It’s canning season.
You know what that means, don’t you? It means that, all across the country, people are taking perfectly good fruit, cooking all the nutrition out of it, adding unconscionable amounts of sugar, and putting it in cute little jars.
Count me in!
It’s a sickness, canning. The lure of a pantry full of jars with home-grown ingredients and home-made labels is irresistible even when there is a perfectly good freezer just one flight down. Even when you still have a goodly supply of last year’s jam, or chutney, or relish. We all know that no home is complete without enough maraschino cherries to see you through Armageddon.
There are some people in the great state of Washington who understand. They’re the Washington State Fruit Commission, and they are guilty of fostering an epidemic of the canning sickness. A while back, they got in touch with me and a bunch of other people already diseased and asked us if we wouldn’t like a nice box of perfect Washington State stone fruit in return for spreading the contagion.
Oh, sure, they didn’t call it ‘spreading the contagion.’ They called it ‘being a Canbassador,’ and they set up an entire website with tasty recipes to suck you in. But you and I know it comes to the same thing.
Count me in!
Filling that big pot with water and cleaning all those jars puts you at the top of a very slippery slope . If you don’t keep the impulse in check, pretty soon you find yourself in the kitchen for the third straight day, unshowered, canning anything that’s stopped moving. And then, when you finally do come up for air, you find you could keep the Indian subcontinent in plum jam for at least a year.
This is why friends don’t let friends can alone.
When I got my box of peaches, nectarines, and plums, the first thing I did was call my friend Christl.
Those of you who come here often know that Christl is the best gardener of my acquaintance. She’s of my parents’ generation, and grew up in southern Germany during the Second World War, when food wasn’t so easy to come by. She and her husband, Al, have done a lot of the things Kevin and I do, and she knows what it is to raise chickens, keep bees, or grow mushrooms.
And she knows how to can. In fact, she and Al know how to do just about everything food-related, and Kevin and I barter with them all year. She grows our tomato seedlings, we bring them fresh fish. We keep them in eggs, they keep us in asparagus. She gives us pickles, Kevin picks them out some oysters.
Christl is always game for a trade, and when I asked if she wanted to come help can in return for a portion of the proceeds, I knew what she’d say.
Yes, of course.
There is a world of difference between canning by yourself and canning with a friend. There is someone to help with all the cleaning, peeling, and slicing. There is someone to suggest that it would be better with a little more allspice. There is someone to say, “Enough!” before you get to that three-day mark.
You break out the canning equipment when you have a lot of something. And your friend breaks out the canning equipment when she has a lot of something. Something different from what you have, usually. So you can stay at your house, can alone, and eat nothing but peach preserves all year while she stays at her house, cans alone, and eats nothing but cherry compote all year, or you can can together and split the proceeds.
Really, now, is that a difficult choice?
The Washington State Fruit Commission box was at least twenty pounds of fruit, plenty to go around. Christl and I made a big batch of, if I may say so, beautiful spiced peaches and nectarines (recipe below). Then Al used the few peaches that were left to make a syrup that he combined with brandy. I cooked the plums, tossed in the peach solids that Al had drained from his syrup, and made jam. Kevin sampled and supervised.
Yes, I can can responsibly. I just need a little help.
(Makes about 6 quarts)
15 lbs peaches and/or nectarines
10 c. water
5 c. sugar
12 allspice berries, crushed
10 cloves, crushed
1 t. ground black pepper
Sterilize 6 quart and 12 pint jars (or a combination) and lids. I do this in boiling water, but you can use a dishwasher. (There are excellent, detailed sterilizing instructions on the Washington State Fruit Commission site, SweetPreservation.com.)
Peel the fruit by blanching it in boiling water long enough to loosen the skins, and then transferring it to a bowl of cold water. The time it takes varies; try thirty seconds and, if that doesn’t work, try a little longer until you find the right time. Slip off the skins. (This step is optional for nectarines.)
Prepare a bowl of cold water with about a tablespoon of lemon juice in it. Cut the fruit into halves or quarters, and put them in the lemon water so they won’t discolor. Discard the pits, of course.
Combine the water, sugar, and spices in a bowl (the 2:1 water:sugar ratio is a medium syrup), and bring to a boil.
Drain the fruit and pack it in the sterilized jars. Pour the syrup in (use a strainer to catch the spices), leaving about ½ inch of headspace. Put the lids on, and boil in water bath – 20 minutes for pints, 25 minutes for quarts.