Why buy it when you can make it? Peach Chutney

Just as I’ve introduced a series about gardening (view the first post here), I’m going to introduce another series called “Why buy it when you can make it?” that will include information about making things at home. For example, a few months back I made a makeup bag instead of buying one, and I am SO glad I made it myself. This post is about making peach chutney, which is delicious on pork chops and chicken. This will also be an occasional series, but I hope readers find it inspiring. Isn’t it so true that we value that which we make ourselves over that which we buy?

So, I spent some time the past week canning peaches. Of course they’re not local peaches, since peaches don’t really grow where I live. But I think that sometimes it’s better to buy organically grown peaches from California while they are in season, can them, and then enjoy them in the winter, than to buy peaches out of season. I know I could buy them frozen, but they just don’t taste great. We so rarely buy food that we can get from right where we live, we consider things like peaches, bananas, and bell peppers a treat.

I’ve always loved peaches, ever since I was little kid. The first time I remember eating a peach is when I was probably five or six years old. We had spent the weekend at a cousin’s cabin in the mountains in Colorado and we were driving back to Denver. My mom handed me a peach. I remember watching the pine trees outside the window, the winding drive down mountain roads, and the fuzzy peach in my hands. I remember taking a bite of that luscious, succulent fruit, the juice spilling down my chin and onto my fingers. What a wonderful memory that is, that first peach.

So last week, my husband and I bought something like 10 pounds of peaches on a couple separate occasions. I canned some into peach preserves first. Then I made chutney. I could buy both peach preserves and chutney at my local grocery store for about $5 a jar. Or I could enjoy jars I canned myself, without all the weird unpronounceable preservatives! I’m going to go through the process of making chutney here.

First, wash and peel the peaches. Then slice into small chunks, like the photo shown:

The peach chunks toward the righthand side of the photo are obviously much riper than the other chunks. That’s OK. When you’re canning, the ripeness doesn’t matter as much. Less ripe is actually better. Some of the chunks will cook down, so that’s why it’s better to have small, inch-sized bits. They cook down faster.

The peaches go in a pot on the stove and simmer down some, mixed with brown sugar, raisins, chopped onion, a hot pepper (I used a Serrano and used the seeds too, which makes it even more spicy), mustard seed, ginger, salt, garlic, and vinegar. I use the Ball Blue Book for the recipe.

20 medium peaches
2 to 3 cups brown sugar (I used 2)
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped onion (I recommend a yellow onion – did you know red and yellow onions are higher in antioxidants than white onions?)
1/4 cup mustard seed
2 tablespoons ginger
2 tablespoons salt
1 clove garlic (or 1 teaspoon jarred minced)
1 hot red pepper, finely chopped
5 cups vinegar

I like the Blue Book because it is cheap, something of a canning authority (lots of information about methods and such), and easy to follow. I do have to note that many of the recipes I’ve tried often recommend the use of WAY more sugar than I use. When I canned peaches, I put in one and a half cups of sugar and the preserves were quite sweet. The book recommended SEVEN. So, sugar to taste is my recommendation.

Making chutney is actually pickling, did you know that? Anything you can in vinegar is pickling.

The above photo shows the consistency you’re striving for with the chutney. Lots of peach chunks left, but some cooked down into a syrup of sorts.

While you’ve been making the chutney (from starting to peel the peaches to when the chutney is ready to can took us about an hour to an hour and a half), start your water bath boiling. It will take quite a while to heat the water bath to a rolling boil, so make sure you get that going in advance. As the chutney is cooking, you will boil the lids and the jars (their openings face-down in the water) for 10 minutes or so in a skillet with about an inch or two of water in it. This heats the jars so they don’t explode when you put them in the water bath, and it also sanitizes the jars and lids (you should have washed the jars and lids already, though). Cleanliness is absolutely essential in canning. While there are only a few cases of botulism reported annually (MANY more people come down with food poisoning because of dirty food from factories) in the U.S., that’s not something you want to mess with because it will kill you! You suffocate. Nasty. Make sure your equipment and workspace is clean! It’s also a good idea to check the lips of the jars for cracks or chips because this will interfere with the seal.

Once the chutney has cooked to the point where you like the consistency, transfer it to the jars that have been boiling. You want to leave about 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe the rims down carefully with a clean washcloth dipped in the boiling water of the skillet. Be careful not to burn yourself! Make sure there is no residue on the rims or lips of the jar. Put the lid (Side note: the flat lids are the only piece of canning equipment you CANNOT reuse. One use only!) on, then tighten the screw top around the lid to as tight as you can with your hands.

Carefully lower the jars into the water bath with canning tongs. Boil for 10 minutes (I go for 15, but I always go past the recommended time just to be safe).

