It happens like clockwork every year, that moment when the first whisper of fall comes crashing in. The calendar may not have officially changed seasons yet, but the breezy winds, and cooler nights made their way to the Cape a couple of days ago. This has been the pattern for most of the 18 years I’ve been coming here. Of course, summer doesn’t disappear without a fight, especially back in New York City. I’m sure we’ll be swapping sweaters for swimsuits again next week.
The change in weather gave me a bit of a panic attack the other day. We’ve had some wonderful trips this summer, but all the packing, unpacking, on and off planes, means I missed a good deal of my local growing season. Translation: my cupboards are dismally low on home-canned goodies. Thankfully, I stumbled upon some incredible peaches at the farmers’ market in Provincetown this past weekend, proving the window has not yet closed on my canning opportunities.
When I first started making jam, I relied on Pomona’s Universal Pectin because I was weary of using copious amounts of sugar to thicken it. I also love to capture the pure fruit flavor without any cloying sweetness. That said, my thoughts on this changed a little this year. I still do recommend Pomona’s, especially if you’re diabetic, need to maintain, or just prefer, a low-sugar lifestyle.
There are other approaches to making jam, though, that you can consider. Adding chopped, unripe, tart apples (sometimes called summer apples), is one method. These apples are high in natural pectin, and just a little apple, chopped up, goes a long way to helping thicken up your jam, allowing you to use a little less sugar (don’t get me wrong, you’ll still need a good amount). You can also try making your own apple jelly to use as a pectin base for your jam. This is Christine Ferber’s approach, and her jams are heavenly. I’m madly in love with her raspberry violet one, and stock up on it whenever I’m in Paris (I’ve yet to be able to find it here in NYC).
The last method, and one I’ve embraced this summer, is the very traditional method of adding almost equal parts sugar to fruit. It’s incredibly easy, and is cooked on the stovetop instead of my quick method which uses the microwave (a great recipe if you want to make jam in 15 minutes!). Don’t mistaken large quantities of sugar as a remedy for poor quality fruit. It’s still imperative to use super ripe fruit for the best taste. I’ve experimented a lot with infusing fresh herbs, and new flavors into my jams. Rosemary with strawberries is a lovely marriage. A friend recently made a plum lavender jam that was incredible, too. When it comes to perking me up on a cold, grey, winter day, though, I crave a more simple, pure burst of summer to slather on toast, or stir into my oatmeal.
And so, today, I’m offering up an easy peach jam recipe. All you need are three ingredients—peaches, sugar and lemon juice. A bit of patience is necessary too, but I’m taking that ingredient as a freebie, and not adding it to my count. A note about selecting your peaches—try to get freestone peaches, as the pits release easily with minimal coaxing from the tip of your thumbnail. Cling peaches work absolutely fine, but you’ll lose a little of the meat cutting the flesh from the pit. At this late point in the game, I say go with whatever peaches you’ve got, but thought I’d add that tidbit if you do have a choice when you’re at the market.
As for peeling the peaches, a very ripe peach usually sheds it’s skin easily. I get it started with the tip of a paring knife, and pull it away from there. If your skins are persistent, you can score them (cut an “X” in the bottom), and add them to a pot of boiling water for one minute, until the skins loosen. You’ll need to let them cool enough so you can handle them, before slipping the skins off. This means you’ll need more prep time for making your jam, but it’s not at all difficult—just plan accordingly.
The jams I’ve been making this summer, this one included, remind me a lot of Christine Ferber’s, in that they’re a little on the runny side when first made. They set up more, and thicken further once opened and chilled. Feel free to experiment if you want to dress the jam up a bit. I can see vanilla bean, lemon thyme, mint, or a hint of cinnamon being a lovely accessory to the peach’s natural flavor.
makes 2 1/2 pints
Music Pairing: Jammin’ by Bob Marley
I must confess, I skip the hot water method when making this jam, and simply turn my jars upside down after filling and tightening the tops. The heat from the hot jam is enough to create an airtight seal (that popping sound is music to my ears), and the amount of sugar is enough to keep it safe, too. That is how my friend’s French mother has been making her jam for years, and so far no one has perished. Once opened, though, it does need to be stored in the fridge to keep it from spoiling. If you prefer to dot your “i’s” and cross your “t’s”, please do go ahead and process the jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
2 1/2 pounds (1 1/8 kilos) very ripe peaches (about 9 peaches), peeled, pitted & chopped
2 pounds (1 kilo) granulated natural cane sugar
Freshly juice of 1 plump lemon
Place a small dish in the freezer. You will need this to test the jam for doneness.
Add the peaches, sugar and lemon juice to a deep stock pot. It’ll look lost in the pot, but you’ll need the space when it comes to a boil, trust me.
Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, over high heat. Use a wide spoon to skim the foam from the top. Don’t skip this step, or you’ll end up with a cloudy jam. It’s worth the extra minute or two of your time, I promise.
Once you’re done skimming the foam off, reduce the heat to a vigorous simmer (with bubbles constantly popping to the surface). Let the jam continue to cook until reduced by half, and thickened enough that it generously coats the back of a wooden spoon. At this point, you can start testing your jam for doneness. Remove the dish from the freezer, and drizzle a small amount on the plate. Tilt the plate sideways, and if it holds in place without being too runny, then it’s ready. The consistency will still be thin. Don’t worry it will thicken, and set up into a gel, as it cools.
Spoon the hot jam into clean, sterilized jars. Let cool completely before using.