Peaches in Moldova
Every year we take advantage of Moldova’s great natural riches and preserve our own fruits and vegetables in the summer.
A member of our extended family also has a peach orchard so we are able to use the smaller and softer peaches that don’t get sent to the cold storage facility.
Sometimes we have purchased peaches from the wholesale market as well.
Getting fresh peaches in Oklahoma is a luxury, we know many friends that get peaches delivered from Colorado. Despite buying by the box, the cost is too high to make juice out of this prized fruit.
To put things in perspective, it has been a tough market for peaches in Moldova this year. The Moldovan population is decreasing as many Moldovans move to different countries in search of work. Many families have been planting peach orchards which are just beginning to bear fruit. So in simple economics, we have a high supply and low local demand which pushes the price down.
Last year peaches sold for 7 lei/ kilogram ( $.19/lb) or for $4.25 for a 22 lb crate as shown below.
This year in 2018 with an abundance of peaches, the price has fallen and we purchased peaches for 4lei/kilogram ($.11/lb) or for $2.45 a crate.
So by canning 8 crates of peaches, our cost was around $20. Quite a deal.
When purchasing peaches for canning in Moldova we also try out different varieties to find the variety where the peach separates easily from the pit. Finding the right variety of easy pitting peaches can save us hours in prep work.
Crates of table grapes and peaches at the wholesale market in Chisinau Moldova
Peaches can go soft quickly and they are so sweet that they attract swarms of sugar gnats. When we plan to process peaches, we always try to keep our logistics tight and have the peaches processed within 24 hrs of purchase.
When we get started, we wash all the peaches in at least 2 tubs of water. Each peach gets massaged by hand to remove as much of the peach fuzz as possible. You can see in the pictures that the peaches have a silvery sheen when placed in the water for the first time, this is the peach fuzz holding in air-bubbles. The fuzz acts as a natural defense to repel rain and dew. Like with most fruits, water droplets that remain on the peach will cause decay.
After the peaches are washed, we use a paring knife to cut the peach in a circular motion around the pit. Usually the peach pops in half and the pit is easily removed, however sometimes when the peach is a little green we must cut it out.
As soon as we wash the peaches we try to pit and slice them for the juicer. We hate fruit gnats and keeping our working surfaces clean and rinsed is the best way to keep them at bay.
Traditionally we have used a hand crank juicer (locally known as соковыжималка) that attaches to the table. To juice 8 crates of peaches you will most definitely get a nice bicep workout. However in 2018 we wanted to make sure that everyone in the family could be involved, and we also wanted to wake up early and finish before midday heat. I went to the local electronics store and bought a slow juicer (Соковыжималка шнековая Vitek VT-3661) for 1599 lei or about $95. This is pretty pricey, but since we plan to use it throughout the season for tomato and apple juice as well, I figured that it was an investment in time savings.
After canning 8 crates of peaches in 2 days with this device, I can highly recommend it. Generally I consider this type of slow juicer to be superior to centrifugal juicers, and this slow juicer gave us a nice full bodied juice with smooth pulp. The Russian style hand crank juicer would give a thick and sometimes gritty pulp, while centrifugal juicers (which basically spin so fast they throw the juice through a grate) deliver a watery juice.
As far as noise goes, this device reminds me of our US old ice cream machines, slow and steady producing a deeper hum. It wasn’t too noisy otherwise the kids would have been timid to use it.
The slow juicer was fun! For kids the device goes so slow that it almost resembles a playdough press. My 5 year old daughter took over the juicer and was able to cover all the bases.
1)feed the fruit through the top 2) empty the juice into the pot 3) re-run the pulp through the juicer again 4) empty double squeezed pulp into the compost bucket.
While the juicer does indeed run slowly, it requires constant attention to make sure the juice doesn’t overflow. Despite a limited attention span, she stayed busy and focused for over a hour.
Everyone had a job. I washed peaches, my friend Iulia washed jars, her daughter pitted and sliced peaches, and my daughter ran the juicer.
