It’s harvest time. Well, it’s harvest time for most other people. My own meager harvest is battling against the risk of early frost which is no immediate risk with 9 days straight in the high 20’s or low 30’s and more heat to come. But the farmers around us are in harvest mode and our co-op is in hardcore produce mode too. Yesterday saw me picking up 60 cobs of corn (ok, so I left 30 at my friends house which they kindly dropped off at a half way point at 9 this morning), 6 cauliflowers, 10kgs of white nectarines, 10kgs of peaches and 2 kgs of blueberries. Their house looked like a very selective fruit sellers and smelled amazing too as they were bottling peaches when I arrived. My house now smells the same. Yum.
Hence, insanity struck last night. With a glut of beans offered to me for sale I topped and tailed then chopped up several bunches of beans, blanched and froze them, then 6 cauliflowers received the same treatment after being carefully de-caterpillared *shudder*. I fell into bed sometime not long after 11. This morning I woke at ridiculous o’clock (sorry Fran but 3:35 is an insane time to wake and 3:55 is no improvement for a get up and dressed time either. After some ‘sit like a vegetable, read emails and wake up a bit’ time I got stuck into peeling the corn. Again I discovered caterpillars. Bleuch! Once they were done I hit the peaches with a peeler before the arrival of one small and very talkative daughter came out and joined me. Yes, she takes after her mother. 😉 I had time to start filling jars before the inevitable “I’m hungry” breakfast gong sounded, by which time I had been joined by an ever so slightly less talkative elder son so I retrieved the quietest family member from his cot, fed them, filled the Fowlers Vacola with peaches and got it running, jammed the kids in the car and off we went for my meeting for the corn. We had finished and were on our way home again by 9am. A short visit to the Ballan Farmers market for a few supplies and then back home again. I’m exhausted and it’s just gone 10am!
Tis the season though when fruits and vegetables reach ripeness. The time when preserving must be done to capture that peak nutrition and peak colour. Over ripe fruits don’t bottle as well and won’t last as long and underripe ones lack taste and in the instance of fruits, sweetness. I like to bottle in water rather than syrup as my kids all react poorly to sugar and we are a 99% sugar free house. We do use rapadura (or jaggery as it’s also known) which is dried sugarcane juice but it hasn’t been spun to change its shape, hasn’t had the molasses and mineral salts removed (the good stuff) and it hasn’t been bleached either. It looks a lot like brown sugar but brown sugar is just white sugar with molasses added back in. Rapadura has an amazing deep caramel flavour and is a little more textured but I don’t like the syrup it makes for bottling. It’s not as aesthetically pleasing and it has left a sediment in some of my jars. So, I bottle in water when and wherever possible which means I really want that peak sweetness.
So, I think it’s time I shared a “how to” on bottling. I highly recommend reading other blogs and also official web pages or the Fowlers Vacola books before embarking on your bottling adventure. The more knowledge you have the better you can judge what to do.
So, how to bottle peaches.
First things first, check your equipment. I often fail to do this and run short on rings or lids. It can be very difficult to bolt out to grab supplies in the middle of bottling and nigh on impossible with 3 young kids so do as I say, not as I do. 😉 This time around I’ve just bought a whole lot more lids, rings and bottles (mostly 2nd hand) so I knew I had the supplies I needed. The jars need to be clean and sterile so you can either boil them (you would need to look up the times for that), put them in the oven (again, you’d need to check what temperature and for how long or, as I did this morning at 4:30 am, load them in the dishwasher and run them through at the highest temperature possible. Our dishwasher has an intensive run (65C) to which I added the sanitise option. Leave them in the dishwasher with the door closed whilst you prepare your fruit.
Take your peaches, peel if you prefer. I have left the skins on most of mine but these peaches are just on the edge of being nice and ripe and hence they’re still quite firm. I’m able to peel them with a potato peeler, rather than cutting a cross in the end, blanching in boiling water for 30-60 seconds then plunging into icy water for the same time. The skins will usually come off although I rarely bother going to that effort. In this case though the peeler is working a treat and I can read blogs or watch a movie whilst I peel. Multitasking at its best. 😉 Once your peach is peeled, cut it in half and remove the pit or stone. You can bottle them as peach halves, peach quarters or peach slices. It’s totally up to you and dependent on how you use them. I’m slicing this time as I have apricot halves and nectarine quarters. And I felt like it this morning anyway. 🙂
If I remember I put the rings in warm water to soak before I start slicing peaches and the lids need to be sterilised too. I usually just fill a bowl with boiling water and plonk them in that. Just remember that the water IS boiling though when you go to get a lid out. Yes, I’ve done that many times before, this morning included. I find it easiest to put the rings around the bottles before filling them but afterwards is fine too. Make sure there are no twists in your rings. I gently flick them down with my thumb if they’re twisted when they go on.
Fill your jars.
Once they’re full to a bit under the rim – about 1-2cm from memory (yeah, I make these things up as I go along which is why I’m an unreliable (at best) “how to” person. Do NOT rely just on my instructions, please!) then fill them with boiling water or your syrup. If you’re using syrup you need to prepare it before the slicing part too. once your bottles are filled, put on the sterile lid (without burning yourself on the sterilised lids, their water or the now boiling hot jars of syrup/water and peaches) then put on the clip. Fowlers Vacola lids will not stay on the jar until after processing without the clip. They’re not screw on or press down, that’s the job of the clip. Make sure it’s properly in place then put your jars in the water bath unit. Once it’s full (don’t cram your jars in, make sure they have a little wriggle room) then put in some cold water. Watch that you don’t overfill it and end up with water either pouring or boiling out of the thermometre hole. Turn on your heat, lid on your unit and take a break or prepare more jars. The temperature needs to reach 100C and stay there for an hour. Once it’s done, turn off the heat and in best case scenario, let it rest and cool in there. If not, remove the bottles carefully. There are specific tongs you can get but I hate them. I’ve heard that the Ball mason jar lifters are better to use but I’ve not tried them. If I’m really struggling with using the tongs I grab my washing up gloves and work using them and the tongs. Do NOT lift the bottles by the clips or lid as it can damage the seal. Also, do NOT put your still hot jars on a cold bench, board or anything. I put a tea-towel, folded once down first. Even if they’re cool, it’s prudent.
Once your bottle have sat, undisturbed and not touching each other for 24-48 hours (I leave them 48 as that’s how long it usually takes me to get back to them) you can slide the clips off. Lift your bottle by the lid with your other hand ready to catch and see if the seal is set. If the lid comes off, pop it in the fridge for immediate use. If not, you’ve just bottled your first peaches. 😀
Nectarines, pears, plums, apricots and any other stone fruit I have forgotten is no different. You may need to peel or core but there is no difference in the bottling. Tomatoes require a little more as many modern tomato varieties are low acid and hence need a little extra acidic help so add some lemon juice or vinegar. Again, please google this or check out bottling books for amounts as it differs per bottle size. And the final disclaimer, do NOT bottle vegetables. Veggies, like beans and corn etc don’t contain sufficient acid to preserve them safely. If you have a pressure canner (not a pressure cooker) then you can safely preserve vegetables in bottles (the Fowlers Vacola bottles work with pressure canning too) but otherwise, please stick to blanching or dehydrating. I have a pressure canner so the chick peas, soups, meat stocks and vegetables that I put into bottles are all pressure canned and hence, safe. Botulism is not something you want to run risks with.
Well, as I finish typing this (after breaks to deal with the kids, feed and water the chooks and grab a bite to eat) the first round of peaches are ready. I will let them cool for a bit whilst I finish peeling these peaches and then it’s on to round 2.