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Sunday, August 16, 2015

5 Ways to Preserve Peaches in a Weekend

Last week my husband came home with half a bushel of fresh organic peaches from a local Amish farm.  Since I am desperately trying to avoid getting fruit flies in my house this summer, and the peaches were good and ripe, we had this weekend to do something with them.

Before I get started, let me just say that the fruit flies were not my only competitors for these peaches!

#1 Steamed Peach Juice
I don't particularly like to can produce, but my husband loves doing it, so he brought up the enamel water bath canning pot and our steam juicer from the basement and decided to make some jelly and peach juice.  Be forewarned that canning makes for a messy kitchen, so my pictures will not be pretty or decorator-perfect.

After washing everything from our very rustic, spider-loving farmhouse cellar, he placed the canning jars in boiling water to sterilize.  All he had to do with the peaches was cut out the pits.  The rest of the peaches went into the top of the Mehu-Liisa stainless steel steam juicer.  There is water in the bottom section for the steaming, and the pure juice settles in the middle with a tube that hangs out of it and into your clean mason jars.  

Within about 30 minutes, there was enough steamed peach juice to start pouring it into the canning jars.  This is a little bit thicker than juice, so we actually use it as concentrate and mix it with water in a pitcher for drinking.  Once all the juice had been extracted from the peaches, my husband placed the lids and rings on the full canning jars and placed them in the boiling water in the enamel canner with the lid on for about 20 minutes.  He made 6 quarts of juice to put on the pantry shelves for the winter (actually 5 because we drank one already.)

#2 Peach Mint Jelly
In the meantime, my hubby had picked 2 cups of fresh chocolate mint leaves from the side of our house and had it steeping on the stove.  This made about 4 cups of a strong mint tea concentrate, but only 1/2 cup of it got used in the recipe.  The remainder was made into a pitcher of iced chocolate mint tea.  Once the peach juice was finished being steamed, he reserved 4 cups of it for the jelly.

Then the trusty old Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving was pulled off the bookshelf and opened to page 36.  We used the recipe for Mint Jelly, but altered it quite a bit.  My husband doesn't always measure ingredients, so to the best of my knowledge, the following recipe is what he made:

Peach Chocolate Mint Jelly
Make the mint tea extract with 1 cup of fresh chocolate mint and 1 cup of boiling water.  Let steep  for about an hour.  Measure out 1/2 cup of it and combine with 4 cups of peach juice and 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice in a large saucepot.  Add 3 cups of sugar and stir until dissolved.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly.  *Cook until gelling point or until jelly sheets from a spoon.  Ladle hot jelly into hot jelly jars and put on caps.  Put into the hot water bath canner and boil for 10 minutes.

*This made 2 full pints and 6 half-pint jars of "jelly."  I must be honest here and admit that I was out of the house buying more sugar and freezer bags while Hubby was making this.  It did not set up like jelly, which has happened to him before.  I suspect he disregarded the part of the recipe that says to "cook till gelling point."  We are using the jars of "jelly" as syrup for pancakes and waffles and ice cream instead.  By the way, any kind of mint could be used.  It just so happens that the chocolate mint has been prolific here this summer.

#3  Peach Sauce
After the juice and jelly were made, there were still plenty of peach parts left.  All the pulp and skins were dumped out of the steam juicer and into our Roma Food Strainer shown above.  These strainers are so easy to find now.  I googled them and discovered they're even sold at Target and Kohl's.  We bought ours years ago from the Lehman's catalog, along with all kinds of other homesteading supplies and kitchen tools.

Once we ran the peach parts through the food mill, we were left with delicious peach sauce---just like apple sauce.  It was a little tart, so it was a good thing I went out and bought more sugar because we ended up adding 2 cups of it, along with 1 Tablespoon of nutmeg and 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon.

This made over 3 gallons of peach sauce, and Hubby scooped it into large ziplock freezer bags.  They went into our chest freezer to add to our winter collection.  The children got to eat a bit too after dinner that night.  Any pits, skins, or other bits of peaches were given to our goats, sheep, and any chickens smart enough to be nearby.

#4  Frozen Sliced Peaches
After the hard work of steam juicing, jelly making, saucing, and canning was done, I came along and sliced up another portion of the half bushel to freeze.  My husband actually hates to do this because it requires peeling and slicing the fruit, which drives him insane with boredom.  I went through 1/8 of a bushel and put about 1 1/2 gallons of sliced peaches in the freezer for making pies and cobbler in the winter.  Sometimes I add lemon juice or Fruit Fresh to prevent any discoloring.  Other times I add a little bit of sugar.  This weekend, however, I added nothing.  I figure we'll be stirring sugar into any dessert or pastry recipe anyway, and once they're baked, you won't be able to notice the discoloration.

#5  Dried Peaches
Our final method of preservation is probably our favorite: dehydration.  Our Excalibur Food Dehydrator is the best at drying fruits, vegetables, and herbs in our opinion.  It's now even sold in the coolest preppy colors!  Who would have thought?  I will write another post on all the things you can do with one of these, but for now, I'll stick to peaches.  We simply peeled and sliced the peaches, and then placed them on the dehydrator trays.

Once the trays were full, we put the lid back on the front, plugged it in, and set the temperature to 135 degrees.  It takes between 8-16 hours to dry, depending on how thick the peaches are sliced and how humid it is in the house.  We used to dehydrate in the kitchen, but the juice sometimes seeps out the bottom, and the fan on the dehydrator makes the kitchen more hot, so we now do it in our spooky (aka "rustic")  basement.

Out of the dehydrator came these delicious dried peaches that the children love.  If they're kept in longer, they are crisp like chips.  These were more chewy and are not good for teens with braces, by the way.  They can also be re-hydrated by putting them in a container of water in the refrigerator all day. We placed these in quart-sized ziplock bags which were stored inside large metal tins in our cellar to keep the dampness out.  They take up far less space than canning jars and don't require the electricity that a freezer uses.  A full dehydrator fills about 4 quart bags.

{She probably looks like she just swallowed a lemon, but she was actually savoring last year's dehydrated peaches and apples while her daddy made juice.}

All in all, a half bushel of peaches yielded 1 1/2 gallons of frozen peaches, over a gallon of dried peaches, 5 pints of "jelly," 6 quarts of juice concentrate, and 3 gallons of peach sauce,  not to mention what we ate and shared with neighbors.  This was done in a weekend, but we really could have finished it up in a day.  However, we have other projects and events going on, so we spread it out a bit.

**I would love to hear about any methods of peach preservation that you use!  Either make a comment below or go to my new "Contact Me" page and send me an e-mail.

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