Q: In preparing some recipes for canned peaches, one extracts peach kernels from their pits and then places two or three in each jar. What functions do the kernels serve? Also, what is the most efficient method for peeling peaches before canning them? Do they have to be fully ripe?
A: The seeds contain a bitter substance, amygdalin, which when heated produces benzaldehyde, the primary compound of almond flavor. Amygdalin is better known as laetrile, which has been used for bogus cancer treatment in some countries. It is a complex molecule that, besides benzaldehyde, also contains hydrogen cyanide. The amount of cyanide produced by only a couple peach seeds is negligible, however.
Adding the peach kernels is also a waste of time and effort. One gets the identical flavoring by simply adding a comparable amount of almond extract, which is a solution of benzaldehyde in alcohol. Since there is really very little benzaldehyde in each kernel, a drop of extract per jar of peaches would probably suffice.
To peel peaches most efficiently, choose the largest stewpot you have -- at least one gallon capacity. Fill it two-thirds full of water, cover and bring to a boil. Also fill a large mixing bowl two-thirds full of cold water. Plunge at least 10 peaches at a time in the boiling water and leave them in until the skin shows signs of wrinkling. At this point, air has been expelled from the outer layers of peach flesh, causing the peach to shrink slightly. The cells binding the skin to flesh are also cooked and the skin is then easily removed. This takes 30 to 60 seconds. Remove all peaches as fast as possible, using a large, slotted spoon. Drop into the cold water. This prevents further softening. Then peel with a paring knife and drop the peaches into the clean canning jars.
Peaches to be canned should not be green or have patches of green. The skin does not loosen from green areas. Nor should they be fully ripe, because the flesh softens too easily, makes peeling difficult and makes a mushy product. Proper ripeness is tested by touch: The flesh should yield slightly when gently squeezed.
Q: What is the most efficient method of chopping parsley? I run mine under cold water, shake it, then chop it in the food processor. It turns soggy. Mother used to put it in a glass and snip it with her sewing scissors. Also, what does one do with limp parsley?
A: Shaking parsley won't remove all the water trapped among its frilly leaves. Instead, shake them and then press the branches gently between pieces of paper towel to remove excess moisture. Wrap the excess in the moist paper towel and place in an plastic bag. This will provide a moist environment, yet permit the still-living parsley cells to breathe.
Unless you are in a hurry and don't mind soggy parsley, avoid using a food processor. Although chopping is supposedly one of the machine's greatest talents, it does a very poor job of it. A processor is really a pure'eing machine and that is just what it does to parsley's fragile cells. The whirring blades batter them open, shredding and tearing through the cells membranes. This moistens the chopped parsley bits, makes them clump together and speeds up enzmatic spoilage reactions which quickly give the green bits the odor and flavor of just-mown lawn.
Some still use the scissor-cutting technique. This is quite effective if you want a tablespoon or two coarsely chopped leaves, say to top some boiled potatoes. However, it isn't very nice to the scissors, which are discolored and etched by parsley's acids.
The best way to chop parsley is by knife. You should use a sharp french knife with a blade at least 8 inches long. The french knife is best because of its inset handle and straight edge. The handle, which is at least 1 1/2 inches from the edge of the blade, provides room for one's knuckles so they aren't rapped mercilessly against the cutting board. The straight edge is important because one must raise and lower the handle of the knife while holding the tip of the blade down with the palm of the of the hand (fingers and thumb should be outstretched to prevent accidents). The steady hinge-like up-and-down motion quickly turns parsley leaves into bits without masking and smashing the greenery into a paste.