Before you read this post, please understand that home canning carries with it inherent risks. Please, please make sure you are taking every precaution to avoid introducing bacteria into your canning process. I recommend taking a class, reading plenty of information about home canning, and working with a buddy who has also taken steps like these. And of course, inspect your canned goods before eating them to check for any signs of them going bad (smells, etc.). Once you're prepared, canning is a lot of fun!
Making traditional preserves isn’t much harder than freezer jam, but it does require a little more work and one very important step. The key to home canning is keeping everything clean. Since the jars will be stored in a pantry instead of the fridge, they must start out squeaky clean and stay that way throughout the entire process. This is what will keep you safe from the home-canner’s biggest fear: botulism!
Canning is easiest when you have a few tools at hand. The basic canning tools, which are really handy, are:
• stock pot, large enough to cover your tallest jar by about an inch of water
• jar tongs
• canning rack (this can be DIYed with a few extra canning rings)
• wide-mouth funnel
• jars, lids, and bands
• magnetic lid-lifter
The first rule about canning? Keep it clean. Start with clean jars.
To begin, fill your large stock pot about three-quarters with hot tap water. Put the canning rack (or canning rings) at the bottom of the pot, and place empty jars (no lids) in the water. Be sure the jars are full of water and totally submerged. Set the pot on the back burner, turn on the heat, cover with a lid, and get that pot boiling. As it comes to a boil, the jars will be sterilized. Putting them in the bath before turning the heat on will save you from cracking glass due to extreme temperature changes!
While the jars are sterilizing, get started on your preserves.
Peach preserves begin the same way as freezer jam: first, you’ve got to peel and pit the peaches.
The fruit then needs to be cut, chopped, or mashed. I chose to mash.
Meanwhile, you’ll want to ready the lids. Canning lids have a reddish seal on the underside. In order to make sure your jars seal properly, you’ll want to soak the lids in warm water. I put mine in a small saucepan, cover them with water, and put on the back burner on low heat while I’m cooking.
Following the recipe, combine the fruit, sugar, lemon juice, and pectin in a large pan. Cook according to the recipe directions.
Once the preserves are cooked, you may need to skim a little froth off the top.
At this point, your jars will be nice and sterile. Using the jar tongs, carefully lift the jars out of the water. Leave the heat on, and as you remove each jar, allow the hot water to pour back into the stockpot. Set the empty sterilized jars on a clean kitchen towel.
Remove your lids from the heat as well.
Using a ladle and a wide-mouth canning funnel, carefully fill the jars with the cooked preserves. Leave about a half-inch between the preserves and the top of the jar (some recipes recommend different amounts of headspace).
With a clean, damp washcloth, clean the rims of each jar. This will help ensure the jars seal correctly and cleanly.
Using a magnetic lid lifter, carefully bring the lids out of the warm water and place one on each jar.
Twist on the bands (or rings), but don’t twist them too tight. Just be sure they’re on the jar. When it stops turning easily, it’s good. This allows some air to escape as the jars are processing.
Using the jar tongs, pick up each full jar and slowly lower it back into the stockpot. The jars will still be warm, so the shock of the hot water should not cause them to crack. However, if one does crack, don’t worry! Just remove it, set aside, and (if the water is still clean), carry on with the rest of the jars.
Cover the stockpot and let it boil for 20 minutes.
Carefully remove the jars with the jar tongs and set on a clean dish towel. Listen—you’ll begin to hear them pop! That’s the indication they have successfully sealed. Most will pop right away.
Let the jars cool, and then check each top to be sure it’s sealed. Press directly in the middle of the lid. If it gives way, it has not sealed. If the lid is depressed slightly in the middle and doesn’t give to the touch, then it’s properly sealed and can be put up in the pantry.
Any jars that do not seal correctly are still ok—you can enjoy them like you would freezer jam. Store in the fridge for up to three weeks or in the freezer for up to a year.
That’s it! You’ve just made preserves!
A huge thank-you to my sister Aubrey, who slaved along with me in a hot kitchen to shoot all these lovely photos! Check out her amazing work at Aubrey L. Stopa Photography.