Kasey Christian, M.Ed.
Project Assistant at the National Center for Home Food Preservation
There’s nothing quite like biting into a fresh Georgia peach in July, or your own local peaches in season, but preserving those peaches comes close, and reminds you of sweet summertime even in the middle of winter. Peaches are a versatile, acid food that can be preserved by a variety of methods: canning, freezing, drying, and even as a relish, salsa, or sweet spread. For the highest quality preserved peach products, use ripened fruit of ideal eating quality. Do not use overripe, bruised, or spoiling fruit.
If you are new to home canning, then please read Guide 1: Principles of Home Canning in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning. This publication will give you a great starting point to begin your practice, and will likely prove to be a helpful resource as you continue canning. Also please review a brief description of Equipment and Methods Not Recommended.
To maintain optimum color and flavor of your peaches, it is recommended that you use an ascorbic acid solution of 3 grams ascorbic acid to 1 gallon of water as a pre- treatment before filling jars. 3 grams of ascorbic acid equals one level teaspoon of pure powdered ascorbic acid or six 500-milligram Vitamin C tablets. If using a commercially prepared mixture with ascorbic acid, follow manufacturer’s directions. Making sugar syrup will further help your fruit to retain flavor, color, and shape. A chart in Syrups for Canning Fruit displays measurements for syrups ranging in sweetness from very light to very heavy. A very light syrup approximates the natural sugar level in many fruits and contains 6½ cups water to just ¾ cups sugar (about 10% sugar), while a very heavy syrup contains equal parts water to sugar (about 50% sugar).
While creativity in the kitchen sometimes leads to delicious new flavor and texture combinations, when it comes to preserving food it is best to follow tested recipes and procedures to ensure the safety and quality of your products. Peaches are an acid food, so you do not have to worry about botulinum toxin if you use good food selection and processing practices, but acid foods provide environments ripe for the growth of molds, yeasts, and some bacteria.
Here are a few tested procedures from USDA and the National Center for Home Food Preservation for canning peaches that will prevent the growth of these spoilage microorganisms, if followed properly.
Peaches may be prepared for freezing by making a syrup pack, a sugar pack, or crushing/pureeing. There are also a few more options for unsweetened packs. Similar to canning recommendations, ascorbic acid is recommended to increase the quality of your peach product. However, unlike in canning, ascorbic acid is not used as a pre-treatment, but instead you will add it into the fruit mixture before packaging.
Sliced, quartered, or halved are all acceptable ways to cut your peaches for drying, but remember that the thicker the fruit, the longer it will take to fully dry. Evenly cut and sized pieces will also dry more consistently in the same time. Drying time ranges from 36 to 48 hours for halved fruits in a dehydrator, and will be shorter for slices. Also influencing drying time is whether skins are left on or cut off. Using a pretreatment on your peaches will help maintain best quality, and there are several pretreatment options to choose from: sulfuring, steaming, syrup blanching, ascorbic acid solution, ascorbic acid mixture, fruit juice dip, or sulfite dip. Detailed information about these pretreatments can be found in the University of Georgia publication Preserving Food: Drying Fruits and Vegetables, where you will also find instructions for rehydrating peaches.
Not exactly peach relish, and not exactly tomato relish, Oscar Relish contains equal quantities of peaches and tomatoes for a sweet and savory combination. Sweet peppers, onions, brown sugar, cider vinegar, pickling spice, and a hot pepper add even more depth to this deliciously flavorful recipe.
Peach Apple Salsa
Another fan favorite is Peach Apple Salsa, which adds apples to a mix of tomatoes, onions, peppers, spices, vinegar, sugar, and of course, peaches. Give it a try!
From a classic version of Peach Jam to a unique Reduced-Sugar Peach-Pineapple Spread, there is no shortage of options for preserving peach spreads. The procedure for Peach-Orange Marmalade adds a tangy citrus note to the sweet flavor of peaches, while Ginger-Peach Jam brings a hint of spice. Another option for a traditional Peach Jam: make it with liquid pectin.
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