It wasn't as difficult as I imagined. The process does take a fair amount of time, though, because you have to wait for so many things to boil. If you decide to take up canning, plan to set aside about half the day to get it all done!
I actually documented most of the steps with photographs (which I never remember to do!) so I could share the experience here, and also to create a record for myself. This isn't intended to be an exact recipe or set of procedures (so if you decide to can peaches, please look for a full set of instructions!). But I'm sure there are other people like me who have been curious about canning, and wondering what the process really entails...I hope you will enjoy this attempt to recount what we did.
We used quart-sized canning jars. You have to separate the jars from the lids, and sterilize them. If you have access to a dishwasher (which, thankfully, we did) , all you need to do is run them on hot. If not, wash them out by hand, and then pour boiling water over them.
You should use the freshest peaches possible - they will be a bit soft when squeezed. "Free stone" peaches are best. I love those beautiful colors!
We bought a half bushel from a local farmer's market, but we should have picked up an extra peck or so. We only ended up with nine quart-jars, instead of using all twelve.
Fill up a couple large pots with water
And put them on the stove to boil
Dump the peaches into the sink
When your water is boiled, pour it all over the peaches. This will help to loosen the skin and make them easy to peel.
We let them sit for awhile....maybe 20 or 30 minutes?
You can use a knife to help get the peeling started, but most of the skins should just come off in your hands. Cut the peaches in half along the natural seam, and pull out the pit. Put them back into the pots.
Now the peaches go on the stove to boil.
Apparently, most recipes have you make the syrup in a separate pot. We just made it all at the same time by adding a cup of sugar to each of the peach pots while they cooked.
Give it a stir...
Meanwhile, you need to sterilize the lids by (you guessed it) boiling them in water on the stove.
After some time, the peaches start to rise up and foam. Now they're ready for canning.
You want to layer them in nicely without leaving much air.
Ladle in some syrup until it reaches the bottom rim.
Now you need to get as much air out as possible. Sliding this little plastic tool around the outside helps bring up air bubbles. Also, you can press the peaches from the top using a spoon. Add a bit more syrup so that it's about a half inch from the top of the jar.
Using a damp towel, wipe off any sticky stuff from the rim, and screw on a lid, tightly.
Add the jar to the waiting canning bath (oh yeah - that's another thing that's been boiling this whole time)
Once the rack is full, lower it into the pot. If necessary, add more water to cover about an inch above the lids. Put the top on, and bring to a boil. Let this boil for half an hour.
Then you pull out your jars, and set them to cool. Soon, you should hear the little 'pops' as the lids seal themselves. And you're ready to store them for delicious eating later on!
All-in-all, it was an involved process, but not as daunting as I expected. There are a few pieces of equipment (like the canning pot with the special rack) I'd want to own if I was going to do this myself at some point. I'm not convinced that it necessarily saves any money unless you grow all the food yourself (which, given our complete lack of yard, isn't a possibility for us now).
I hope this gave some of you a better idea of what canning involves, and perhaps inspires you to give it a try!