Canning Peaches in Light Syrup
As autumn's warmth turns cool and harvest is over, winter begins to make its first appearances in my hometown of northern Utah. Dry grass and leaves crunch underfoot with the first frosts and I remember the air being chilled and my breath visible when I waited for the bus as a child. These are the memories of seasons gone-by, as the glowing leaves are replaced by glowing fire; as night games in golden fields populated by straw bales are exchanged for cups of hot cocoa, novels, and snowsuits.
In my heart there exists a fondness for the days my mom would send us out to romp in the snow. She encouraged us to get out, to play king of the mountain atop the massive mounds of snow from clearing neighborhood driveways. My older brother and I (plus the neighbors, cousins, and later my younger siblings) would make snow tunnels on the north side of the house, build snowmen, and scream with delight while sledding downhill in the pasture, always afraid we'd glide too far or fast and land in the river (which is impossible). Laughter and play would last as long as we did, until our gloves were soaked through and our noses red with cold. And I tell you this story because it leads up to one of the most comforting foods of my childhood: canned peaches.
The coldest days of winter were the best days indoors when mom would present a bowl of peaches from one of her quart jars served with buttered toast for dunking/soaking up the leftover light syrup, followed by a mug of hot cocoa for warmth. Quarts of peaches and pears lined the shelves in the fruit room (known as a pantry to most), where all of her hard work from the summer and fall was lined up humbly for only the family to see. As a college student I pillaged that room and now that I've got the means to buy and preserve my own peaches you better bet I've done it.
With the help of mom, my sister and my favorite canning reference, The River Cottage Preserves Handbook, we used the recipe for light syrup when canning fruit on page 154 of the American edition and put up sixteen quarts and thirteen pints of peaches. First we blanched the peaches in boiling water for one minute, immediately transferring to a cold bath and easily sliding the skins off, and at the same time slicing the peaches in half and removing the pit. Mom suggested I might want to get fancy like women do for the fair and make my peaches "spoon each other." Attractive presentation can make or break your chances for a ribbon and reward.
The major issue/complaint with spooned peaches is trapped air. It was hard to wiggle out the bubbles and I almost feel better about canning quarters to ensure all the fruit is covered and that appropriate headspace is maintained. Below you can see quartered peaches on the left and halved peaches on the right.
Of course, this only used about 2/3 of the bushel...
What are the memorable foods of your childhood? I really would love to hear the stories...