Sunday, August 2, 2009

Peach Jam

I find it amusing how so many things in life function in cycles. Children turning into their parents, in their lifestyles, gestures, habits. The latest fashions of the day recycling themselves every few decades. It cracks me up to see beards, tapered leg jeans and neon back in style. As a child of the ’80s, I honestly thought these stylistic nuances — especially neon — were dead and never coming back, but amazingly, it’s happened.

And food and drink is no different. Take the cocktail. Vintage cocktails are all the rage these days! From Sazeracs to the Dark and Stormy — countless restaurateurs and mixologists are inviting these old-time libations back to their menus at breakneck speeds.

I’ve been noticing this cyclical phenomenon with canning. The very idea of canning is a romantic one — old-fashioned Ball brand jars stocking the shelves of grandmothers’ basements for generations, quaint little screw top lids, the magic of preserving farm-fresh flavors for the winter months. It all just seems very sweet. But in the reality of generations past, canning is no more a trendy project than grocery shopping today is a hobby. Canning was a way of life — a way to ensure vegetables and fruits for the winter months. And now it has somehow cycled around to become popular again after many years of silence. I’ve seen numerous foodie magazines featuring stories on the lost art of canning, newspaper food pages devoting entire center spreads to the process, and local cooking schools offering up half-day workshops on the topic. And I am drinking the Kool-Aid in big gulp cups.

So I recruited my mother, and we made jam. To determine what kind, we visited a local farm stand to see what looked good, and the peaches spoke to us. Intoxicated by the idea of making a big batch of jam to share with family and friends for months to come, we mistakenly bought a 30 pound basket of peaches, which was WAY too much considering our recipe called for three pounds per batch. We ended up freezing the leftover peaches in slices for pie-making down the line.

We used a recipe from a box of Sure-Jell Pectin (recipe available online here), and we made six or seven batches. In short, the process is as follows: cook peeled, diced peaches with one box of pectin until boiling, then add 5 cups of sugar until that’s boiling, and let it cook down for one minute (we added an additional 20 seconds in the later batches to help the mixture set better). By this time the mixtures is syrupy with small bits of peach chunks scattered throughout like little gems. Then, pour the mixture into sterilized jars (to sterilize, clean with hot soapy water then boil for 10 minutes). Finally, once the tops are tightly screwed on, boil each jar for another 1o minutes, then remove and cool. We used an old-fashioned wire rack of sorts, to aid in the removal of the cans from the boiling water. At this point the jars seal themselves (through suction, the hot mixture meets the cool air and condenses, causing the tops to “pop”). This is the most gratifying part! It’s like magic to listen to the jars seal one at a time, over the next five to 10 minutes.

It was remarkable how different each batch turned out. The first was foamy, and looked sudsy in the jar. To remedy this, the recipe suggested adding 1/2 teaspoon of margarine to the first step, and this did the trick in subsequent batches. The second didn’t set properly, and thus we added the additional 20 seconds to the second step to reduce the amount of liquid. The other batches turned out pretty well, though some of them were more syrupy than others.
All in all it was a grand experience! The simplicity of the process was really wonderful, and I will definitely do this many more times in my life with whatever I can find (blackberries, blueberries, maybe apple butter). I see why this time-honored tradition has experienced a resurgence. In these times of frugality, and do-it-yourself economical endeavors, capturing the fresh, simple, flavors of summer in a jar at very little cost is appealing. I think this is one trend that, at least for me, will stick around.

Not sure I feel the same way about the whole neon thing though.


4 Responses to “Peach Jam”

  1. 1

    DJ B — August 16, 2009 @ 8:55 pm

    Please, you know you would can up a jar of neon in a heartbeat!

    If you don't already know how, the next skill to have your mom pass down is candy making: just wait until you show up at a Christmas party with homemade hard candies tied up with ribbon…

  2. 2

    Annakate — August 18, 2009 @ 11:05 pm

    I'll have to bring you some jam the next time I'm in Nash. It's tasty stuff — even if it is Neon. Love that you pointed that out. 🙂

  3. 3

    Leah — September 3, 2009 @ 4:58 pm

    I'm so excited that I was gifted a jar of this precious jam…and I'm surprised that you gave away one of your beloved bell jars.

    I'll save it as your designated juice glass when you come back to Chicago to visit me.

  4. 4

    HadleyRuth — September 9, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

    yeah your peach jam is DELICIOUS!!! had it on my english muffin this morning. thanks AK:)

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