This blog is about my journey into the world of canning, or "putting up" as others would like to call it. I will try to pickle almost anything and smash berries and sugar together on any given day. I'll also write about general baking, which is another passion of mine, but not as overwhelming, addictive or obsessive as canning has become.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Brandied/Amaretto Vanilla Peaches

What's better than boozy fruit? Seriously.  Fruit soaked in delicious booze sitting on your shelf.. just waiting... waiting for a cold winters day for you to pop it open and pour it all over vanilla ice cream, or even better yet, eat directly out of the jar with a spoon.  Seriously.  I am serious.  Delicious.

I probably should have done this earlier in the summer but that was clearly before my canning craze.  It would have made sense to start canning early summer while I'm on a 7 week hiatus from teaching, but no, I wait until a few days before school starts to "suddenly" feel the need to can everything in sight.  There's always next summer.  And next fall and winter.  You get it.

The other night I'm pacing in-between the kitchen and my couch - watching tv.  It's really doing nothing for me - I need to make something.  If I make brownies or cookies I'll just eat them.  So what are my options... let's see...oh yes, that's right.  Canning.  Preserving.  Squishing as much fruit as I can into a jar and ladling sweet, sweet brandy or amaretto over those beautiful peaches.  Every time I get up off the couch, my dog Chloe decides it's a requirement that she gets up and follows me the whole 10 feet into the kitchen. She's confused.  I'm confused.  I want to watch tv and relax but the other half of me wants to can.  The canning side wins.  Chloe and I head into the kitchen, defeated.

I must have bought 9-10 pounds of peaches.  You know, my favorite store down the road.  That's right - I got out of there with ONLY peaches.  Then I went next door to the packy and bought a cheap(er) bottle of Brandy.  Then 3 bottles of wine, you know, to have.. just in case.  Then I see a nip of Amaretto sitting on the counter and it makes me think - what if... ok let's get a decent size bottle of Amaretto too.  Might as well, right?  Amaretto itself is delicious.  I get home and crack it open - pour myself a little sip. Mmm. Warm and sweet and smooth.  Brandy, eh - not really up my alley, but I pour a little sip just so he doesn't feel left out.  I pour myself another little sip of Amaretto.  Alright, onto the peaches.

Peaches are slippery little suckers when they have been peeled.  To peel a peach - please do not labor over the counter for 47 hours with a vegetable peeler.  Get a pot of water, bring it to a boil, make a small "X" in the bottom of each peach and carefully drop those babies in the boiling water.  Boil for ONE minute then immediately transfer to an ice water bath (fancy term for a bowl of very cold water with tons of ice in it).  Let the peaches hang out in their Arctic bath until they are cool enough to handle - it shouldn't take long.  Once you can grab them and they don't burn your fingerprints off, start peeling.  The skin should almost literally want to fall off.  Basically like they got so hot in the boiling water, then didn't have time to decide what to do because they were immediately drowned in a freezing bath of ice water.  They're confused.  At this point they just want to get their skin off, so let it happen.  After I de-skinned all of my scared little guys, I put them back in the cold water and let them bob around until I was ready for the next step.  They're numb and naked - stunned by the cold water - kind of like going to Ogunquit Beach in Maine - so cold you're stunned then don't know what to do so you just stay in the water.  I swear, it affects your mind. 

Next you just want to de-pit the peaches and then cut them up into pieces.  You can be dainty about this if you'd like but it's time consuming.  I started off by cutting my peaches into 8's.  I was very meticulous about how each piece was the same uniform size, then about 5 peaches in I got a little sloppy.  Between making sure you don't cut your fingers off and avoiding the flinging of these buttery peaches onto the floor, the idea of making Martha Stewart slices was lost.  I didn't want ugly chunks floating in a jar, so I tried to do my very best.  In the end, they turned out pretty nice.  I was sick of cutting peaches by the time it was over, that is for damn sure. 

The peaches can't just go into the jars alone.  They need something to swim around in.  I concocted a sweet syrup for these eager little slices based on a 1951 recipe from the NY Times by Jane Nickerson on Brandied Peaches.  Here is the original recipe:

1951 Brandied Peaches

3 pounds ripe peaches
3 cups sugar
About 1/2 cup brandy

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Using the tip of a paring knife, make a shallow “X” in the bottom of each peach. Add the peaches, one at a time, to the boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Remove the peach from the water and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Repeat with the remaining peaches. Peel off the skins, then pit the fruit and quarter the flesh.

2. In another large pot, combine 3 cups water and the sugar and bring to a boil. Add the peaches and simmer until just soft.

3. Have the jars, bands and new lids scalded and ready. (To scald, dip the jars and rims in boiling water. You don’t need to sterilize the jars, as you will be processing them for more than 10 minutes.) Simmer the lids in hot water to soften the rubberized flange. Gently pack the peaches into the jars.

4. Boil the leftover syrup until it thickens slightly, then spoon it over the fruit, filling the jars ¾ full. Use a butter knife to release any air bubbles caught in the jars. Pour in enough brandy to fill the jars, leaving ¼ inch of headroom. Wipe the rims, cover with the lids and screw on the bands fingertip-tight. Place the jars on a rack in a big pot and cover with 2 to 3 inches of water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to medium and gently boil for 20 minutes. Remove the cover and then, after about 5 minutes, remove the jars. Allow them to cool, untouched, for 4 to 6 hours. Check the seals and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Refrigerate after opening.

* Cook's notes - If you are canning at a higher altitude, be sure to consult the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving for proper instructions and canning times.

Here are my little guys, swimming around in their sugary syrup

Up to them swimming around, I followed the recipe exactly, except I made it much, much larger than it was originally set for.  I had my hot, sterilized jars ready and waiting so I just filled them up with as many peach slices as I could.  I ended up using 7 pint jars - 4 of them I did exactly as the recipe said:  filled with peaches, then ladled the hot syrup 3/4 of the way up the jar and topped the jars off with Brandy.  Leave enough head space, cap and process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes.  Technically, since you're processing them for over 10 minutes, they don't need to be sterilized.  Any time you process over 10 minutes, they are sterilized automatically in the process of the water bath.  Easy enough to remember for next time - less prep work. 

I had three jars left and a very alluring bottle of Amaretto staring at me.  I shouldn't forget to mention the insane amount of vanilla beans I recently got from eBay.  Who knew that $25 would get you 1.25 POUNDS of vanilla beans? In the store you pay $10+ for two shriveled, dried out beans.  I got over a pound of fresh vanilla beans for 25 bucks.  Amaretto and vanilla play nice together.  The addition of peaches would just create a party in a jar if all three mingled together.  So I did it.  Instead of topping the last 3 jars off with Brandy, I topped them off with Amaretto and slid in a sliced vanilla bean as well.  Some of the vanilla beans have this sweet little curl to the bottom of their tails, they remind me of seahorses. 

All in all, this was a very productive canning project.  The only thing I don't like is how the peaches float.  Technically, that's an imperfection.  It just means I didn't get enough of the air out of the peach slices so they're floating to the top. There are ways around this, but honestly, I don't care.  I'm pretty sure my boozed up peaches are just as happy in their party jars floating then they would be sinking to the ground.  Actually, if I were a schnockered up peach, I'd rather float.

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