This autumn, I had the opportunity to learn about canning from friend and fellow Russian River Valley Girls member Mary Radu. On their property, Mary and her husband, Rich, have a small vineyard they planted the same time as ours, three years ago, as well as ninety peach trees, some apple trees and a large vegetable garden. I told her I would help her out in the garden if she helped me learn the basics of canning. Mary is a great organizer and made a point of getting together everything we needed to make and can peach jam. Lots of bowls, pots, knives and plenty of sugar. First, we blanched the peaches in boiling water to remove the skin and cut out all the bumps, bruises and bugs before dicing them into small bits.
Our next step was to cook the peaches with lots of sugar and some fruit pectin to help the mixture gel. Mary taught me that there are two different types of canning: hot pack and cold pack. In hot pack canning, the food is cooked before going into the jars, like jellies and jams. In cold pack, food, like pickles, goes into the jar cold. Both are put through a hot water bath to cook the contents and seal the jars.
Mary was given this awesome spoon as a gift years ago. It has come in so handy when cooking huge pots of fruit. This stuff gets heavy and needs a hearty instrument to get things mixed up well.
Steaming has changed over the years. I remember my mom having a great big blue pot with little white spots, filled without about a million gallons of hot boiling water in which the jars were set and a lid placed on top. It always looked very dangerous. The new steaming canner, on the left, turns the old process literally upside-down. The jars sit in a shallow pan with about two inches of water and covered with a large lid. The steam builds up inside to seal the jars. You have to be careful removing the lid to direct the built-up steam away from you, but it's way easier than lifting heavy, hot jars out of all that just-boiled water.
Mary was very adamant about cleanliness. Even the smallest amount of bacteria can destroy a beautifully sealed jar of food. The jars and rings can be reused every season. They are washed well and then doused in boiling water.
The lids can only be used once for canning. The rubber gaskets on the lids make them impossible to guarantee a sterile seal for a second canning.
This is our first batch of sealed jars from the steamer. We covered the hot jars with a towel to keep away any errant breezes. Cool air would cause the jars to break. Canning is NOT for the faint of heart!
Mary is a busy woman: she's a certified life coach and philanthropy consultant. But she took time out of her busy schedule to be a canning coach to me. It was interesting, educational and a lot of fun on a beautiful September day. I got to take home the knowledge she shared with me as well as some darned good-tasting peach jam. Thanks, Mary!