The thing about peach jam is that it actually gives me a midwinter burst of nostalgia, along with the simpler having of something yummy and local to spread on our toast. Come February, I will pop a lid, and that golden summer smell will take me back to yesterday, to Ben and Birdy munching fruit at the picnic table of our favorite orchard, where we had driven to buy a peck of their cheapest scratch-and-dent "utility" peaches. I will spoon up a bit of that lovely sweet peachiness and I will remember the children's long and bite-covered legs--those legs I'll have hardly seen in months!--dangling down from their shorts to kick happily at the grass and dirt while juice ran down their brown and dirty, gleaming faces. I may or may not remember the swarm of biting gnats that eventually drove us away, but I will remember the full-to-bursting feeling of a car full of ripe peaches, of ripe children, of happiness and sunshine and the promise of something wonderful, even as something wonderful was already ending: the fleeting Sunday afternoon, the fleeting season, the fleeting time of kids in the car, at our table, safe in their beds and ours.
So. Where was I? Jam. Yes. I haven't even spoken yet of the righteousness--of how you will use the word "can" (even though, yes, it's jars you're putting everything into), and how you will give away jars of jam, and friends and neighbors will say, "Wow, you made jam?" And you will say modestly, "It's easy, actually." (Unless you're me, and then you'll say, "I know, is it awesome or what? Here, come look in the basement. No, seriously, walk down with me. Yes, right now. I made all that. I know!") You won't likely make jam to save money, but you could, because it's better and cheaper than anything you can buy, and the only jam that might be better is Stonewall Kitchens Peach Amaretto Jam, which is $7.75 per 13-ounce jar. Hello, jam mortgage!
This batch of jam cost me $5 (including pectin and sugar), and I made 48 ounces. Which is, let's see, exactly. . . much much less expensive. But also, it's so much fun to make and it takes around a half an hour, start to finish, as long as you remember to run the dish washer so that your jars are nice and clean and hot when you got to fill them. Note that I'm giving you directions for freezing the jam, which is a great baby step to take if you're new to canning. I'm not calling you a baby, by the way. I'm just saying, you can put the jam in jars or plastic containers and pop them in your freezer, and then you don't have to get into the whole sterilizing/pasteurizing scene. But if you do want to, then you can go somewhere like the Ball site, and they will have loads of instructions and recipes, many for relishes where the first ingredient is "five quarts of corn kernels," which is just too much corn, so please. Depending on the situation with my jars (whether I have empty regular jars or actual canning jars) and with my freezer (whether it's too full of kale, kale, KALE!), I sometimes can the jam and sometimes freeze it. It is equally good both ways.
Just be sure to wear an apron, for the full Ma-Ingalls effect, and don't tell my jam-expert mother that I used commercial pectin (Hi, Mom! No, we weren't able to include under-ripe fruit with its naturally occurring pectin!), and don't come crying to me when you've got a five-gallon crock of sauerkraut fermenting stinkily in your basement because you got addicted to preserving. I hear you.
Makes 5-6 half-pint jars
Total time: 30 minutes
I use no-cook or no-sugar pectin, even though I both cook the jam and add sugar to it, because then you can cook it for a shorter amount of time and add less sugar. I can vouch only for the three pectins I name here for this method; other kinds may work fine, but I don't know. Depending on where you live, you may be able to get large quantities of imperfect fruit at rock-bottom prices, and this will have the added benefit of producing a locally grown jam. But you can also buy fruit at the supermarket, if you're eager to experiment. It's a fun cooking project to do with kids--just be careful because, as my mother likes to say, nothing is as hot as hot jam. Please note: a recipe with no salt! I know!
4 pounds firm-ripe peaches (8 or 9, enough to make 4 cups puree; if you're at an orchard, you want a quarter of a peck)
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 packet (1.59 ounces) Ball “No Cook Freezer Jam” Fruit Pectin or (1.75 ounces) Ball “No Sugar Needed” Fruit Pectin or (1.75 ounces) Sure Jell “No Sugar Needed” Premium Fruit Pectin
¼ teaspoon almond extract (optional: we use it because it makes it taste like the fancy Stonewall Kitchen Peach Amaretto Jam that we love; or else you can crack the pits and use the kernels, but these may actually contain arsenic, so don't)
3 pint jars or 5-6 half-pint jars, hot from the dish washer (since you’re not actually canning the jam, you can recycle any empty jars or plastic containers, though there’s something pioneeringly righteous about using real canning jars)
Prepare the peaches. Our method is unconventional but, forgive my immodesty, completely brilliant: cut the peaches in half and remove the pits, then use a citrus juicer to ream the flesh from the skins, mashing it up as you go (this is a great job for a child). Don’t worry if there are some chunks of fruit or bits of peel. Alternately (this is the traditional method) you can bring a large pot of water to a bowl, drop the peaches in for 1 minute to loosen their skins, plunge them into ice water, peel and pit them, then finely chop them and mush them up with a potato masher.
Measure 4 cups of the peach puree into a saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice, and bring it to a full rolling boil (the kind you can’t stir away) over medium heat, stirring occasionally at first and then frequently as it gets hot, and then constantly. At various moments you'll think it's boiling, but then you'll stir it and it will stop boiling, so you'll know it wasn't really boiling yet after all. You are not looking for a tentative, waffling simmer here. Boil for 1 minute. Now add the pectin and cook, stirring vigorously, for 3 more minutes (ignore the no-cook directions and sugar amounts on the packet). Turn off the heat and stir in the almond extract.
Ladle the jam into scrupulously clean jars, leaving an inch of headroom for freezer expansion. Cap them and, when they’re cool, let them set up overnight in the refrigerator before eating. Eat within a month or freeze for a little midwinter sunshine.