8/24/14

Problems Preserving Peaches

 
Last week, I made my annual Palisade Peach Pilgrimage and this year, the family came too.

We had a blast tasting and picking peaches.

At the end of two days, we came home with several cases of ripe delicious peaches.

Once home, the race was on to get them all put up and preserved before they rotted in the boxes. If you don't know what that involves, check out this post: "Processing all those Peaches".

Maybe it was because I was rushing to get everything done. Maybe it was because my canning skills have suddenly failed me. Maybe it was because I didn't have a team of helpers canning with me this year. Or maybe it was just the curse of canning peaches, but literally, everything that COULD go wrong when canning peaches DID go wrong: jars failed to seal, jars broke in the canner, and several jars overflowed their juices all over the place leaving a huge void where there should be peaches.

After all of that trouble, I did a little research to address each possible peach preserving peril and pitfall, so you can be positively prepared if they ever happen to you.

PROBLEM #1: Jars fail to seal

Symptoms:
Button on jar lid doesn't "pop down" when it cools, and when you push on the top of the lid, it moves.

Possible causes:
  • Bad or old lid
  • Too little or too much head room in the jar
  • Forgot to wipe rim
  • Didn't process long enough 
What to do about it:
  • If all of your lids seal but one, put the unsealed jar in the fridge. Sometimes, the rapid change in temperature will force the hot air out and create the vacuum necessary for the jar to seal. If it seals this way, leave the band off the jar for storing so that, if the seal fails, you know right away.
  • If it doesn't seal, keep it refrigerated
  • Never re-use canning lids, unless they are designed to be re-used (like Tattler lids)
  • Follow recipe instructions precisely to avoid sealing problems in the future
  • Make sure you take altitude into consideration and adjust canning times accordingly.

PROBLEM #2: Jar breaks inside the canner

Symptoms: 
This one's pretty easy to diagnose. You suddenly see the entire contents of a jar floating around in the canner, OUTSIDE the jar.

Possible causes:
  • Old jar
  • Cracked jar
  • Jar created suction to bottom of the canner
  • You drop jar in the canner (that's what I did)
What to do about it:
  • Depends on what stage of the canning process you're in. For me, it happened with the first jar I put in the canner. So I turned off the heat on that canner and fired up another one to process all the other jars. Meanwhile, I fished out the broken bottom of the jar, dumped the now contaminated water, refilled it with clean water, and put it back on the stove.
  • If it happens while you're processing all of your jars, just continue processing and deal with it later. After you've pulled out the remaining good jars, let them cool and then wipe them down with a soapy wet cloth. Clean out the canner and get back to it.
  • It's a good idea to check your jars for imperfections before you start filling them with boiling hot contents. And make sure the jars haven't cooled before you add the boiling hot contents.
  • Also, use a rack on the bottom of your water bath canner to prevent jars from forming a suction to the bottom.

PROBLEM #3: Liquid boils out leaving excessive headroom (AKA "siphoning")

Symptoms:
You pull the boiling hot jar out of the canner and liquid starts bubbling and spewing out of the jar through the lid, getting sticky stuff everywhere. When it cools, it looks like you forgot to fill half of the jar with peaches and syrup.
 
Possible causes:
  • Too much fruit in the jar; jar is too full
  • Didn't release all the air bubbles after adding syrup
  • Didn't wipe the rim
  • Too much or too little headroom
  • Didn't let the jars "rest" after their time in the canner
  • Temperature outside the canner is too cold
  • Mysterious other reason
What to do about it:
  • If you lose a significant amount of liquid to siphoning, but it still seals, it's fine. But, as a precaution, take the band off to store it so you know right away if the seal fails.
  • If it doesn't seal, refrigerate the jar.
  • Peaches are notoriously unforgiving. Follow instructions precisely. 
  • Make sure your headroom is perfect. 
  • Use a knife or spatula to release any air bubbles trapped between the fruit, and fill the jar back up to the proper head space. You may want to do this step two or three times, just to be sure.
  • One website I read said you need to take the lid off the canner to vent it for 10 minutes before pulling the jars out. Also, I was canning outside at midnight, and the abrupt change to the cool nighttime outdoor temp could have made the siphoning worse.
At the end of the day, sometimes sh*t just happens, even when you do everything right. Accept that you get to eat a jar or two now, and move on with life. I recommend eating them over vanilla ice cream.