It’s peach season, and since it’s fleeting, we like to can some, at least as a reminder of days gone by when it’s cold and dark and January. Also, since fresh fruit doesn’t exist in Ohio for much of the year, if we’re sticking to our “as much local as possible” meme, then whatever we’ve got from the summer is what we’ve got for the winter (with a few exceptions, like citrus). Kinda the ant vs. grasshopper deal.
I’ve only really been canning for a few years, so my impression was that sugar is necessary for proper preservation. So, all of my early efforts had a bunch. I always made the lightest syrup listed in the Blue Book, but even that is still 20% sugar. (My first peach butter consisted of 4 pounds of peaches and 4 cups of sugar. Yikes. I just made some more using about 10 pounds of peaches, and a cup of sugar.)
This time around, I decided to do a little research, and found that adding a lot of sugar is not at all required. So why do almost all recipes call for buckets of sugar (up to a 1:1 sugar-water ratio in very heavy syrup)? It does help preserve a firm texture, and prevents the natural browning that occurs in many fruits, but I also think that, at least partially, it’s because we sure do love our sweets.
So, sugar prevents browning?
Now hold on, don’t you add lemon juice to cut apples to prevent browning?
Why yes, yes you do. Acid will also stop the oxidation that leads to browning.
So why do we need to use sugar?
Glad that’s settled. My new recipe uses a bit of aforementioned acid (lemon juice), and a touch of added sweetness (honey), and lots of peaches. The honey is a nice complement to peaches, but really, you want the peaches to do the talking here, don’t you?
Blanch and peel the peaches like usual – place peaches in boiling water for a minute, move to cold water, and the skins should fall right off. They don’t for me, so apparently I’m doing something wrong, but they do come off easier than they would raw.
Cut into quarters (leave the pit) and put into quart jars (or pints, if that’s what you’re working with). I found it took 3-4 peaches per quart, so use that as a rough estimate of what you’re going to need.
Add a splash of lemon juice (or vinegar – don’t be afraid, you’re using so little, you won’t be able to taste it) to each jar; I used a teaspoon.
In the meantime, bring about 3-4 quarts of water to a simmer, and add 1/2 cup raw honey. Stir to dissolve. This is your new “syrup.”
Pour the syrup over the peaches, leaving 1/2 inch headspace in each jar. Process in boiling water for 20 minutes.
The best part of this (for me) is that I won’t feel bad about drinking the peach-flavored juice that’s left in the jars. You know, it always tastes so good, but I know it’s loaded with sugar, so most of it gets dumped. Now I can add it to smoothies (or just let C chug it) with no hesitation.
For a stronger peach flavor to the “syrup” and less dilution of the flavor of the peaches themselves as can happen when canning with water, save the peels and any scraps/trimmings (discard bits that are moldy or rotten) and simmer them with the water for 30 minutes. Strain and sweeten the liquid to taste. I also made wonderful canned peaches last year using lightly-sweetened strong chai-spice black tea for the canning liquid, which after a few weeks’ standing flavored the peaches themselves with the spices – this year I’m also going to try a few jars with Earl Grey, since my vanilla-Earl Grey-peach jam was very yummy. I use 1/4 tsp citric acid powder per pint jar (since I live alone, pints are more practical than quarts) rather than lemon juice, since it is completely flavorless.