18 pounds of peaches, Unknown Quantities of Veggies, and 33 Mason Jars

My husband and I didn’t make our traditional grocery shopping list when we headed out to the farmers’ market at 7:00 a.m. We usually plan our meals and make the shopping list the night before so we’re armed with an attack plan and don’t get too suckered in by the piles of gorgeous vegetables, fruits, baked goods, and even wine! We head to the farmers’ market first to support local farmers and buy fresh regional produce before we head to our local grocery store to stock up on whatever else we might need that week, such as milk or yogurt. Every now and then when we’re at the farmers’ market, we buy something unexpected. Once, it was several beautiful blueberry bushes. This Saturday, we bought 18 pounds of peach seconds.

After working with 18 pounds of peaches, I remember why peaches are so much work (delicious work, but work). If you’re not familiar with what seconds are at the farmers’ market, seconds are produce that’s spoiled in some way that makes it sellable only at reduced prices. Sometimes they’re bruised or sampled by a zealous bird or have the shape of a misshapen troll’s head. These deformities make them unlikely to be purchased by anyone who isn’t an overly enthusiastic canner. Thus, seconds are a significantly cheaper alternative to buying fresh local produce to preserve and pack away into mason jars for later.

When I saw the stand of peaches, I marched right up to them, asked if they had seconds, and without any moment of hesitation on my part (my husband asks, somewhat alarmed, “Do you have time for this?” and cautions “don’t kill yourself canning this weekend”), I whip out my credit card and buy 18 pounds of peaches. As we’re walking back to the car with our box of peaches, me in sublime delight, we talked about what we’d turn the peaches into. Despite our love of peach jams and butters, we decide not to go that route because I still have so many spreads from the food in jars challenge. Peach salsa is a sure win; it certainly was delicious the last time I made it a couple of years ago, which is regrettably the last time I scored peach seconds.

It tastes as delicious as it looks.

On our next round through the farmers’ market where we buy our seasonal produce, I recall only vaguely that I need jalapeños and red onions to make it. So, I do what I always do in this circumstance and buy way more jalapeños and red onions than I need. Way more.

Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work for me to begin any steps of the canning process on Saturday, so I set aside a large swath of time to can, can, can the day away on Sunday. After weighing the peaches, I discovered I could make quite possibly more peach salsa than we’d want to eat. Unlikely, but possible. So, I flipped through my canning and food preservation books and tossed a couple of ideas out at my husband. He bit at Zesty Peach Barbecue Sauce and Peach Ginger Chutney. Additionally, because I’m only moderately crazy, I needed to do something with all the cucumbers and carrots from the garden as well as my August Food in Jars Mastery challenge, so I tossed a few more ideas out to him. He bit at Candied Carrot Relish and Vermont Maple Pickles.

Okay, maybe moderately crazy is moderately an understatement. 18 pounds of peaches. Five different canning recipes. One Sunday. One zealous homesteader.

I needed major organizational prowess to pull off this canning feat. I read and reread each recipe to figure out my plan of attack. And if you’re canning 18 pounds of peaches in five recipes, you need a plan of attack to reduce the amount of time you’re dithering about the kitchen trying to figure out what to do next.

My plan of attack to make the most of my time and assembly-line-it solo:

  1. Start the relish and the pickles, both of which had to sit for 2-6 hours in salted water.
  2. Chop everything needed for the barbeque sauce and the chutney
  3. Separate out the peaches needed for the chutney (that recipe was in pounds of whole fruit while the others were in cups)
  4. Start the canner and prepare jars
  5. Start blanching and the peaches to remove the skins for the barbecue sauce
  6. Cook the barbeque sauce
  7. Begin blanching the peaches for the chutney and prepping them
  8. Can and process the barbeque sauce
  9. Cook the peach ginger chutney
  10. Blanch and chop the peaches for the salsa and roughly calculate how many batches I can make of the salsa based on the fruit quantities I have
  11. Cut and dice and use the food process for the ingredients for the salsa
  12. Can and process the peach ginger chutney
  13. Cook peach salsa
  14. Can and process the peach salsa (unfortunately in two batches)
  15. Drain and cook the candied carrot relish while the last batch of peach salsa is being processed
  16. Can and process carrot relish
  17. Prep the pickles for processing
  18. Frantically reread everything about low temperature pasteurization
  19. Process the pickles using low temperature pasteurization
  20. Celebrate
Assembly line prowess:  cooking barbecue sauce while blanching peaches for other recipes

Also, cleaning happened repeatedly ad nauseum throughout the day. Either way, my plan of attack served me quite well. I managed all of that food processing nonsense in, I think, six hours. Maybe a little less. The results certainly look pretty, and I’m positive that all the effort is worth it. Still, spending so many hours canning produce has its drawbacks. The fatigue and pain I felt at the end of the day (thanks, fibromyalgia) certainly were unpleasant, and I felt moderately alarmed that at one point I had to send my husband out for more mason jars. I might have a problem. Of all the problems to have, though, zealous food preservation is not such a bad one.

I ended the day with 8 half pints and a quarter pint of barbecue sauce, five half pints and a quarter pint of peach ginger chutney, a dozen pint jars of peach salsa, three pints of a candied carrot relish, and three pints of Vermont maple pickles, the last of which I’ll write more about soon for the food in jars challenge.

The aftermath

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