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.

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.

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…