with an update by Eugenia Bone. Her version was pears poached with thyme honey.

I wondered about trying the brandied peaches. I confess that I just don't like canned peaches much. My mother once made a batch of peach butter which was great but apparently scarred her for life, since she never made another one. I think it was very time-consuming.