There are times for This and times for That, and right now is the time for puttin’ up the last of the summer jewels before they fade away for another year. Dusty purple figs melt into copper pots and glisten like rich, amber-hued honey. Emerald okra pods plunge into pools of seasoned vinegar. Golden peach wedges flecked with vanilla seeds suspend in their own syrup. Blackberries soak in tubs of water, ready to line the deep freeze. Each jar holds a memory; a beloved frozen moment I hold onto long after the season tells me I should.
For me, these jars trigger memories of those who perfected the art of preserving and the time spent on their cedar-lined screened porches, swaying on the squeaky, white swing where I watched wrinkled hands mechanically plow through pounds and pounds of perfectly ripe summer produce all the while prattling on about This and That. A string of chipped navy and white enamel pots, silver ladles, sterilized quilted glass jars littered the porch floor. The same battery of characters appeared and disappeared as quickly as Cinderella’s ball gown. A cloud perfumed with peaches and sugar pours out of the kitchen and onto the porch. The cloud smells like a warm summer day, which is the exact aroma that’s lingering in my kitchen as I write.
So, all That to say, This is the time for preserving before it’s forgotten and gone, before it’s just a memory of peach juice trickling down my chin. And with it, the last of the summer days.
Vanilla Infused Canned Peaches
Makes 8, 8oz. jars
Note: To sterilize the jars, bands and lids: Stand the jars upright on a rimmed baking sheet, leaving space between each jar. Place rings and seals upside down on another rimmed baking sheet, again, making sure to leave space between each seal and ring. Place the baking sheets in a cold oven. As you are prepping the peaches, preheat the oven to 225oF. Once the oven is preheated, set a timer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn the oven off and keep the jars warm in the oven until you are ready to fill them with the peaches.
4 pounds ripe peaches, washed and fuzz rubbed off with a clean tea towel
2 whole vanilla beans
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1½ cups cold water
¾ cup granulated sugar
2½ cups recently boiled water
Ice, for ice bath
Slice both vanilla beans in half lengthwise. Then slice in half crosswise.
Score the bottom of each peach with an “X.”
Fill a large stock pot with water ¾ the way up the sides. Bring to a boil. Let the scored peaches sit in the boiling water for 1 minute. Keep the pot on a low heat to process cans for later.
Toss the peaches in a large bowl filled with ice and cold water.
Half the peaches, remove pits and slice halves into wedges. Gently peel the skin off the peaches using a sharp paring knife. Toss peach wedges into a large bowl with lemon juice and 1½ cups cold water.
Pour recently boiled water into a large measuring cup. Add the sugar and stir until the sugar completely dissolves. Drain the peaches of the lemon water and pour in the simple syrup. Let the peach wedges sit in the warm syrup for 5 minutes.
While the peaches are sitting in the warm syrup, bring the stock pot back to a boil and take the sterilized jars and lids out of the warm oven.
Carefully place 1 sliver of vanilla bean in each jar without touching the sides of the sterilized jars. Spoon the peaches into sterilized jars. Top each jar off with the syrup, leaving ¼” of head space. Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean tea towel. Screw the lids onto the jars and carefully place the jars in the boiling water with a pair of tongs. Process the jars for 20 minutes in boiling water. Remove the jars from the water. You should hear popping sounds as the jars seal. Allow the jars to cool for a few hours on the countertop. Test each jar’s seal by pressing the middle of each lid. If there is no give, the jars are ready to be stashed away in the pantry. If the middle of the lid pops back when pressed, the jar did not seal properly. Stash any improperly sealed jars in the fridge. Use canned peaches year-round in pies, served with a dutch baby, on top of vanilla ice cream, with yogurt for breakfast or just by themselves eaten at midnight over the kitchen sink!