Monday, August 18, 2008

Preserving the Seasons: August, Week 3

When summer's fruits appear in all their fragrant abundance at the local market, it seems like we'll have sweet, juicy fruit forever.

We don't, of course, for fruits seem to have even shorter seasons of ripeness than vegetables, and if we want to enjoy them at their peak, we have to hurry up!

Storing fruit for the winter just isn't the same since it never tastes quite as good as when it was fresh and dripping with nectar and warmed by the summer sun. But I do end up preserving a good deal of fruit simply because the fruit that appears in the supermarket in midwinter is far less appetizing.

So I hedge my bets. I dry lots of berries and cherries for baking, and I load up bags of more fruit to fill the freezer. Some I'll even sweeten and cook into jam.


But by late summer, I'm running out of room, and I've got a different preferred method for preserving the late summer fruits like peaches and pears.

This is the time of year for canning fruit, even when it's still hot enough outside to make me think twice. For peaches and pears, I like to have that juiciness kept bottled up in a sweet syrup, ready to be released for a dessert topping or even to mix into oatmeal.

As always, you can find basic canning information in my two favorite preservation books, Stocking Up and Putting Things By. But I also reach for Canning and Preserving Without Sugar because I like being able to make a barely sweet packing syrup from white grape juice, lemon juice, and water.


Canning is pretty easy, and if you follow instructions, it should be foolproof. Follow the usual guidelines:

1. Check your equipment (no nicks or cracks in the jars, please!) and have everything laid out ahead of time.

2. Use fruit that is ripe enough to eat in order to get the best amount of natural sweetness, and avoid blemished fruit.

3. Read through the entire recipe first, then follow it to the letter.

4. Follow the exact times for the boiling water bath; though the sugars in fruit (and added to it) help preserve it, you won't have a safe seal without the boiling water bath.


On Sunday, My Fabulous Aunt, bringer of fresh peaches, peeled the peaches while I set up everything in the kitchen and started chopping the peach halves into bite-sized pieces. I packed the hot sterilized jars, pressing the fruit down to get as much in as possible.

Once I had the jars filled, I poured the hot syrup into the jars in small quantities, stopping often to run a chopstick around the sides to release air bubbles before adding more syrup.

After that step, I wiped down the rims of the jars, added lids and rings, and set them aside. When all the jars were filled, we loaded the canner and let the boiling water bath do its work.


Half an hour later, I had seven pints of chopped peaches packed in a light low-sugar syrup, ready for winter. You'll notice a bit of space at the bottom of the jars with no peaches: that's what happens when you don't press the contents down as you go to squeeze out air and squeeze in more fruit. It's fine, but you do want to pack the jars as fully as you can, while leaving some room for syrup.

In selecting a recipe, you might choose the raw-pack method (which I used here) or the hot pack method, which involves cooking the fruit in the syrup, then adding it all into the jars together. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but I do like the raw pack method because I can deal with the fruit first, then make the syrup and bring everything up to temperature before the boiling water bath.

You can also can plums, apricots, berries, and apples in this fashion, though I'm pretty well stuck on just peaches and pears.

And though the taste won't be the same as sinking your teeth into a dead-ripe fruit, it can still brighten a winter day with memories of summer.

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