Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: Peaches are ripe for canning

Canned, made into jam, cobblers, frozen or fresh, peaches are a versatile summertime treat

Peaches are  one of Canadians’ favourite fruits and are at the peak of their season right now.

I’ve been canning, jamming, and making preserves all week from the fruit ripening on my own tree. Peaches can be dried, canned, frozen, grilled, baked, made into jams, jellies, and preserves, used as fillings for desserts, and used as an ingredient in many other dishes, from appetizers to entrées. When shopping for peaches, choose fragrant fruits which are unblemished and not overly firm. Fresh peaches are highly perishable, so don’t buy more than you plan to use within that week. If peaches are picked too early they will shrivel instead of ripening and it’s good to realize that the sweetness does not increase after picking, so tree-ripened fruit is always the tastiest.

Blanching peaches for a minute in boiling water then plunging into cold water is the preferred method for easy peeling. Peaches discolour quickly when exposed to the air, so should be sprinkled with lemon, lime juice, or a fruit “keeper” to retain the fresh colour.  Now is the time to enjoy fresh peaches with waffles, pancakes, and French toast. Enjoy them fresh right now but also preserve peaches for the winter months. Canning and freezing peaches is not a difficult task.

Today my recipes are for making peach  fillings for pies, dumplings, cobblers, crisps, cheese cakes etc. and the frozen recipe is really handy for putting together a delicious pie come winter.

Homemade Canned Peach Pie Filling

24 cups peaches, peeled and sliced (about 15 pounds)

Fruit Fresh powder

2-3/4 cups sugar

1-3/4 cups packed brown sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. finely grated orange zest

1 tbsp. vanilla

1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise (or substitute vanilla extract)

2 -1/2 cups water

1 cup lemon juice

1 -1/2 cups cornstarch

Allow sliced peaches to sit in large bowl to release juices; sprinkle generously with fruit fresh and stir to insure complete coverage.

Combine the sugars, cinnamon, orange zest, vanilla, and water in a large stock pot or Dutch oven.

Scrape seeds from the vanilla bean into the pot, add vanilla bean as well. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture begins to bubble.

In a small bowl mix the cornstarch with the lemon juice. Add lemon juice mixture to the sliced peaches, stir well. Remove vanilla bean from the pot. Then add peaches to dutch oven, stirring carefully for about 5 minutes or until thickened.

While mixture is still warm, spoon into jars, leaving 1 inch of head space. Place lid and ring on the jar and tighten it down. Wipe jars clean and process in a water bath canner for 30 minutes. After jars have been processed, let them cool on a wire rack in a draft-free place overnight. Once the jars have cooled, verify that they have sealed properly by pressing down on the centre of the lid. If it pops up and down, it has not sealed. Jars that have not sealed can be reprocessed or can be put into the refrigerator for more immediate use. Recipe makes about 7 quarts of pie filling.

Freezeable peach pie filling

12 cups fresh peaches (peeled and sliced, pits removed)

Fruit Fresh powder

1-1/2 cups sugar

1 tbsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. cinnamon (optional)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup brown sugar

5 -6 tbsp. tapioca (dry)

Slice peaches and sprinkle generously with Fruit Fresh to prevent browning. Mix with 1-1/2 cups sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, and vanilla in large pot. Bring to boil, and add brown sugar and tapioca. Boil again for 1 minute. Remove from heat and cool. Divide into thirds. Each portion yields 1 pie.

Transfer each third to a 9-inch foil-lined pie plate. Cover with another piece of foil and freeze immediately to prevent peaches from discolouring. Once frozen solid, remove peaches from pie plate, with foil, and transfer to a zip-lock plastic bag for later use.

When ready to use, line a pie plate with prepared crust and place frozen peaches on top. Thaw only at room temp, do NOT use the microwave to thaw. Add top crust and bake in a preheated oven at 450 degrees F on the bottom rack for 20 minutes. Lower heat to 350 degrees F and continue baking for another 30 to 35 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown and pie is heated completely through.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every Wednesday and one Sunday per month.