Luscious, juicy, Michigan peaches are hitting the farm markets and roadside stands. You will of course want to let the juice run down your chin as you eat them fresh at least a few times, but peaches are an ideal fruit for preserving for those long winter days when their golden sweetness will remind you of summer. Michigan ranks 6th among the states for peach production. We grow a nice crop on the southwest side of Michigan and in the Romeo -Utica area of southeast Michigan. The Romeo Peach Festival begins the Thursday before Labor Day and runs through the holiday weekend. You can see their event schedule at http://www.peachfestromeo.com/
When you shop for peaches look for good sized, fully ripe peaches without too much bruising. Peaches do not ripen after picking although they do soften a bit. A ripe peach usually has a reddish blush over a yellow background color. They feel slightly soft to the touch and smell very “peachy”. Peach flesh varies from light to deep yellow depending on variety. There are also some white fleshed peaches but those are seldom seen in Michigan. Peaches have a fuzzy skin that is usually removed before eating.
There are two main types of peaches, freestone and clingstone with advocates for both. When cut in half a freestone peach gives up the hard pit easily. This is the kind preferred for canning, freezing and cooking. Clingstone peaches can also be used for all of the previous things, although the pit takes a bit more persuading to release the peach flesh. Some people think the taste is better than freestone for fresh eating.
If you are harvesting your own peaches pick them when they are fully ripe, then let them stand a day or two before eating or preserving for best taste. Peaches must be stored and handled carefully to prevent bruising, which soon turns into a rotted spot. Use peaches within a few days of picking or buying. Do not wash them until just before use.
Nectarines are often grown and sold where peaches are sold. They have smooth skins and can be used in place of peaches in any recipe as the taste is very similar.
Peaches can be frozen sliced, frozen in syrup or sugar, or frozen as a puree or nectar. Peaches darken after slicing and ascorbic acid, found with canning supplies, should be used if you want nice golden peaches when they thaw. Follow package directions. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is a natural product. Lemon juice can be used in place of ascorbic acid – 1/2 cup of lemon juice to a 1/2 gallon of water- although it will add its own flavor.
To easily peel peaches dip them into boiling water in a metal strainer for one minute, then plunge your strainer into ice water. The peels will slip right off. Peaches can also be peeled with a paring knife although that is much more tedious.
After peeling peaches slice them into either ascorbic acid solution or lemon juice solution to prevent darkening. After a few minutes drain the slices, arrange them on a cookie sheet and put into the freezer until frozen, about an hour. Then pack slices into containers to label and put back in the freezer. Frozen peaches will be soft when defrosted.
To sugar pack peaches for freezing toss peach slices with a 1/2 cup of sugar for every 2 cups of sliced peaches. Allow them to sit for 15 minutes and then freeze.
To syrup pack peaches for freezing, peel as above, slice into ascorbic acid or lemon as above, then put peaches into freezer containers. Bring a solution of 2-3/4 cups of sugar and 1 quart of water to boil and pour over the peaches. Let cool to room temperature and freeze.
Any recipe you made with peaches such as pie filling or pureed peaches can be frozen in freezer safe containers.
Peel peaches as described in freezing. You can cut them in slices or use halves. Most people can peaches in quart sized containers. For the canning fluid you can use a syrup- 2-3/4 cups of sugar to a quart of water, brought to a boil, or use boiling water or boiling apple juice.
Pack sliced or halved peaches into clean, hot jars. If you use halves place the cut side down. Pour your boiling fluid of choice over the peaches to within 1/2 from the jar rim. Use a stick or spatula to gently run around the jar sides, to release trapped bubbles. If needed add more fluid. Fluid should cover the peach pieces totally but the peaches and fluid must be a 1/2 inch from the rim. Wipe the rim, add your lid and screw band.
Process quart jars of peaches in a water bath canner for 30 minutes. A pint jar would take 25 minutes. Although it’s not necessary peaches can be canned in a pressure canner. Set the pressure at 6 pounds for Michigan and process for 10 minutes, either pints or quarts.
Make sure to label all your canned or frozen peaches with the date you preserved them. Also indicate on the container that its peaches inside.
With a little time preserving them at harvest time Michigan peaches could be on your menu all year round. Look for more peach recipes on this site soon.