Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 23, 2010

Rebecca Lindamood: Hot days of canning

By Rebecca Lindamood, Local columnist

---- — It's true what they say; there are very few things in life that are certain. The sure bets are death, taxes and the fact that everyone else in the household will suddenly have to use the toilet urgently the second you shut the bathroom door behind yourself.

I have one more item for the inevitability category. When produce is coming on great guns and it's time to give the canner its annual stress test, it is going to be the hottest stretch of weather in memory. The bushel of peaches arrives on a day that is 95 degrees with 75 percent humidity. Naturally. The first ripe tomatoes hang off their vines just begging to be stuffed into jars with basil leaves in the middle of a week of record-breaking temperatures. Who would expect any less?

As a veteran canner, I'm resigned to it. I replay the fable of the ant and the grasshopper to buck myself up while bending over the pot blanching tomatoes and peaches to remove their skins more easily. I picture myself grabbing a jar of homemade salsa from my pantry shelves in mid-February and being grateful that I sweated myself into a puddle in mid-August. I remember delivering festive jars of homemade summer fruit jam to neighbors at Christmas in the swirling snow while I'm stirring a boiling jam pot.

The truth is that I love canning season. Putting food away for the winter connects me to generations of my family who have done the same thing. Going down to the basement and seeing shelves lined with the literal fruits of my labor makes me feel wealthy. It gives me a sense of security; the knowledge that we have sustenance handy no matter what weather comes our way.

The boys love canning season for their own reasons. With their mother distracted by timers and pressure canners and jars, they take advantage of the extra freedom. They have taught themselves to scale the insides of doorframes, to leap from the porch rails and, inexplicably, to disco. They also started their own business this summer. Impressively, the boys worked as a team to make garden sculptures and room and linen sprays to sell at our local farmers market. Even more impressive is the fact that more than 500 people have purchased their wares.

Another benefit to canning is being able to take advantage of inexpensive seasonal produce to line your larder. Peaches are mighty inexpensive right now and there are many options for storing them for later usage. Canned or frozen peaches are delicious and handy, but get creative with them, too. Peach sauce is fantastic over vanilla ice cream. Don't confine your peachy efforts to the sweet camp, though. Fragrant, sweet and tart peaches are a wonderful pairing for meat in savory dishes. Peach chutney and salsa add distinction and a punch of flavor to main dishes.

Peach Salsa is a staple accompaniment to pork or fish in our house. And if you're so inclined, a late-night snack of peach salsa and tortilla chips really satisfies a salty/sweet tooth!

Peach Salsa

½ c. cider vinegar

6 c. pitted, peeled, chopped peaches

1¼ c. chopped sweet or yellow onion

4 hot peppers, stems removed, finely minced (Use whichever hot peppers suit your heat tolerance.)

½ c. chopped cilantro

2 T. honey

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1½ t. ground cumin

½ cayenne pepper

Optional, 1 red or green bell pepper,seeded and chopped

Prepare your canner, jars and lids by sterilizing with boiling water.

Combine vinegar and peaches in a large, non-reactive (stainless steel, enamelware or glass) pan. Add onion, hot peppers, bell pepper (if using), cilantro, honey, garlic, cumin and cayenne pepper. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently, stirring often, until the salsa has thickened slightly. This should take 4-7 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Ladle the hot salsa into your prepared jars, leaving ½-inch of headspace at the top of the jar. Insert a chopstick, butterknife or thin spatula along the sides of the jar to help dislodge air bubbles. Add more salsa if needed to maintain the ½-inch of headspace. Wipe the rim with a paper towel dipped in vinegar. Position lids onto the jars and screw the rings in place to finger-tip tight.

Place jars in the canner, cover with tepid tap water. Place lid on canner, bring to a boil over high heat and process for 15 minutes at a full rolling boil. Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid and let the jars sit in the hot water for 5 minutes before transferring to a towel or rack on the countertop. Allow to cool, undisturbed for 24 hours at room temperature. Remove the rings carefully so you don't disturb the seal, wipe the jars clean with a damp towel, label and store in a cool, dry place.

— Adapted from The Ball Complete Book of Home Preservation

Frozen peaches aren't just for smoothies. Peaches and Cream Time Saver Muffins take advantage of frozen or fresh peaches. The vanilla peach muffins make a delicious start to the day or sweet afternoon snack. While delicate, they're sturdy enough to pack in lunch bags.

This muffin isn't just a tasty treat though. The beauty of the recipe is that you can whip it up and store it in the refrigerator for a week at a time. For piping hot muffins fresh every morning, simply scoop the batter into the desired number of muffin cups or liners and bake. A hearty, hot breakfast doesn't get much easier than this!

Peaches and Cream Time Saver Muffins

2¼ c. all-purpose flour (You can substitute white whole wheat flour for up to 1 cup.)

1½ t. baking powder

½ t. baking soda

½ t. salt

4 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature

¾ c. granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 t. vanilla extract

½ c. sour cream or plain yogurt

1 c. chopped peaches, fresh or frozen

Optional, sugar for sprinkling over the muffins before baking. Demerara (raw) sugar works great.

Preheat the oven to 375°. Grease silicone muffin cups or line a muffin tin with greased paper liners.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, in a mixing bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar. If you do not have a stand-mixer, use a hand-mixer. Whether you are using a stand or hand-mixer, start on low until the ingredients are evenly incorporated, then slowly increase the speed to medium-high until the butter mixture is very light in color (nearly white.)

Scrape down the bowl to remove any remaining butter from the sides, then add the eggs one at a time, beating well to fully incorporate each egg before adding the next.

Add the yogurt (or sour cream) and vanilla, and mix until even.

Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until the batter is smooth. It will be thick. Do not overbeat. Gently fold the peaches in by hand, using a wooden spoon or spatula. Divide the batter into the prepared muffin cups. You can use a heaping ¼ cup measuring cup to get the best results. Sprinkle with sugar, if desired.

Bake for 18 to 24 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of one muffin comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Transfer muffins to a cooling rack.

— Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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