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Seduce Me (with safety!)

Making Peach Pickles today (see the recipe from “So Easy to Preserve” below) because that is one does this time of year when you have green peaches and don’t want to wait for them to ripen because you MUST can something!

Peaches!
Peaches!

Peach Pickles

Ingredients:

8 pounds peeled peaches
2 tablespoons whole cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon ginger
6¾ cups sugar
1 quart vinegar
4 sticks cinnamon (2 inches long)

Method: Wash and peel peaches with a sharp knife, and drop into a cold solution of ½ teaspoon ascorbic acid and 2 quarts water. Dissolve sugar in vinegar in saucepot and put on range to heat. Boil 5 minutes and skim. Add spices (tied loosely in cheesecloth). Drain peaches. Drop drained peaches into boiling syrup and cook until they can be pierced with a fork, but are not yet soft. Remove from range and allow peaches to set in syrup overnight to plump. Bring to a boil and pack into hot jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. Cover with syrup, maintaining the ½-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids. Process 20 minutes in boiling water bath. Yields about six pint jars.

This extension-tested recipe is safe for home canning if the directions are followed.  But it is sort of boring – it makes me wonder if there isn’t something more.  I miss the days when community recipe books said things like:

“According to Mrs. Ina Mae Jones of Petersburg, these pickled peaches are a perfect accompaniment for roast pork and delightful on ice cream.  Her bridge club is clamoring for the recipe!”

If the bridge club is clamoring then this is something that I MUST make!  It seduces and entices me – I can envision the pork roast on a beautifully appointed table with a gleaming jar of beautiful golden pickled peaches bringing a bit of sunshine to a dark winter meal.  Oh, wait, that is just what the blog post will look like!!  The reality is quite different – at least at my house!  I also recognize that however glamorous and attractive the cookbook or blogger makes a dish or recipe sound, if it isn’t safe for my family then I want nothing to do with it!

WSU Food Safety trained me – vigorously I might add – in safe and appropriate procedures to preserve all manner of foods at home.  I am anointed by The Mother Ship (WSU Pullman) to provide information and answer questions about all home preservation and food safety issues using APPROVED MATERIALS.  These are defined as anything that was tested for safety (for processing time and preservation method) by the National Center for Home Food Preservation or any Extension program dated 2010 or later.  We are not able to teach classes or certify volunteers in a Master Food Preserver program because our office (WSU Kitsap) does not have a food science or food safety faculty member on staff.  Right now there are only four counties with a food safety faculty member – which is about par with the rest of the nation. Shifting priorities within the national land grant university system in general and extension programming in particular 15-20 years ago moved resources from traditional home economic and natural resource faculty (food safety, clothing and textiles, agriculture) into economic development and youth and family since folks weren’t cooking, canning, sewing, and farming as much as in the 40s and 50s.  Like all large institutions this change took place slowly and over a decade or so and was combined with regionalization of programming in an age of cost cutting, changing the face of extension considerably.

The problem?

A few years back we had this little economic downturn and families and individuals returned to many of those tried and true ways to save money in tough times – cooking, canning, sewing, gardening, farming – and not only did they start to do those things – but they started to BLOG about it!!  Many folks tried to pick up traditional food preservation and canning skills after their families had taken a couple generations off.  Lacking experienced teachers and taking the lead from the explosion of DIY and cooking shows folks started trying new things and tweaking recipes not realizing that the principles of safe home food preservation are based upon the acidity of the product being canned.  Low acid foods CAN NOT be processed safely in a water bath canner.  So, that onion jam recipe that looks so tasty?  It can’t be safely preserved – you can make it and keep it in the fridge – but don’t can it!  When Martha Stewart makes jam and seals it with paraffin?  Run away!  Use the jar labels but not the food preservation advice!  Someone gives you Grandma’s cookbook?  Put it up on the shelf along side those vintage kitchen tools – it will be a nice decorator touch.   I know that this may hit close to home for some because often if I suggest that using a recipe from 1940 might not be safe in an online forum, a Facebook flame-war errupts as everyone weighs in with “I have been doing it this way for years and we are fine!!!”  My response is often: “If your doctor pulled out a medical book from the 1940s as his major resource in treating cancer for you or a member of your family, what would you do??”

So, what are you to do if you have a question about a recipe or need food preservation or food safety questions answered?  Extension is online and here to help!   Check out the WSU Kitsap Food Products page for links to all of all the extension publications containing safe and tested recipes for a wide range of home preservation.  Check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation for recipes and tips.  Or, give us a call at 360-337-7026 and leave a brief message.  We will get back to you within 24 hrs if possible.  If you are right in the middle of a project and need help NOW you can tap into the resources of our neighbors to the south and call the OSU Food Safety/Preservation Hotline at 1-800-354-7319.  It is staffed from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from July 15 to Oct. 11.  In 2012 they responded to about 3,500 calls from consumers!

Happy (and safe) canning!

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