Sunday, August 12, 2012

Adventures in Canning

My father and I drove out to an orchard in PA yesterday that we used to like to visit. It's peach season right now, and I picked up a few pecks of white peaches and another variety whose name slips my mind at the moment. The white are a hair underripe but the other variety was dead perfect. I couldn't wait to get them home and try out some canning.

And here is where the problems began. Let this be a warning to you- you will screw up your first few batches in canning before you start to learn some of the tricks. Let me share some of mine with you.

1. Be wary of cookbooks. They love to make crap so easy, and they leave out all kinda of practical information. Ones which come with your various pressure canners and such may be poorly written, even if the canner itself is excellent quality.

I tried following a few recipes, including last night when I wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed and sleep. I whipped out my home scale and weighed out two kilos of parboiled-then-skinned-and-pitted peaches. I didn't have enough sugar, so I added only a little bit of water. That was pretty well it for the recipe. The result? Tasty but liquid.

2nd attempt.

My lovely wife ran out and bought more sugar. I prepped everything ahead of time, thought it would all me fine, figured out which pots I wanted for what, etc. One problem I had had last night was the pot that I used was too small, and kept slopping over with the peach mash. So I used a larger one today. I also tried a different recipe and finely diced 4 Ginger Gold apples that I had also bought (a variety which always bring the taste of home to me, because we used to grow this variety on our old farm). I added the recommended amount of sugar and set it to heat.

And it just wouldn't get hot enough. It was stuck at 100 degrees C. The gel point is 106 C. Well, let this be a lesson to you- you can sometimes be too smart for your own good. There was plenty of liquid, but it was all peach juice, no water. Clearly dilution wasn't a good idea. I remembered hearing stories of recipes which tell you to only add a limited amount of sugar, but you need to add a shitload more until it gels. So set about doing as much. From the initial 5 cups of sugar, I must have added know, I didn't keep count. It may well have been another 8 cups. The temperature went up to 103 C. Still not high enough. I tried tasting it and almost gagged- so damn sweet. This was insane. I decided to hell with it and jarred it anyway- some people like the stuff sweet.

The first jar was liquidy. As I filled, however, the mash clarified and thickened. I realized then (of course) that the problem was that my batch had been much too large. Had I split it into two smaller batches, I could have used the smaller pot and everything would have been fine. Using the larger pot meant that the pot was radiating heat so quickly that the mash just could not get up to the required temperature. My stove, though gas, is somewhat weak in this regard. Normally it is fine, but for things like this it shows its limitations.

So now I have several gallons of peach jams/preserve/syrup/candy. More peaches to go, but I need a break. It is frustrating. It's not even about the money, it's about the waste. Hopefully batch number 3 will be better- that should be the white peaches now. Here's hoping!