Thursday, September 15, 2011

Peach butter

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Last week I was reminded that one of my goals for my second year of blogging is to make preserves, and that the time to preserve summer fruit is quickly running out. I've made preserves in the past but I never got around to it last summer, and I didn't want to miss my chance again this year. Luckily, I had a pretty free weekend with plenty of time for a couple canning projects. I decided to focus on peaches first and ended up choosing a peach butter recipe from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (in case you are wondering, this does not contain any actual butter - the "butter" in the name comes from the soft, smooth texture of the finished spread). It's a delicious spread with pure, summery peach flavor. Perfect stirred into yogurt or spread onto English muffins. I know these jars are going to be a real treat in the middle of winter!

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I know canning can be intimidating if you've never done it before, so I'm going to include fairly detailed information and instructions here. It is time consuming, but it's not difficult, and I encourage you to give it a try! I highly recommend the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving if you are interesting in canning - it has detailed information about how canning works, and hundreds of really great recipes for jams, salsas, sauces, relishes, pickles, fruit in syrup, condiments, and more.

The basic idea behind canning is that in order to keep food from spoiling, you need to make sure that it is free of microorganisms (bacteria, molds, yeasts), and that no microorganisms can get in. To do this, the filled jars are put in a boiling water bath long enough to kill any microorganisms that might be present. Then, when the jars are removed from the bath and cool down, gases are released from the jar, which creates a vacuum seal.

The boiling water sterilization method is only valid for high-acid foods (pH of 4.6 or lower). For low-acid foods, a pressure canner must be used to ensure safety. Because of this, be very, very careful if you want to alter a canning recipe. You need to make sure that the alterations do not change the acidity of the food.

One last note: make sure you use fresh, good-quality fruit. Cut out any bruised areas and do not use overripe fruit. 

Canning equipment:
1. Jars with flat lids and screw bands - I always buy regular mouth Ball Mason jars.
2. Canner - I don't have a real canner and just use a large stockpot.
3. Rack to keep the jars off of the bottom of the canner, allowing water to flow underneath the jars - I use the steamer rack from my rice cooker. Another idea is to tie a bunch of extra jar screw bands together until they cover the bottom of the pot.
4. Jar lifter - this is one thing that I recommend buying. A real jar lifter makes it much easier to get the hot jars out of the boiling water. You could try using tongs, but it's tricky (I speak from experience. A broken jar experience, to be specific).

That's all you need! Any other equipment (funnels, magnetic lid lifter, etc.) is strictly optional. Let me know if you have any questions!

Have you ever tried canning? What are your favorite things to preserve?

Peach butter
Adapted from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving 
Makes 2-3 pints

I cut down on the sugar in this recipe quite a bit (I did some research and determined that this is a safe modification to make) because I don't like fruit butter to be overly sweet. Also, it is a good idea to prepare 4 pint jars, just in case your yield is bigger than mine was.

4 1/2 pounds of peaches (this was 11 large peaches for me)
1/2 cup water
Grated zest and juice of one lemon
2 - 2 1/2 cups of sugar (if you want your peach butter to be very sweet, you can use up to 4 cups of sugar)

Special equipment: food mill (alternatively, you can use a food processor)

Before starting, wash your hands and any kitchen utensils that you are going to use (pots, tongs, etc.). Make sure you have a clean kitchen towel handy. Wash 4 pint jars (see headnote), lids, and screw bands in warm soapy water and then set them aside on a clean kitchen towel.

If you plan on using a food processor, peel the peaches (cut a cross into the bottom of each peach and drop them in boiling water for 30 seconds. The skins should come off easily after that). If you are using a food mill, you do not need to peel the peaches. Coarsely chop the peaches.

Combine the peaches, water, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat and boil gently until fruit is softened, about 20 minutes.

Working in batches, pass mixture through a food mill (I used the medium grate - note that this still left a bit of texture in the final butter, which I like) or process in a food processor until smooth. Do not liquefy. Measure 8 cups of peach puree (I only got 6 1/2 cups).

In a large clean saucepan, combine peach puree and sugar (If you got a full 8 cups of puree, use 2 1/2 cups of sugar. Use 2 cups of sugar if you got less than 8 cups). Stir to dissolve sugar. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently and skimming foam, until mixture thickens to a spreadable consistency (to test this, stick a small plate in the fridge until cold. Spoon a bit of the peach butter onto the cold plate and refrigerate for 1 minute before checking the consistency). This took about 1 hour for me.

While peach butter is cooking, place jars on the rack in the canning pot. Fill the canner and jars with water until the jars are full. Cover the pot and bring the water to a simmer (180 deg F). Turn off the heat and leave pot covered so that jars stay warm.

Also while peach butter is cooking, place the flat lids (not the screw bands) in a small saucepan, cover them with water and bring to a simmer (180 deg F). Do not boil the water. Turn off the heat and cover the saucepan to keep lids warm.

When peach butter has thickened to a spreadable consistency, fill the jars. Working one at a time, remove a hot jar from the canner and place it upside down on a clean kitchen towel to drain for about 30 seconds. Flip it over and carefully ladle hot peach butter into the jar, leaving 1/4 inch empty at the top. Run a plastic knife (not metal) around the inside surface of the jar to remove air bubbles. Removing bubbles may cause the volume of butter to change slightly, so if necessary, add a bit more butter so that only 1/4 inch remains empty at the top of the jar. Use a damp paper towel to carefully wipe the jar rim and screw threads to make sure that they are clean. Remove a lid from the saucepan and place it on the jar, making sure it is centered. Put on the screw band and screw until it is fingertip-tight. Repeat with the remaining jars. If the final jar is not fully filled, put the lid and screw band on and store it in the fridge - jars that are partially filled will not sterilize properly in the boiling water bath.

Place filled jars in the canner and add water to cover jars by at least 1 inch. Cover canner and bring water to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes, then turn off heat and remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars to a towel on a counter to cool.

After jars have cooled for 24 hours, check jar lids to make sure they are concave (curving downwards in the middle). If you press down on the center of the lid, there should be no movement. If you are still not sure of the seal, remove the screw band and lift the jar by the edges of the lid. The lid should stay firmly attached to the jar. If jars are properly sealed, label them with contents and date and store in a cool. dry place. If any jars are not properly sealed, refrigerate them and use within a couple weeks. 

3 comments:

  1. oooh this sounds so perfect to spread on warm bread!

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  2. Simply Life - yes, definitely! and I think it would be amazing on biscuits too

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  3. Making preserves is one thing that still kind of scares me but this peach butter looks so delicious! Not scary at all.

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