exploring, preserving: past, present


Saturday Upsides–Kitchen Mistake turns into Positive Partaking of Peach Preserves

My former English teacher would be jumping for joy at the title of this post.  😉

Well, I spent some time this week preserving a case of peaches. Peach preserves in light syrup are my husband’s favourite pick, and they come in a close second to my favourite–pear preserves.

Peaches in hot water, to make skin easier to remove.

All was going pretty well according to plan, except it was going too slowly. Too many peaches to peel quickly, too many things happening all at once in the kitchen. Ultimately, I ended up having my last batch of jars of preserve come out of the hot water bath too early. How do I know this?  The happy little “ping” sound of metal lids creating their vacuum seal just didn’t happen. Even crossing my fingers that it would happen overnight in the cooling process didn’t work.


So much effort, and now I had two quarts of peach preserves that couldn’t be stored for the winter.

Because I had spent so much time and effort preserving them, I was frustrated. But then our two Chinese girls who are staying with us (attending university) came into the kitchen and oohed and aahed at the jars. They asked lots of questions about how to make preserves, and kept saying how beautiful they looked. We ended up opening one jar and sharing big bowls of peach preserves right then and there–yum.

Sure, I knew that the contents would be good for a few weeks if stored in the fridge. My feelings of frustration were more about the amount of time and effort put into food storage that was supposed to be for winter.

What was the “upside”? Instead of having to wait a few months, I enjoyed a wonderful conversation with our two girls, and learned how much they love peaches and pears (and get them very rarely in China). Love it.

Which only makes me want to preserve more peaches and pears…for more conversations like the one I had this week with them!  🙂

Happy Saturday–and keep finding the positives! Join Bonnie and others by writing Saturday Upsides posts each Saturday!


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Pear #Preserves, The Quickest and Best #Recipe!

My mother would preserve two or three cases of pears before every winter. We would have at least two dozen quarts of pears to keep us through the winter, and a similar amount of peach preserves.

Pear Preserves

Pear preserves are so quick, so simple, and so easy to control the sweetness of the syrup.  I have, however, found it amazing to observe how long processing times are for all the pear preserve recipes I have seen on the internet. Twenty or more minutes of processing time is far too long, guaranteeing that your pears will fall apart. The recipe I use is, again, one that my mother has used for decades. Processing time is no more than 5-7 minutes, and these pears still have a shelf life of one year (as long as they are properly vacuum-sealed in the water bath processing!).

Peeled, cored, and quartered pears in lemon water, soaking to prevent browning.

There are a few keys to successful pear preserving: pack those jars as much as possible (when you think you can’t squeeze in any more, squeeze a couple more in anyway!), keep processing time in the water bath to a minimum (to prevent pears from falling apart), and use lemon juice in water after peeling and coring to prevent browning before processing.

Quartered pears being heated in light syrup, before packing jars.

The recipe I use heats the syrup, then heats the pears in the syrup, before packing the jars. This helps decrease processing time and keeps pears intact for a longer shelf life. As usual, it’s critical to get rid of bubbles once you’ve packed the jars and before you seal them for processing. This allows you to keep the head space consistent and a proper vacuum seal to form during the processing.

Pears in the hot water bath–not too long! (no more than 7 minutes!)

One case of Bartlett pears yielded only six quarts, but that’s well-packed quart jars that will easily serve six people for dessert on a cold and wintery night. I processed one case this weekend, and I’m hoping to process one or two more cases before winter sets in. Note that not all pears are good for preserving: Bartlett pears are excellent to preserve when they are ripe. If not all pears are fully ripe, you will have inconsistency in taste and softness (processing will not soften unripe pears!!).

Pear Preserves After Processing

Recipe for Pear Preserves

2 cups sugar, 5 cups distilled water (for light syrup)

1 case of Bartlett pears

1/4 cup lemon juice in 6 cups water (to prevent browning)

Peel, core, and quarter pears. Place pears in the lemon water bath to prevent them from browning while waiting for processing.

Prepare a hot water canner bath–heat your canning jars and lids and keep them warm while waiting for packing.

