Thursday, February 18, 2016

Bottling the Peaches

The peaches are ripe and will spoil quickly if they are not processed. A few of these were fallers but the chickens under the trees soon clear up the bounty so I had to pick the rest. I reach up to the stem and press very carefully to ascertain if the peach is ripe. Even this action will leave an indent that will turn into a bruise in less than a day. If the peach trees were at the same location as the processing then I would make sure that each peach was kept away from being touched and pressed upon by anything until I was ready to deal with it. However as I have to drive the peaches 38km on a corrugated dirt road and have limited space in the car they have to be placed in as wide a box as possible to reduce the weight of the upper peaches on the lower ones. Nonetheless they bruise.
Some of the nearly 200 peaches needing to be bottled.

I have two Vacola sterilisers and one special thermometer. Even on a conventional stove top it is possible to use both and sterilize up to 16 bottles at the same time.

I set up clean bottles, a sharp knife, peeler, a chopping board and two scrap buckets - one for peach stones and one for all the skins and an damaged flesh.

The bottle lids and rings are sat in hot water for a least 15 minutes before using. I reuse both but cull any ratty looking rings or lids that have been prised open in a way that leaves a dent.

 In advance I have prepared some sugar syrup. For this batch I put 2kg of sugar to 5 litres of water. However this was too heavy which meant the fruit rose in the jars. For later batches I will use 1 1/2 kg for 5 litres. That amount will fill up to 20 no.31 bottles. I prefer these ones (which use a size 4 ring and lid) because I can fit my hand in easily to arrange the fruit. 

I peel the skin off the flesh. If the peach is ripe enough this can be done by hand but a peeler can do the job well if needed. The peach halves are cut into segments which are arranged in layers with the curve of the peach matching the curve of the bottle. After a couple of layer a segment is pushed into the hole in the middle and then some sugar syrup is poured in. This assists with avoiding fruit spoilage and reduces the amount of air bubbles caught on the sides. If there is air trapped I release it by sliding a sharp knife down the side. When the fruit and syrup reaches the top the lid is placed on and held firmly in place with two clips. The bottles are placed in the Vacola unit and water added until it almost comes out of the thermometer hole.    
The water needs to be brought up to 180F (83C) slowly - at least 45 minutes and then kept at that temperature for at least 60 minutes.
If I have another batch of bottles ready I carefully remove the  sterilized bottles and half of the water, put the new bottles in and top up the water with cold.
After a day I remove one clip and after two I transfer the bottles to the shed. It is best to keep them in the dark. Those bottles where the syrup was too 'heavy' and the fruit has risen I will turn upside down after about two weeks and shake gently to encourage the syrup to move between the segments of fruit. Bottle peaches will potentially keep forever but will start to use their vitality and nutrients after about a year.

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