Every summer since moving to the Front Range, I’ve happily anticipated the peach harvest from Palisade, Colorado, a stone fruit and grape mecca cultivated on the Western Slope. I have no qualms about stocking up on peaches while at the grocery store, but I prefer purchasing a box directly from friends connected to peach orchards because the peaches are more likely to be picked when they are close to peak ripeness (i.e. amazing texture and flavor), an impossible request to make of large grocery stores that need to keep their inventory longer than small farm stands.
This year a coworker’s children were fundraising for a school event by selling bushels and half bushels of peaches, and despite my impulse to go big or go home, I settled on a half bushel to avoid fruit spoilage before I could find uses for the haul. There are only so many hours in the day when working full-time and caring for a toddler. I also like sleep. Sleep is amazing.
My family canned fruits and vegetables during my childhood, but my first home canning experiment happened several years ago when I was living in central Texas and had plenty of unstructured time on my hands. Cameron and I canned tomatoes and beans and made nectarine jam that summer in Austin, all goods that held up well, though the jam separated a little from pectin and didn’t look as snazzy. This summer I decided I would have a go at peach preserves with a focus on creating a more uniform appearance. (That first time around I did not constantly stirring the fruit and pectin while they were cooking and ended up with some separation. Newbie move that taught me the importance of a good, consistent stir.)
“Operation Palisade Peach Preserves” commenced as soon as Alice went down for her nap. She’s been a solid afternoon napper, so I knew I had at least two hours to accomplish the majority of the prep and canning work. After blanching the peaches, setting them in an ice bath, and removing their skins, I removed pits and chopped the fruit before setting to work on the recipe provided below. (if you’re unfamiliar with blanching, cut an “x” over the skin at the bottom of the peach and place in a big pot of boiling water for about 2 minutes or until the skin starts to loosen where you’ve “x”ed.)
What I had not calculated in my mission was how high altitude drastically slows down the boiling process. Water here really can take what feels like FOREVER to boil. I attempted to boil a large stockpot of water on the stove for over a half hour. Cameron finally broke out his industrial-sized propane burner, and we had the water boiling in minutes outside.
You need a good rolling boil both to sterilize the jars and lids and then later to process the jars you’ve used for preservation, so be sure that you account for any water boiling point issues before you decide to can.
By the time the sterilization was underway, Alice had awakened and was curious about all the fun we were having without her and wanted desperately to be underfoot as we handled burning hot metal and glass. I managed to get a minor burn on my hand while fishing out sterilized jar lids from the steaming pot, but considering all the moving parts involved in home canning while a toddler spontaneously attached to my leg and begged to be picked up, I’d say we did alright.
If you’re interested in home canning but are worried about giving your loved ones botulism (and if you’re not at least mildly concerned about giving a pretty fruit-filled jar of botulism to your parents, you’re a monster.), read up on canning basics here, and know that the key to well-preserved food in jars is using fresh food, sterilizing your preservation materials, and processing the filled jars the appropriate time to murder every last little bad bacteria.
You can do this. And if you start with something simple like jam or preserves, you will have few ingredients to prep, so you can focus on sterilization until those steps become intuitive and you move on to fancy sauces and such. I have already given a few jars of these peach preserves to friends, and no one has reported ill effect. I’ll take that as “Operation Palisade Peach Preserves” success.
If you’re not ready to enter the world of home canning but still have a load of peaches to savor, try them in ice cream, a simple tart, a memorable pie, a rustic custard galette, or a jam-like filling for these crumb bars.
Palisade Peach Preserves
Makes 12 half-pint jars
– 8 cups fresh peaches, peeled and chopped (be sure to blanch as directed above)
– 1/2 cup lemon juice
– 2 packages of powdered pectin
– 8 cups sugar
– 12 half-pint jars (I did a mix of 8 oz (half-pint) and 4 oz jars.)
1. In a large stock pot, combine peaches, lemon juice, and pectin. Bring to a boil over high heat until bubbles form over surface, stirring constantly. Add sugar and boil for an additional minute, constantly stirring. Remove from heat. If foam has developed on the surface, skim it off.
2. Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in a large stockpot. Using tongs, transfer lids, rings, and jars to water and boil for 5 minutes. Remove, using tongs, and let drain on towel.
3. Fill sterilized jars with hot preserves, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace at the top of each jar. Place lids on jars and secure until tight. Don’t over tighten. Wipe sides of jars clean, and process in boiling water for 5 minutes. (At 5,300 feet above sea level here, I needed to process for 20 minutes.) Once jars have cooled, double check that the lid are secure lids, and then store in cool, dark place for up to a year.