There's no need to grow everything yourself

Even if you don't have a garden or an orchard, there's always farmer's markets and U-Pick farms where fresh and healthy produce is available and ready to use. The week of August 6th through 12th is even National Farmer's Market Week. I don't have peach trees, but my local produce stand does. I bought a peck of tree-ripe peaches for $18, which I consider a bargain and it helps support my local farmers instead of a nameless supermarket chain with fruits and vegetables of dubious origin and ripeness. Making jam isn't all that hard and it is a skill that everyone should know. Home made jams and jellies make great holiday gifts and it is never too soon to start.

History of peaches

Peaches originated in north west China and they have been used by humans since about 6000 B.C. Legends and lore associate them with goodness and love and the blossoms and wood were thought to ward off evil spirits. Even today, the gift of a perfect peach in many Asian countries is considered extremely special. From China, peaches traveled along the Spice Road to Persia (modern day Iran) and then to the rest of the Middle East and Mediterranean basin. The Spanish brought peaches to the Americas and then they came back across the Atlantic to England and France. Many famous artists were known to have painted peaches, peach blossoms or peach trees. Renoir, Monet and Van Gogh are just a few. Everywhere they traveled, peaches were loved and considered special, so it is simply continuing tradition to gift peach jam to those you love and consider special.

cooking peach jam

Preparing peaches to make jam

Select peaches that are ripe, but not overly so. If they are over-ripe the flavor will not be as good and the jam will have a grainy texture and those yummy chunks of peach will disappear in the cooking process. Peaches should be firm, with a slight give to the fruit when lightly squeezed. Wash well and prepare a boiling water bath to blanch them. This will loosen the skins to make them easier to peel. I cut an x on the bottom of each peach and lower about 6 peaches at a time into the boiling water and leave them a couple of minutes. Transfer them to the sink where an ice water bath is waiting. This recipe takes about a eight good sized peaches, so to make sure you have enough and blanch a couple extra to make sure. You can always serve them over ice cream later. When the peaches are cool enough to handle, slide the skins off using the x marks you've cut. You may need to help the skins along a bit with a sharp knife in a couple of places, but for the most part, the skins should slide right off. After the peaches are peeled, cut them into chunks about a half inch square. I have the juice of a fresh lemon handy that I sprinkle on the peaches as I'm cutting. This keeps them from turning dark. I cut a few, sprinkle lemon juice, stir a bit and continue until all are cut and in a bowl.

Make peach jam

When your peaches are chunked and ready, measure four cups (.946L) into a large stockpot. Use a larger stockpot than you think you'll need, the jam expands as it boils and burnt jam is terribly hard to remove from your stove if you have a boil-over. Add a package of pectin to your peaches and stir in well to dissolve. Also add about a half teaspoon of butter to keep it from foaming. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly to keep from sticking. Bring to a full, rolling boil. That means that it stays bubbling even when you are stirring. At that time, add 5 ½ cups (1301.24 ml) of sugar. Don't skimp on this. The recipe needs this much sugar so that the jam will properly jell. There are low sugar recipes that are on the internet if you need lower sugar and there are even no sugar recipes, however most of these take longer to do. Stir in the sugar and keep stirring on high heat until the jam returns to a full rolling boil. Use a long handled spoon because the jam is very hot and it can burn if splashed on you. Once it returns to the full rolling boil, set the timer for one minute. Keep stirring. When the minute is up, the jam is done. Remove from heat and fill in sterile canning jars. Wipe the rims and place canning lids and rings on them and tighten. This recipe should make about 3 ½ pints. Don't double it, make a separate cooking for more jam. If the jam will be used soon, it isn't necessary to process, however if you are making this for holiday gifts, process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Jam isn't all that hard to make and the pectin is available almost everywhere. Every grocery store, dollar store and big box store in my area has it. However, if you can't find it in your neighborhood, many on line sources sell it.

peach jam and pectin

Preserve the harvest for your family or for gifts

With the bounty of the harvest giving us so much this summer, it is a good idea to learn to preserve it. Whether it is peaches, plums, blueberries or raspberries, jams are simple to make and are perfect gifts for teachers, postal workers, health care workers or any other people you care for. The Asian tradition of giving a peach to someone special is a good one and the recipient will appreciate that you took the time and effort to give them something your hands made.