fruit preserves

The convenience of canned pie fillings makes them desirable as a kitchen staple, not only for pies, but also for a quick fruit crisp or fruit-filled coffee cake. Besides their excellent flavor, home-canned pie fillings usually contain more fruit than commercially purchased ones.

A challenge of canning fruit pie fillings has been finding a thickener that is both safe and yields a desirable consistency. Flour, cornstarch and tapioca break down from the high temperatures used in the canning process causing a runny consistency. They also create a safety problem because they prevent the penetration of heat to the center of the jar during processing. Commercially prepared pie fillings use a modified food starch to overcome these problems.

The home food preserver can make fruit fillings with excellent and safe results using Clear Jel, a modified food starch that withstands the canning process. Unlike ordinary cornstarch, Clear Jel works well with acidic ingredients, tolerates high temperatures, and doesn’t cause pie fillings to “weep” during storage. It is a good choice for canning homemade pie fillings because it doesn’t begin thickening until the liquid begins to cool. This allows heat to be distributed more evenly within the jar during processing, which is important for the safety of the product. It is the only thickener that the USDA recommends for home canning. However, don’t freeze products made with Clear Jel as they tend to break down when frozen. Clear Jel is available through some supply outlets and some grocery stores that sell bulk foods. Find out about its availability before gathering other ingredients to make fruit pie filling. Make sure you are getting the type of Clear Jel that requires cooking. Do not use Instant Clear Jel in canned pie fillings. ThermFlo has similar viscosity and stability to Clear Jel and is a suitable alternative.

Recipes have been tested for canning apple, blueberry, cherry and peach pie fillings. Below is one of the tested recipes for peaches. You can obtain the others by calling your Penn State Extension office and asking for the fact sheet “Let’s Preserve Fruit Pie Fillings,” or going to http://extension.psu.edu/food/preservation/safe-methods/fruit-pie-fillings. This fact sheet also includes recipes for frozen fruit pie fillings.

Because the variety of fruit may alter the flavor of the fruit pie filling, you should first prepare a single quart, make a pie with it, and taste it. Then, adjust the sugar and spices in the recipe to suit your personal preferences. The ratio of lemon juice to fruit and liquid should never be altered because it affects the safety and storage stability of the filling,

Canned Peach Pie Filling

Ingredient amounts for 1 quart to test recipe use:

  • 3-1/2 cups fresh sliced peaches
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon Clear Jel
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • 1/4 cup bottled lemon juice
  • Ingredients needed for 7 quart jars:
  • 6 quarts fresh sliced peaches
  • 7 cups sugar
  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons Clear Jel
  • 5-1/4 cups cold water
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • 1-3/4 cups bottled lemon juice

Select ripe but firm peaches. Peel, pit and slice peaches 1/2-inch thick into water containing a color preserver (ascorbic acid, crushed vitamin C tablets, or a commercial product such as Fruit Fresh) to prevent browning. Drain.

Place 6 cups of sliced peaches at a time in 1 gallon of boiling water. Boil each batch for 1 minute after the water returns to a boil. Drain, but keep heated fruit in a covered bowl or pot.

Combine sugar, Clear Jel, water, and cinnamon or almond extract in a large kettle. Stir and cook on medium-high heat until mixture thickens and begins to bubble. Add lemon juice and boil sauce for 1 minute more, stirring constantly.

Fold in drained peach slices, fill jars immediately with mixture, leaving 1-inch headspace, remove air bubbles, and process without delay.

Process pints or quarts in a boiling water bath for 30 minutes. Make adjustments for higher altitudes.

If you have a food preservation question, contact your local Penn State Extension office and they will forward it to the proper educator.

The Well Preserved news column is prepared by Penn State Extension.

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