Processing 4 crates would typically take us 4 hours, however with the new juicer it took us only 2.
An introduction to the differences in Canning: US vs Moldova
Processing the fruit is always the fun job, however sterilizing is the most important.
In Oklahoma, I grew up canning green beans and different types of chow-chow (green tomato chutney). We always used a pressure cooker to do this because the acidity /sugar content in these type of preserves were too low. To be frank, my job was always washing and snapping green beans while watching a rented vhs tape, my mother and grandmother took care of the more tricky bits like managing the pressure cooker. There are few families that I know that still can and preserve foods, heck there are very few families which still have gardens or fruit tress in Oklahoma.
When first coming to Moldova, I was shocked to see how many families preserve so many different types of foods. It was exciting to travel back in time, however I was also puzzled how they were able to do this without using a pressure cooker.
In our food pantry in Oklahoma we have jams, jellies and beans that are still sealed 5+ years on. In Moldova, homesteads will preserve food with the understanding that it must be consumed the first year. There is always an expectation that some of the jars of food you prepare will loose their seal and go bad. This is due in certain parts to the poor quality of the jars and seals that are available here (albeit they are a quarter of the price compared to the US), and second part lack of knowledge or protocol on canning procedures.
I would like to add that many families I know are immaculate caners. I would also like to add that if your jar of food goes bad, it is visible. I have also never known a responsible family to have ever had an issue with food poisoning from canned food. It is evident which foods are still sealed and which are not.
After several years living in Moldova, I finally found a pressure cooker. Regretfully I only used it a handful of times because it was a low quality device and frankly scared me a bit.
So I have basically followed suit with my Moldovan friends to canning high acid and high sugar content foods.
I lived in Moldova for 9 years without a dishwasher. Now that I have one, we use it for canning preparations only when we are processing a batch in our Chisinau apartment.
Since we do most of our canning out at our Garden plot on the river, we have maintained our old-school manual approach.
In Oklahoma most families would run jars through the sterilize setting on the dishwasher, and then be ready to fill them.
In Moldova we carefully wash jars, and then sterilize them in a hot water bath. Since we are using a propane burner outside, we cannot keep two pots boiling at a time. The pot with the hot water gets removed and placed on the table, the jars remain in the water (almost boiling) until right before we are ready to fill them.
When the peach juice has boiled and is ready for the jars, we place them on a clean tea towel upside down to preserve the heat and keep out any dust particles.
The jar lids are boiled in a smaller pot near the barrel. Keeping them in a wire basket is even easier than retrieving them one by one with a magnetic wand. When canning outdoors, time is of the essence to preserve the heat from the juice and the jars. Everything must be prepared and on hand so that we can fill and seal all the jars within 5 minutes.
juice boiling on a propane burner
Although we have a nicer looking electric hotplate, it cannot create the high temperatures we need quickly enough to heat this quantity of juice to a rolling boil.
Using a propane burner ensures that we can process first the jars and then the juice quickly to preserve heat. While the peach juice is heating up, we must skim the foam that appears on top 2-3 times.
After arriving at a rolling boil. we quickly ladle the juice into the jars and tighten the caps by hand for each one.
Once filled and capped, the jars are turned upside down to ensure that the heat thoroughly heats the cap seal. Once all filled, the jars are covered with insulated foil and wool camping blankets and left to further process in their own “oven”.
After a day and night wrapped in the insulated blankets, the jars are still hot the next morning. After a quick rinse down and clean up, we are done by 11am and ready to receive guests.
While we have access to sunshine and fresh fruits in the summer to such a large extent, winter in Moldova is such a shocking contrast. In the winter the days are depressingly short, and the only fresh fruits and vegetables are those imported. The peaches stored in the cold storage facilities in Moldova have long been exported abroad and fresh options are quite limited unless you can or freeze your own produce.
In the winter a hearty glass of peach nectar acts almost like magic potion, drinking it you can smell the Moldovan summer again.