In the meantime, I have loads of small, almost-ripe fruit from the broken branch that I need to use immediately before I saw it off. I thought about batches and batches of peach jam; I thought about pickled peaches; I thought about chutney. I'm still thinking about all of those things because I have so many peaches, but paging through Linda Ziedrich's The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves brought me where I needed to be right now: canned whole peaches. Her recipe calls for brandy and a vanilla bean. True to my own form, I kept the vanilla bean and swapped in bourbon for brandy. I've made two batches—that's ten quarts—already.
The result is wonderful, an adult canned peach that yes, you could eat with cottage cheese or yogurt, but you can also serve it with a dense poundcake, or with panna cotta, or ice cream. You could make tapioca pudding elegant with these. You could dump a whole quart including its syrup into a pitcher half full of ice, add another generous glug of liquor, and a bottle of white wine, topping with club soda. Or, how about this? Dump a quart into a pitcher of strong chilled tea. Add ice. What a sweet tea that would be!
Sorry, Eva's Pride. Next spring I'll take better care of you. But for now, your pity party is, for me, a real party.
Bourboned Peaches with Vanilla Bean
The recipe is from Ziedrich's The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves, but the detailed directions are mine. Usually, when writing up a preserving recipe, I direct readers towards the USDA website on home preservation for canning directions, but this time, I thought I'd write it all out. Phew. The directions make the process seem harder than it is. It isn't hard, it just takes time and attention to detail. And these peaches, in my book, are well worth it.
You will need:
7 1/2 pounds small (2 inch diameter or smaller) peaches
1 lemon, quartered
6 cups sugar
6 cups water
1 vanilla bean
1 2/3 cup bourbon
5 sterilized quart jars, rings, and fresh lids
Water bath canning kettle, rack, and jar lifter
Large slotted spoon
Large pyrex measuring cup
To make the peaches:
Fill your largest pot three-quarters full with water and bring it to boil. While you're waiting for it to boil, rinse off your peaches, set them aside, place an empty colander in the sink, and prepare a cooling bath. I have a split sink, so I filled one side of the sink with cold water to create a cooling bath. Once the water is boiling, place half of the peaches in the boiling water. Once the water returns to a boil, start timing. After one minute, drain the peaches in the empty colander in the sink, then place the hot peaches in the cooling bath. This loosens the skin so it slips right off, saving you a lot of time. Refill your pot and repeat with the remaining half of the peaches. As the second pot comes to a boil, slip the skins off the peaches and place the naked peaches in a large bowl. Occasionally squirt a slice of lemon over the growing pile of peaches to keep their color bright. Once you're repeated the process for the second half of your peaches, slip the skins off those as well and place them in the big bowl o' peaches. Compost the skins.
Prepare your workspace for canning. Line the counter where you'll place the jars with a couple layers of dishtowels. Place the lids in an empty bowl in the work area (you'll fill the bowl with hot water later). Have the slotted spoon, jar funnel, and large pyrex measuring cup nearby.
Wash out your big pot and place it back on the stove. Also, fill your water bath canning kettle with water and place it over high heat to get it ready to seal the quart jars. In the big pot, place the sugar and the water. Turn the heat to medium-high. With a sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise, then use the edge to scrape out the beans. Scrape the beans into the big pot, and add the split bean, too. Stir occasionally and bring the mixture to a boil. Once the mixture boils, bring it down to a simmer.
Place a dozen or so peaches into the simmering syrup and heat the fruit through for a couple minutes. Carefully, using the slotted spoon, remove the peaches from the syrup, place them in the measuring cup, and use the jar funnel to pour them into the jars. Repeat until you've simmered all of the peaches in the syrup and placed them in the jars. Make sure to not overfill the jars; fruit shouldn't extend beyond the bottom edge of the screw ring.
The water in the water bath canning kettle should be nearing a boil by this point. Ladle a scoop or two of hot water from the kettle over the lids in the bowl. The hot water will soften the seal, preparing them for the canning process.
Pour the lemon and peach juices that have collected in the large bowl into the jars, spreading it as evenly as possible among the five jars. Pour the bourbon into the measuring cup, and using the measures as a guide, pour approximately the same amount of bourbon into each of the jars. Fill the measuring cup with the hot syrup, and pour the syrup into the jars, filling to the bottom of the screw ring. You may, as I did, have extra syrup. That is no loss: mix it with ice and soda water in a large glass to sip on and cool yourself as you deal with the steamy water bath canner.
Use a knife or chopstick to insert and swirl around the full jars, releasing any trapped air. To help seals set, wipe the rim of each jar clean with a clean towel. Lift the lids carefully from the hot water and place one one each jar. Screw on the rings finger tight.
Lift the lid of the water bath canner and insert the rack. Carefully place the jars in the rack and set the rack down in the canning kettle. Make sure there is at the very least an inch of water covering the tops of the jars. Place the lid back on the canning kettle.
Begin timing once the water returns to a boil. Boil for 25 minutes. Once the 25 minutes have passed, turn off the heat and remove the lid. Using mits to protect your hands, carefully lift the rack and hang it on the edges of the pot.
It is quite likely that the jars will spit and hiss; this is called siphoning, and it happens when there is a great difference between the temperature and pressure inside the jar and that outside the jar. Proceed anyway, just carefully. Use your jar lifter to remove each jar from the water bath. Be careful not to knock the rims of the jars in any way. Place the jars on the towel-lined work surface, at least an inch apart. Once you set the jars down, don't touch them. Leave them there until they are completely cool, at least 12 hours.
Once the jars have cooled, check the seals. If a jar hasn't sealed, it isn't the end of the world. You can either reprocess it, or—as I usually do—place it in the refrigerator to use soon. It is likely the jars will be sticky with syrup released in the canning process or through siphoning. Remove the rings and wash the now-sealed jars. You do not need to replace the rings. Store the jars in a temperate, dark place.
There you go. You've canned peaches! Look at you! Be proud of yourself as you've made something very good.