Wow. This is Mastery Challenge Month #7! Are we really halfway through 2017?! That’s terrifying. That also means I can apply words like “normally” to the process.

Well, then:

Normally, I take (way too many) photos throughout a mastery challenge, sort through them when I do my write-up, and end up tossing 90% of them. But today, ladling out the peach mostarda that represented the last of my gleanings from a twenty-pound basket of peaches, I realized: This is hot pack preserving. Oh, heck. I’m doing The Thing. I’m doing it right now! So I snapped a couple of photos… and that’s what you get.

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Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Or hot pack preserving!

Peach chutney had been on my “to make” list with this batch of peaches, but I was seduced by the idea of a chutney-like, savory/sweet creation based on mustard seed rather than onion. All the same, it was with some reluctance that I assigned the last of my peaches to an unknown fate. (Because there are no more peaches in the world, and I certainly can’t go out and buy more.) Experimentation is good, though – right?

Hurdle #1: Skinning Peeling the peaches. (Skinning is for animals. Oops. Not the right term for peaches… even if they are furry.) I have had mixed results with this. Sometimes they come out beautifully, and other times I end up having to peel the skins off, taking the outermost layer of fruit with me. I have come to suspect (please, someone, check me on this) that ripeness is absolutely essential to blanch the skins off peaches. When I first brought home these peaches, I blanched a batch for jam and it was a nightmare. Letting them sit out on the counter until they ripened solved 99% of my problems, and the peaches that didn’t peel nicely were always a little on the under-ripe side. A-ha! Evidence to support my hypothesis!

With the peaches chopped and the other ingredients added (I was a little happier than strictly reasonable to add almost an entire 1.4-oz jar of mustard seed to the pot; you have to understand that I. Love. Mustard.), it was a relatively quick process. That left me lots of time to stress over the number of jars I was going to fill.

I can on a glass-top stove (the manufacturer says it’s safe, under certain conditions), so I use a stock pot for my hot water bath, and this sets a pretty firm cap of eight half-pint jars on my yield. For anything larger, I have to re-heat a jam or preserve…. manageable, but a little anxiety-inducing. A fourth burner pot (Fairy Can-Mother Marisa is full of so many solutions!) is on my Amazon wishlist, but I don’t own one yet, so when what I have left is just one half-pint jar of yield, I often step up to a pint jar to save space in the water bath…. or just throw it in the fridge.

Since I suspected a little mostarda was going to go a long way, I wanted to stick to half-pint jars, and planned accordingly. But the recipe yields 8-9 half-pints…. cue suspenseful music! Never have I wanted less yield out of a recipe more. I lucked out: Once all my peaches were neatly distributed, I had a perfect eight half-pints ready for the water bath.

This also left me with a bunch of syrup. By then I’d tasted the results, and I was no longer in the least regretting choosing this for the last of my peaches. In fact, I was unwilling to just toss the rest of the syrup, so I poured most of the remainder into a pint jar to use…. later. For something. I don’t even know! I think it would be stupendous as a pork marinade though, or blended into softened cream cheese or unflavored goat cheese. It’s a sweet-hot flavor reminiscent of all the things I love about hot pepper jelly (so if that’s your bag, then mostarda is for you).

I always feel like the real work is done once jars are in the water bath, but this time I fumbled the ball (sports analogy! I’m so proud) in the last inning (wait. Mismatched sports analogy. Oh, well). Once my jars are in and the water returns to a strong rolling boil, I lower the heat – and I know exactly where the knob needs to rest to maintain a good rolling boil…. if it’s a ten-minute jam or jelly. But the bigger chunks of fruit in the mostarda — and perhaps the longer processing time — required more heat than I was giving it. So when my timer went off and I pulled off the lid to let the water cool, I was horrified to realize that the water wasn’t boiling and I had no idea how long it hadn’t been boiling. Better safe than sorry: I gave the jars another fifteen minutes. I hope I didn’t overcook my peaches, but I’d prefer that to an underprocessed jar. They look gorgeous, though.

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The mustard seeds are like the friendliest of warning labels: This may look like regular peach preserves, but hold onto your hat!

I just might have to pop open a jar next weekend to make sure they’re okay. You know. For science. Oh, the sacrifices I make…

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