Over a hundred years ago, before the existence of Del Monte, Libby’s, or other major canneries, people managed to have fruits and vegetables all year. Most homes had a vegetable garden and fruit trees that were harvested in the late summer to ensure that the family had sustenance through the winter months. Canning and preserving was hard work, but the results of the labor included good health, good nutrition, and good food for the entire family. It is possible today to can and preserve fruits, meat, and vegetables by borrowing wisdom and knowledge from the past, utilizing it in the present, and enjoying its benefits in the future.
One popular novel illustrates the long shelf life of canned fruits; some canned spiced peaches were able to provide sustenance to the book’s heroes more than a hundred years later. The story was fiction, but canned fruits and vegetables have been known to last for decades and still be edible. Why? Because of the absence of bacteria, food will not decay or deteriorate. Harmful elements, such as bacteria, are killed through the use of heat, vinegar in some cases, and sugar.
Most families in urban areas do not have gardens with fruit trees, but have access to a farmer’s market. For example, the process of preserving peaches is quite simple. First, purchase some sweet, ripe, cling peaches from the local farmer’s market or the produce section of the local supermarket. The supplies needed to preserve ten pounds of peaches include approximately 7 pounds of granulated sugar, glass jars with lids and screw tops, and preferably a pressure cooker.
Wash, peel, core (remove seeds), and slice the peaches into the desired shape: halves, slices, or cubed. In the old days, on a hot summer day, the women and girls would assemble on the back porch to prepare peaches for canning. One young lady remembers that she would hear the lessons of life while peeling peaches on the porch when she was able to listen undetected. She remembered having her first lesson in sex education; her great grandmother told an aunt to watch her gown if she didn’t want any more babies. The remark remained in her memory, but it was years later before she learned its meaning and implication. Peeling peaches for canning was a time for conversations, the lessons of life, and passing down the wisdom of the ages to the young to last for a lifetime.
After peeling, coring, and slicing the peaches, layer with sugar until each piece of peach is covered in a fine layer of granulated sugar. Allow the peaches to remain undisturbed for approximately 3-4 hours; they are ready to can when syrup begins to form. Take the peaches and syrup mixture and place in a large pot. Cover the peaches with approximately 1½ inch of water. Add 8 cups of sugar; bring to a rolling boil for approximately 15 minutes or until a light syrup forms. Take some of the liquid into a mixing spoon, slowly pour the liquid back into the peaches; it should have a density that is a bit thicker than water. To test, drizzle a bit of the syrup into ice cold water, it will form a soft, small ball.
While the peaches are cooking, carefully wash the jars, tops, and rings; carefully dry them: set the tops and rings aside. Place the dried jars in a warm oven at 170 degrees; keep warm until ready to use. The jars, lids, and rings may appear clean, but they must be washed and dried in order to seal properly and ensure sterility. Fill the pressure cooker about 1/3 full on medium low heat. Using a folded cloth towel to hold the jar (it will be hot), carefully ladle the hot peach mixture into the warm jar; fill the jar to the bottom rung (where the ring shaped top will fit); place flat round top on the jar, loosely twist the open ring-like lid on the jar, gently, one at a time, lower the jars into the pressure cooker. There should be about a half-inch between each jar; the water should reach about ½” from the top of the jar, add water if necessary. Place the top of the pressure cooker on and increase the burner temperature. When will steam start to escape from the valve with a whistling sound, allow boiling for approximately 5-10 minutes: turn off the heat. Leave the pressure cooker on the burner or heat source. WARNING: Do not loosen the top of the pressure cooker under any circumstances; you will be seriously burned if you open the pressure cooker. As it cools, you will hear each jar seal with a slight “popping” sound. After the pot is cool to the touch, it is safe to open the pot. Carefully remove the jars and seal the open jar rings tightly. Voila, you have just created canned peaches that will last for years.