Preserving the Sweet Tastes of Summer
Liz Falk is co-director of the 7th Street Garden and Markets and EBT Coordinator at FRESHFARM Markets
Last week I visited Toigo Farm and Orchard for work. While I was given a tour of the farm in an open air jeep, snacking on the freshest of the fresh as it was handed to me, my dog Vida ran around chasing rabbits and deer under the rows of fruit trees. (I know. I have one of the best jobs in DC!) This isn't the first orchard I have visited, but they are all unique and edifying. I saw the many varieties of white peaches, yellow peaches, mango peaches, plums, pluots, and nectarines all in different stages of producing, some early season trees already void of fruit while other late season varieties just beginning to ripen. I saw pears and tasted my first apple of the season - a tart gala, just almost ready for market.
Two days before my visit one of many hailstorms of the season had devastated a huge part of the farm, leaving pea size holes in dozens of crates of peaches and tomatoes. Unlikely to sell the bruised fruit at market, owner Mark Toigo donated what he could to food banks, and gladly loaded my station wagon with all he could fit. As Vida and I drove back to the city, my car smelling like an orchard, I considered all I would make…
I had wanted to can all season but hadn’t made the time. Today was the day. I knew I had dozens of jars since I preserved last summer and had eaten most of it since then, but I stopped by the store to get onions, garlic, peppers, cilantro, vinegar, salt, sugar and other necessary ingredients. Luckily, I knew a few friends wanted to learn so I called them to come over and help. My plan was to make peach chutney, peach butter, peach salsa, tomato sauce, and tomato salsa. Anything leftover I would freeze (in the chest freezer I got from Craigslist for $50 last summer), give to neighbors, and donate to Miriam’s Kitchen.
Recommended, but not necessary depending on what you’re making
Large canning pot and lid (You can use a pressure cooker, which makes the process a bit quicker
Jars – can be re-used over and over again
Lids – you need buy new every time
Crock pot* (for peach butter)
First off, it’s best to use the freshest ingredients possible. While of course we can’t always get crates of local food handed to us, the freshest produce can be found at your closest farmers market, where the fruit is always vine-ripened and picked less than 24-hour before. Since you’ll be cooking your fruit before canning it, it doesn’t need to be in perfect shape and you can sometimes buy seconds or bruised fruits at the farmers markets for less money.
Here’s the step-by-step ‘how to’ on peach salsa:
- Sterilize your canning jars either by running them through a dishwasher or putting them in the hot water bath for 10 minutes
- Boil water in the canning pot so it’s ready when jars are filled
- Blanching peaches to remove skin
a. In a separate pot, add peaches to boiling water for ~2 minutes
b. Move peaches to an ice water bath for ~2 minutes
c. Skin should peel off easily
- 6 cups peaches - diced
1 1/4 cups red onion - chopped
4 jalapeno pepper – chopped (optional)
1 red pepper - chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
3 cloves garlic - finely chopped
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- Mix all together and simmer for 5 minutes in a big pan
- Pack into hot, sterilized jars, leaving a half-inch of room at the top of the jar
- Process in a boiling water bath with the lid on for 10 minutes
- Remove from bath and let cool on top of a towel on the counter. Check lids for seal. The middle of the lid should not flex up and down when pressed. If the lid does pop up and down, reprocess the jar or keep in the fridge and eat within a week.
You can always double the recipe but be sure to keep the ingredients proportions the same. The acidity levels of jars are how the fruit is preserved properly, so measurements of all ingredients are very important.
It might sound like I’m a pro at this, but I assure you I’m not! Canning is far easier than you might expect. There are tons of great resources, both online and in books. As long as you are willing to put in the time, have a couple necessary pieces of equipment and closely follow the recipes, canning is safe, simple and well worth the time to be able to enjoy homemade peach salsa in January, made with local fruit
A listing of DC area farmers markets http://www.pickyourown.org/allaboutcanning.htm