Here is the chutney as I pulling it out of the water bath. I used some pint-size jars and some of the smaller quilted glass jars as well. I like to give the quilted glass jars away as presents. Just as you appreciate something you made by hand more than something you bought, so others appreciate handmade gifts!

Set the VERY HOT jars on a towel. Listen for the pops of the jars as they seal. You know they’ve sealed when the raised bump in the center of the lid is no longer there. If you have a can that didn’t seal, it’s OK to eat, but you must refrigerate it from the get-go.

Once the jars are completely cool, remove the screw-tops. It is possible for bacteria to live in between the screw-tops and the jar. You don’t need the screw-tops when the jars are in storage if the jar is sealed. Once you open the jar to eat the chutney, you will obviously need the screw-tops. And you should always refrigerate canned goods once they are opened.

Canning supplies can be found at many grocery stores. If you find canning jars in your grandma’s cellar, make sure the jars don’t have any cracks or chips; if they’re intact, they’re OK to use! Once you’ve made the initial investment in purchasing jars, lids, screw-tops, a water bath vat, canning tongs, pectin, and a funnel, everything (except the lids) can be used again and again.

Canning is a fun way to preserve food. There’s nothing like peach chutney or applesauce in the depths of winter. And those jars always look so nice on the shelf!

A few more things to keep in mind:
• Canning is not the best way to preserve nutrients in your food. The boiling breaks down some of the nutrients. The absolute best way to preserve food to maximize nutrients is to freeze. However, canning doesn’t require refrigeration.
• The water bath method is only used for foods that have acid. Green beans, meat, fish, and the like must be canned using a pressure canner.
• Read all canning instructions before canning. Canning is easy, but you must follow directions and make sure everything is very clean! I am not responsible if you give yourself botulism. But you shouldn’t have to worry about that at all if you have a clean working environment. Canning is a safe way to preserve food, but you need to follow the directions!
• I have heard that ceramic/glass-top stoves do not get hot enough for canning. Not sure if this is true or not, but perhaps using a coil or gas stove is best.

Renovation of the world

“There is, indeed, something inexpressibly pleasing in the annual renovation of the world, and the new display of the treasures of nature.” – Samuel Johnson

A week ago, before planting the transplants I bought, my husband built up five more beds in the garden.

We ran out of the horse manure compost that a friend with a horseback riding operation gave us, so we used organic compost from a local gardening shop in these beds. We laid a thin layer of compost, and I added some organic bone meal, too. I did this, because, as mentioned before, my soil test showed that the garden’s soil was lacking in nitrogen and phosphorus.

Here’s yours truly spreading the compost. Yes, I am wearing a fleece. Why? Because up here at 48 degrees (latitude), that’s also been the high temperature for a while. We have glorious autumns here, but cold and wet springs. In fact, there’s a winter weather advisory in our area today. Sigh.

Here’s the garden as it was about a week ago after planting the transplants. I apologize I haven’t posted this sooner, but I’ve been busy, ya know. The garden looks much the same now, except the lettuces and carrots are coming up, as are the onion sets and the buckwheat. And the weeds. Oh the weeds. I weeded for half an hour yesterday and got one half of one bed done. Well, that’s what I get for not weeding for a week: Now I get to spend my free time weeding!

Of the transplants I planted: I planted a pumpkin, a zucchini, a squash, two tomatoes, a pepper, mint, cilantro, shallots – all of these from the local Terrapin Farm. From a local greenhouse, I planted corn, more squash, cucumbers, cabbage, lavender, parsley, basil, oregano, and dill.

From seed I planted spinach, red romaine, rainbow chard, ruby red chard, carrots, acorn squash, cucumbers, snow peas, blue lake bush beans, onion (from sets, technically), sunflowers, and a bunch of wildflowers on the outside perimeter.

Here’s the herb garden we planted. In it there’s parsley, basil, oregano, cilantro, lavender, mint, and dill. We love to use fresh herbs in our cooking.

Here are the corn transplants. I will not be doing these again. At least not transplants that are this big. These transplants have taken an absolute beating with wind and rain, and yesterday, hail. They don’t have the established roots they need to stand up to the beatings, which, looking at the weather report, will continue until morale improves. Lesson learned.

And yesterday it hailed for fifteen minutes. The hail was about blueberry size. Big enough to cause some damage. I think I lost a squash plant, probably some of the corn, and time will tell what else I’ve lost once the lake in the middle of the garden recedes. We also had a bird get in the house, trying to escape the hail (we had the door open because we were standing on the porch watching the hail come down). It flapped around inside for a few minutes until we could get it out. Hopefully the hail didn’t kill it! It is supposed to rain more today (and snow up high). The picture below shows the hail. And the puddles full of hail that are probably three or four inches deep.

It’s supposed to warm up in the next few days. Hopefully, if everything didn’t drown, I’ll see some real growth out there!