Saturday, August 28, 2010

Peaches and Vanilla-Peach Jam

Canning Peaches
subtitle: "How to make your entire kitchen sticky"

Last Thursday I bought 2 22-pound boxes of peaches from 2 different farm stands.  Each told me that the peaches needed a few days to ripen, so I left the peaches in the carport until Sunday afternoon.  Strangely, the box that was open to the air ripened better than the one that was closed (ripening fruit gives off ethylene gas, which in turn helps speed the ripening of the rest of the fruit).  I used the less-than-perfectly-ripe fruit for jam and canned the ripened peaches in a light sugar syrup.

Peaches were the first thing I ever canned.  They're easy to can, requiring no ingredients other than sugar and water, and the steps are straight-forward:

1. Peel, pit, and halve peaches.  This is the most complicated part because peeling peaches means dropping them into boiling water for 1-3 minutes then shocking them in cold water to loosen the skin.  I sliced my thumb on a peach pit, so be careful.

2. Put peach halves into a syrup.  I make an extra-light syrup (1.25 cup sugar to 5 cups water), and bring to a simmer.

3. Pack peaches into sterile jars and process for 25-30 minutes, depending upon the jar size.
That's it, though time-consuming.  Processing all those peaches and making the jam below (which I did at the same time) took me about 4 1/2 hours.  This is not a project you do on a lark.

Sometimes a jar breaks.  When this happens, just throw it and the contents away (other jars are fine).

Two years ago I went for a picnic with my friend, Bonnie.  She whipped out a jar of vanilla-peach jam she'd gotten at the grocery store.  The jam was incredible!  We slathered it on crackers with cheese and loved every second of it.  Months later when it was peach-canning time I decided to replicate that jam and made two batches.  It became my favorite of all the jams I've ever made (with the sol exception of blueberry conserves) and it a wonderful gift jam because it's so distinctive.  People seem to appreciate gourmet jams more than simple ones.  It's strange, really.

My last jar got traded for some rhubarb so this year I had an excuse to make it again.

Vanilla-Peach Jam
4 cups diced peaches
1 box powdered pectin
1 vanilla bean, split and caviar removed
2 T lemon juice (use the stuff from a bottle to guarantee acidity)
5 cups sugar

Makes roughly 6 half-pint jars or 3 pint jars.

Start by sterilzing your jars, rings, and tools.  The easiest way to do this is to place them in the canning kettle as you bring the water to a boil.  Put the lids in a bowl and cover with the hottest tap water you can get, but not boiling water: you want to soften the rubber but not ruin it.

Put the peaches in a large, tall, non-reactive pot (no aluminum: use stainless steel or enameled pots only).  Whisk in the pectin, vanilla caviar and bean, and lemon juice, then bring the fruit to a boil over high heat.  Add the sugar all at ounce and bring to a rolling boil (meaning you can't stir it down) for 1 minute.

Leave the jam on the counter for a minute or so while you get the jars ready to be filled.  Stirring the jam one last time before filling the jars will help the fruit distribute evenly throughout the jam and prevent floating.

Cut up the vanilla bean and put a segment of the bean into each jar.

Pour the jam into the prepared jars and load the canning kettle.  Once the water is back to a hard boil, plop on the lid and set your timer for 5 minutes.

After the timer dings place your jars on the counter (I usually put mine on a wooden cutting board because we have ceramic tile and I don't trust the temperature difference not to crack the jars).  Don't disturb the jars for 24 hours.  If you don't have the countertop space to space you can put the jars back into the peach boxes, leaving space for air to circulate, and place the boxes out of the way.

Remember to label the jars.  My day's work and 40 pounds of peaches yielded:
10 quarts plain peaches
6 pints vanilla peaches
6 half-pints vanilla-peach jam
2 pints peach juice (why throw it away??)
A package of  peaches in the freezer to be made into vanilla-peach jam another time.

p.s. Happy birthday to me!

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