Peaches are the quintessential canning fruit for good reason: They make it through the canning process with more of their color, flavor and texture intact than other fruits do. Here is how to can them for the best results.
There are two basic ways to safely can peaches: the hot pack method and the raw pack method. I am not a big fan of the raw pack method because although it requires fewer steps, it results in an inferior product. Raw packed fruit tends to shrink during processing and float up out of the canning liquid. The pieces that float to the top discolor and are unappealing once the jars are opened.
The hot pack method reduces the likelihood of fruit float and discoloration.
Step One: Choose Your Fruit with Care
Choose firm, unblemished peaches for canning. It is best to use ones that are slightly underripe. Overly ripe fruit is more likely to float in the jars, and also has a lower acid content. It is the naturally present acidity of the peaches that helps to preserve them, not the canning liquid.
If you want to can peach halves, make sure to choose a freestone rather than clingstone variety. Clingstone peaches are impossible to separate from the pits into neat halves.
Blanch and Skin the Peaches
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, wash the peaches. Cut the peaches in half and twist the halves apart. Discard the pits.
Drop the pitted peach halves into the boiling water for 10 seconds. This step not only makes it easier to remove the skins, but prevents discoloration without the need for an acidic water bath treatment.
Drain the blanched peach halves in a colander.
Once the fruit has cooled enough to handle, rub or peel off the skins. Optional: scrape off the dark areas where the pits were with a small spoon.
If desired, cut the peeled halves into slices.
Briefly Cook the Peaches in Syrup, Water, or Juice
Although peaches are most often canned in a simple sugar syrup, it is quite safe to can them in juice or even plain water. The canning liquid is a flavoring element, not a safety consideration. If using juice, I recommend white grape juice because of its relatively neutral color and flavor.
Bring the syrup, juice or water to a boil. Add the peeled peaches and simmer them for 2 minutes.
Fill the Canning Jars
Your canning jars do not need to be sterilized for canning peaches, but they do need to be clean and crack or chip-free. They also need to be hot - fill them with very hot water, and then empty them just before filling with fruit.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the peaches from the liquid they were simmering in. Fill the jars with the fruit, leaving 3/4-inch head space between the top of the peaches and the rims of the jars. Pack the fruit in quite tightly (this is another tip that helps to reduce fruit float).
Ladle the hot liquid the peaches simmered in over the fruit, leaving 1/2-inch head space in each jar. Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, damp paper or cloth towel (any food on a jar rim could prevent a good seal). Secure canning lids.
Process the Jars