Peach picking time is here! The first crop of the year is arriving at roadside fruit stands, farm markets, and grocery stores. The weather seems to have cooperated with perfect temperatures, enough rain, and ample sunshine to ensure a winning season. Preserving peaches by canning, freezing, or drying is the best way to extend the use of this popular fruit long after the harvest is over.
Select well-ripened peaches and handle carefully to avoid bruising. Use safe food handling practices before, during, and after preserving the fruit. Wash hands with soap and water. Wash all surfaces and utensils with soap and hot water, rinse, and air dry. Wash peaches by gently rubbing under cold running water, drain, and blot dry with paper toweling. If peaches are not used immediately, refrigerate at 40 degrees F or below until ready to preserve.
To prevent peaches from darkening, peeled and then cut fruit can be placed in ascorbic acid solution. To peel easily, dip peaches in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds until skins loosen. Then dip quickly in cold water and slip off skins.
Prepare for canning yellow peaches by first reviewing how to use a boiling water canner or pressure canner. Traditional yellow peach varieties can be processed by both methods in either halves or slices. Yellow peaches can be packed in water, apple juice, or white grape juice for canning or a very light, light or medium sugar syrup. Hot packs are recommended for best quality.
Canning white-flesh peaches is not recommended. The natural pH of white peaches can exceed 4.6 making them a low-acid food for canning purposes. Currently there is no low-acid pressure process available for white flesh peaches nor a researched acidification procedure for safe boiling water canning. Freezing is the recommended method of preserving white-flesh peaches.
Freezing peaches is easy, convenient, and less-time consuming than canning. Choose a sugar syrup, dry sugar, or unsweetened pack with halved, sliced, crushed, or puréed peaches. When ready to eat, sliced or halved peaches are best served partially thawed so that textural changes are not as noticeable from the effect of freezing on fruit tissue.
Sweet Peach Spreads and Condiments
Sweet spreads and syrups are a favorite way to preserve peaches. Jelled or thickened peach products include jellies, jams, preserves, conserves, and marmalades; most are preserved partially by their sugar content. Other products that are partially preserved by a high sugar content but not jellied include peach butter and peach honey. USDA recommendations include a reduced sugar peach-pineapple spread that can be made without adding sugar or optionally adding less sugar and canning it for room temperature storage. (It can also be frozen for storage.) Reduced sugar or no-sugar-added jam takes purchasing a special commercial pectin modified to gel with a reduced sugar content.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation website has some other offerings for home canned specialties that use peaches, such as peach salsa, chutney, several relishes, and pickled peaches.
Take advantage of the season to preserve some peaches for use throughout the year.