. . . thanks to Billy.
In the pouring rain we dashed in and out of our farmers market the other morning with solid intention to buy only what we needed for dill pickle making – cukes, garlic and fresh dill. We accomplished that, plus some cauliflower, at Whistling Train Farm where Shelley had it all. So we had our hands full, literally: 20 pounds of cucumbers plus a few accessory products and an afternoon of pickle making before us.
Things went awry, in the nicest way, when Bob ambled over to say hello to Billy, a Tonasket farmer and beloved Market vendor. Urban farmer Bob, and our garden, benefit from occasional chats with Billy, and Billy’s curious about how Seattle’s tomato-growers are faring each summer. He brings farming advice, along with tomatoes, peppers, basil and peaches, to Farmers Markets here every weekend. We Seattleites are his fans, lining up for tomatoes and peppers – his culinary autograph.
Hello and a bagful of sweet peppers lead to a box of peaches given by Billy, for my birthday he said. It just so happens that it’s barely past my birthday season – good call Billy. So, with 20 pounds of cukes plus a big box full of ripe peaches, plans changed. First the dills and then peach preserves.
He suggested canning this particular variety, and I must say he pulled my heartstrings there. My grandmother – I know that I mention her frequently, she was an awesome presence in my life – canned peaches every summer right about now and I often helped out. We ate them all winter long. Sometimes just a bowlful, sometimes with cottage cheese, sometimes in a little peachy tart which she would make in a minute. I swear. But truthfully, except for sentimental reasons, I’m just not that into canning peaches.
Peach jam, however, is another matter. I’m a coffee, toast & jam aficionado. It’s my morning fling, my kick-start, my moment of zen. Or just another bad habit. Haven’t made peach jam in a while (ever?), but I knew I wanted plain and simple, just the peaches and the inevitable sugar. Fresh or candied ginger or orange can be a delectable addition. Another time perhaps.
I was surprised that it wasn’t so easy to find a plain peach jam recipe, even in our trusty putting food by-type cookbooks. Nothing at all in Joy of Cooking. I resorted to what my mom and grandma used to do, which was to use the recipe inside the pectin package as a guide. Except that, but of course, I ignored their dire warnings about following the recipe exactly, crossed my fingers and forged ahead using a lot less sugar than suggested.
Two batches, two versions, both reviewed below. The batch using pectin thickened beautifully even with about half the sugar suggested; second batch without any pectin at all thickened, it’s acceptable, and a little runny. The trick to some success with each version, I think, was that I cooked it vigorously for fifteen minutes, allowing it to reduce and thicken naturally. This is definitely a traditional cooked jam.
Peach Jam, Version #1 (w/pectin)
9 C sliced peaches
6 C sugar (rather than 11 cups!)
6 T lemon juice
2 pkg. regular pectin
Stir ingredients together in a pot, turn the heat on high and bring to a rolling boil/ Adjust heat accordingly, stir often and maintain a steady boil for another 15 – 20 minutes/ Mixture will reduce and gradually thicken/ It can be tested on an icy cold dish (placed in freezer 30 minutes previously); drip some of the liquid on to the frosty dish and in a few moments the jam will cool to about its final consistency/ Smash peaches into smaller bits with a potato masher if desired/ Place boiling hot jam into sterilized jars, screw on sterilized seals and lids. Some sources say this enough. If jam mixture and jars are hot they will automatically seal and preserve.
Or, process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. (Consult a reliable source for more detail on these procedures.) Or, just put it in a jar, store it in the fridge and eat it up. It will be fine for about a month. Small batch jam is a great way to make a quick jar or two without much fuss – adjust ingredient amounts accordingly.
Honestly, if you’re at all hesitant about the whole jam making thing, consider making a small batch. It requires about half an hour, and will yield a few cups of fresh jam that can be stored in the fridge, slathered on toast or drizzled over ice cream. Worth it.
Peach Jam, Version #2 (w/o pectin)
6 C sliced peaches
3 C sugar
3 T lemon juice
Proceed as above, minus the pectin, boiling mixture vigorously for 15 – 20 minutes, stirring often and then testing on a frosty dish. Final result is slightly runny, but we thought it fine.
A 3rd version, using low-sugar pectin and directions followed exactly, resulted in an overly gelatinous jam, in my opinion. Definitely the worst of the three batches. Never again. Or did I make a mistake somewhere in this process?
We’re freezing peaches too: peeled, sliced and laid out in a single layer on a parchment-lined cookie sheet until frozen, then placed into zip lock bags.
Fruit smoothies in the wings, a piece of toast and jam, a cuppa java. Peachy.