I’m just peachy – you? September 12, 2012Posted by Toy Lady in canning, Food.
Remember how I bought some peaches the other day? The peaches – in fact, pretty much all the fruit – have been so good this year, and I just couldn’t resist trying to preserve as much of that sweet summery goodness as I could!
So when I stopped at the farmers’ market last weekend and saw a peck basket of “seconds” for, well, dirt cheap, I knew it was exactly what I needed for some peach jam. After all, it’s JAM – who cares what the fruit looks like?
I’ve been making jams and preserves for, well, for a lot of years, I guess. And up until very recently, I’ve always used the standard Certo recipes – just like my mother always did. And if you’ve ever made jams this way, you know that the basic recipe involves “take some fruit, add about twice as much sugar. . . “
You think I’m kidding? The recipe for nectarine jam calls for 4 and a half cups of fruit to 7 and a half cups of sugar.
WOW that’s a lot of sugar!
You see, as I understand it, the commercial pectin uses the sugar (somehow) to create a solid jell – and it only needs to cook for a minute. This can be desirable if you want your preserves to taste more like fresh fruit. (And sugar, of course.)
I find, though, that the older I get, and the more “healthy” I try to eat, the less inclined I am to want to, well, lick the sugar bowl. What can I say, I like my fruit to taste like, you know, fruit.
So I was walking the dog, listening to a Splendid Table podcast, and one of the guests, Cathy Barrow, was talking about making preserves. Fruit jams with NO commercial pectin – and only as much sugar as you want!
Oh my gosh, this was so easy-peasy I’m embarrassed I didn’t already know it!
I’ve been thinking about doing this anyway, in order to enjoy homemade “fruit-on-the-bottom” yogurt – I wasn’t even that concerned about the jams thickening too much – I just wanted them at least a little thicker syrup, and tasting like fruit, that’s all.
I’m really quite easy to please!
So here’s what I did.
I took my big old basket of peaches, and I peeled and pitted them, cut them into small-ish bits, and then weighed them.
For every pound of fruit, I added a scant cup of sugar, plus a tablespoon or so of lemon juice, give or take. I’ll admit it – I used bottled lemon juice for this because (1) I keep it on hand for canning tomatoes, and (2) I didn’t know this at the time, but there was not a SINGLE fresh lemon in the house!
So we stir the peaches and sugar, cover them, and shove them in the fridge for a couple of days.
That’s right – just walk away and let the fruit macerate.
You will be amazed by just how much juice will seep out of those peaches, mix with the sugar, and become lovely, fragrant, fruity syrup – syrup that’s actually more fruit than sugar.
Once we had a free evening, we strained the syrup into a Dutch oven – a pot significantly larger than it looks like you’ll need, because that sucker will foam UP!
Sugar is one of those amazing things – even though the “boiling point” is 212 degrees, well, you can let sugar go and go and go, and it’ll go past that.
We wanted this to reach 220 degrees, or what’s known in the candy-making world (of which I am DEFINITELY NOT a part!) as the “soft jell stage” or, as is noted on my candy thermometer, “jelly.”
I guess, at that point, it’s technically jelly, right?
So that’s when we dump the diced fruit back in. Remember the diced fruit?
See, this is how we avoid the whole “fruit cooked to death” thing, though, to be honest, I don’t hate that. I guess I’m just a general fruit fan.
We returned the fruit to the soft jelly-boiling syrup stuff, and bring it back to a boil. Not just a boil – a STRONG boil.
Let it boil (but don’t let it boil over!) until the fruit sinks – that means it’s soaking some of that syrupy juice back in – and the syrup thickens. The foam will eventually clear. Mostly, anyway. Really.
And that’s the point where you want to grab the ladle and start filling jars. Leave an inch or so of headspace, and fit with lids and rings.
I started with 5 pounds of fruit, and once the syrup had reduced a bit, I ended up with 3 and half pints of jam. I, unfortunately, didn’t have enough empty half-pint jars (most of them are full of apricot and blueberry preserves), so I ended up sticking it in pints – which we processed in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
I’ve been enjoying the extra half-jar with breakfast, and you know what?
Homemade peach fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt is pretty darned good!