Heat the sugar and distilled water on low to medium heat, to dissolve the sugar. Then bring the syrup to a boil. Add the drained peeled/cored/quartered pears to the hot syrup and heat pears in this syrup for 5 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, pack your hot quart jars with the hot pears. Pack as tightly as possible–even if you think it’s full, squeeze another one or two pieces in and use the slotted spoon to squeeze them down!

Fill jars with hot syrup, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Seal jars finger-tight with lids. Immerse in hot water bath for 5-7 minutes. Remove from hot water bath, and let cool!

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Beautiful Bread and Butter #Pickles, or 4 Hours of My #Canning Life

bread and butter pickles

My recipe for bread and butter pickles comes from my mother. That recipe stems from a now unlocateable newspaper clipping, and years of adjusting the recipe to family’s tastebuds.  At the end of this post, I will share the recipe with you.

To me, there’s almost nothing more pretty than a perfectly canned pint of bread and butter pickles. This is another preserved item that I simply did not like at all growing up–something about all those onions–and now I just love the taste, texture, colour…everything about it. It’s a recipe that is much more time-consuming than dills, however, because of all the slicing.

Slicing can become dangerous if you’re not careful. I have a wonderful, very sharp, mandoline for slicing the cucumbers and onions. My husband is impressed with how perfectly uniform the slices are (hey, that’s what a mandoline does!).

This is approximately 4 pounds of cucumbers sliced with 3 large sweet spanish onions.

The slicing is what took up an hour of my time. It took about half an hour for me to staunch the bleeding from my thumb, which I nicked on the mandoline while loading it into the dishwasher (sigh). When discussing this injury with my mother yesterday, she proudly proclaimed that this was the first year she had not injured herself while making bread and butter pickles. Oh, the sacrifices we make while canning and preserving!

Because my dominant hand’s thumb was now bandaged and slowing me down, what would have normally taken only an hour or so more than doubled, as I packed 14 pints for processing.

Waiting for processing…mmm!

The turmeric spice is what adds the gorgeous colour to the pickles after they are processed. Lovely as well as flavourful!

I will share the recipe with you in this post–it’s a favourite of my family’s and I hope you will try it and tell me what you think!

Bread and Butter Pickles  (makes 7 pints)

4 pounds cucumbers

3 large sweet onions (Spanish or Vidalia work nicely)

1/2 cup salt (can be adjusted to less if on lower salt diet)

1 quart (1200 mL) pickling vinegar

3 cups sugar (can be adjusted to less if on low sugar diet)

2 tsp mustard seed

2 tsp celery seed (I have sometimes substituted fennel seed, adds similar flavour)

2 tsp ginger (fresh grated is best!)

1 tsp turmeric

Wash, then soak cucumbers in cold water for 4 hours (if coming straight from the garden or storage shed). Alternatively, chill cucumbers in fridge in preparation for slicing. All you really want is cold cucumbers to prevent losing too much juice while slicing.

Slice cucumbers without peeling them. Slice onions after peeling and stemming them.

Prepare jars in your water bath, or sterilize jars and keep them hot in the dishwasher. Keep lids on low simmer while waiting for processing.

Prepare brine by heating vinegar, salt, sugar, mustard seed, celery (or fennel) seed, ginger, and turmeric to dissolve salt and sugar and activate spices. Typically, canning recipes ask for spices to be in cheesecloth bag, but I mix them all in and strain them out later. Save what you strain so you can put a bit of the spices into the top of each jar you process!

Tightly pack jars with sliced cucumbers and onions. Put one teaspoon of strained spice mixture in each jar. Pour hot brine into jars, leaving approximately 1 cm head space. Use rubber spatula or wooden utensil to remove air trapped between slices, and add more brine if necessary to adjust head space. Seal jars finger tight.

Process in lidded, boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove lid, let sit for 5 minutes, then remove. If you remember my past posts about troubleshooting tips, you’ll flip those jars upside down on paper or cardboard (something where leaks are easily noticeable). Leave upside down undisturbed for 12-24 hours. If leaks develop, retighten and reseal. Reprocessing is not necessary if contents are still hot as vacuum will still form in cooling process.