Summer is a great time for food, but, sadly, it doesn’t last forever. Those beautiful strawberries and peaches fade away into memory during the first snowfall of the season and seem like a distant memory by the time the New Year comes around. But there is a way to make sure that those tastes and flavors are available year-round. No, I’m not telling you to get a membership to a fruit-of-the-month club or to buy that second house in a warmer climate. You can make jam!
Oh yeah, one of the best ways to harness the amazing flavors of summer fruits and make them available whenever you want. Back in June I made a large batch of strawberry jam, as I do each year. However, last year we found something new to try. My wife and I had bought a bushel of peaches to can as peach halves, but we ran into a problem. The peaches were too soft and juicy, and were falling apart each time we tried to cut one. We decided to try something completely different and make jam out of them. Something we had never done before. We also happened to have some vanilla beans that we were going to use to flavor the syrup of the peaches. We took part of the beans and used the vanilla “caviar” to enhance the flavor of the jam. This turned out to be one of the best experiments that we ever tried and we decided that we had to make a lot more this year.
We started out by going to a great local farm and buying some beautiful peaches that were picked off of the tree that morning. You can use whatever amount you want, but half a bushel is more than enough for us. These peaches weren’t particularly soft, but they were ripe enough to have great flavor.
One thing you’ve got to keep in mind is that peaches will turn brown after they’ve been in the air for a while. So, when you begin, work one batch at a time. It will take some time, but it’s worth it when you see the color that the jam is. If you’ve never canned or if you’re an experienced pro, make sure that all of your canning stuff is cleaned and ready for business. If you need some help, you can always go to www.freshpreserving.com. This is the website of the Ball Corporation and it’s always been a great resource for me about all things canning. Now lets get going!
My recipe for Vanilla Peach jam is as follows and makes about six (8 oz.) half pints:
- 4 cups of peaches (I used the food process to turn them into a puree, but make sure to add the lemon juice in this recipe to keep the color)
- 2 Tbsp. of lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp. of butter (unsalted)
- 5 cups of sugar
- One single box of fruit pectin (not sugar free, only regular)
- 1/2 a vanilla pod (split it down the middle and remove the “caviar” to use ) (throw the pod into a canister of sugar to make vanilla sugar…amazing!)
When you begin working on each batch, you want to first clean off any dirt from the peaches. Next peal the peaches that are going into the batch, cut them into chunks, and throw them into the food processor. With them, toss in the lemon juice to make sure the color stays. Run the food processor to turn them into a puree. This consistency makes some fantastic jam. Once you have four cups of peach puree, place them into a large (8 quart) pot.
With the peaches (and lemon) add in the butter, pectin, and vanilla “caviar.” You cook this mixture until boils and cannot be stirred down. I have to say, please be careful during this entire process. This is stuff is very hot and it can burn you. I speak from experience. At this point, you want to add in the sugar and stir, nonstop, until it goes to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. When you reach this point, stir it for one minute. When the minute’s up, the jam is done…except now you have to put it into the jars and process it.
The processing is something you have to get exact. If you don’t do it right, the batch will go bad inside the jars and all of that time and money will be going into the trash can. Visit the Ball Corporation site that I mentioned above and you’ll be able to learn the process really quickly. It’s not difficult, but, when you’re canning, it has to be right.
When the processing is over, you take the jars out of the canning pot and place them on a towel, on the counter, to cool off. Let them stand there overnight to allow them to “gel” properly. When they’re cool, you can use a marker to write what they are on top. When that’s done it’s time to put them up on the cabinet for a rainy day or a taste of summer to enjoy in the middle of winter.
One more thing! An extremely simple recipe that you can enjoy at home or at a party. Take a wheel of really good brie and place it on a platter. Take between 1/2 a cup to a cup of the vanilla peach jam and warm it in the microwave for about 40-50 seconds. Now, pour it over the brie and let it set for a minute or two. Be careful, because you might eat the whole thing yourself! Oh yeah, it’s that good!