On being … beyond expensive

By Ingrid Sapona  

Would you pay $15 for a pint of canned peaches from your local farmer’s market? Me either, inflation or not.  

I love peaches and so does my sister Regina. (I honestly can’t say whether my other sister feels the same.) I came by my love for Niagara peaches from my dad. He kept his boat at Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is pretty much the heart of peach country. Summer weekends we never drove directly to the boat. The trip always included a stop (or two) at Dad’s favourite farmers to get whatever was in season. (Niagara is also renown for its cherries, apricots, pears, and plums – I enjoy all of them, but not as much as peaches.)  

Regina, who lives in the Cincinnati area, loves Niagara peaches so much that earlier in the summer she mentioned she might drive up to visit me in Toronto during peach season. For a variety of reasons, she decided not to come up. (Instead, she made due with ordering peaches from Georgia that something called the Peach Truck delivers in the Cincinnati area in June.)  

When the first peaches hit the local farmer’s market a couple weeks ago, I bought a small basket to see how they were. Naturally, I didn’t mention to Regina that the peaches are out – that would have been cruel. But, I got to thinking about how I might share the bounty with her and the idea of canning came to mind. During Covid a friend gave me a couple jars of peaches she had canned and I remembered what a treat they were.  

I have a vague recollection of canning something once – and I have a canning book, so I probably did try it. Once I made the decision to try canning peaches this year, I bought a dozen mason jars and I picked up a ton of peaches when I was in Niagara. When I told my friend I was planning on canning them, her only question was whether I had a big enough pot. I assured her that my biggest pot was quite big and that I was sure it would do. I mentioned I didn’t have a canning rack for it, but that I do have jar-lifter tongs (further evidence that I must have tried canning once before). She said she wouldn’t can without a rack because she thinks keeping the jars off the bottom of the canning pot helps prevent them from cracking. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have one I could borrow – as it is, she borrows one from her neighbor. Thankfully, Amazon had one that fit my pot and it was here the next day. 

So, one afternoon I set to it. I had the canning pot on the boil, sterilizing the jars. I had another pot with simmering water to briefly pop the peaches in to make them easy to peel. I had a bowl of ice water on the ready to stop the peaches from cooking after being retrieved from the simmering water. After the ice water bath, you peel them and turn them into a bowl with a water/lemon mixture so they don’t discolour. I had a pot on the stove boiling the light syrup and another small pot with water boiling for the lids.  

Once I had the jars filled with the peaches, topped up with the syrup, and the lids in place, the last step was to return the jars to the canning pot and boil for 30 minutes. I gently placed the jars on the submerged rack and topped up the water in the pot. The instructions were very clear – you don’t start the timer until the water returns to a boil. That’s when I discovered that my biggest, deepest pot isn’t really as deep as I thought. The jars are supposed to be covered by at least an inch of water. Turns out, the only way the jars would be sufficiently submerged was if I filled the pot to the VERY brim.  

Having gone to all that work, I wasn’t going to hold back on the water. Naturally, when the water was at full boil, it splashed out all over the place. Undaunted, I stood there for 30 minutes, wiping up the splattered water and adding more to keep the pot topped up. When the timer went off, I gently lifted each jar out onto a towel to let them sit for the required 24 (!) hours. Then I set to work cleaning the mess. That’s when I realized that I had used every pot I owned and a number of large bowls.  

The next day, when I inspected the jars, I was happy to find that they were vacuum sealed. I was proud of my handy work, but not sure it was worth the effort. Did I mention all that was just for four, one-pint jars of peaches? I started laughing when I did a quick calculation: $19 for the jars, $21 for the rack, and $20 for the peaches. Then, if you add on the time it took… Well, the only way to rationalize it was to say the experience was right out of one of those MasterCard commercials – you know, Priceless!  

Mind you, because I still had peaches left over, a few days later I made a second batch. Because I knew what I was doing, it took me a little less time, but it was still a lot to clean up. So now I’ve gotten the marginal cost down to $7.50 a jar. Still more than I imagine I’d pay to buy them, but you know something, in the dead of winter I’m sure Regina and I will both enjoy them and that’s really when the luxury of Niagara peaches will seem… well… priceless.  

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona


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