Do you have jam-o-phobia? Fear not. Making jam is easy once you get the hang of it by making your first batch. I will walk you through it. It is not mysterious. It is not complicated. You do not need a lot of special equipment. It really is a just-do-it kind of thing. And it is supremely satisfying.
A few years ago my friend Cynthia asked me to give her 13-year-old daughter Katie a jam lesson. Katie was a quick study. She went off to Idaho later on in the summer and brought me back a jar of this wonderful combination, which she made up on the spot all by herself. Without a recipe. So what are you waiting for? Take a lesson from 13-year-old Katie and just plunge in.
For me, all it takes is a brisk September morning (or a few days of cool rain) to awaken the urge to preserve fragile, fragrant peaches. Jolted from the complacency of eating them with abandon for weeks on end, I want to hang on to summer, or at least be reminded of it as I watch the light fade earlier and earlier each day. This year I’m having my pangs in advance. I know that peaches, like many other fruits this season, will come and go all too soon.
So here is the skinny on jam making. If you already know this, just skip to the recipe.
What you need:
A pot for the jam: It should be about 6 quarts and the wider the better (as opposed to a tall skinny pot for pasta.) I found this fancy copper pot at a yard sale a while back—copper conducts heat beautifully and the wide, sloping sides are perfect for jam making because there is more surface for evaporation, but any large pot will do.
Utensils: a large spoon, a pair of tongs, a ladle, and a funnel with a wide mouth. You can find special jar lifting tongs, but any tongs that enable you to pick up a jar will work. A wide-mouth funnel comes in handy for all sorts of things, and they are not expensive. I just saw a set of tongs and funnel at Whole Foods for twelve bucks.
Jars: You can find Ball jars with lids and bands in most grocery stores and hardware stores right about now. A jar set-up consists of a glass jar, a lid with a rubber seal, and a screw band to hold the lid in place when you seal the jar in a boiling water bath. You can reuse the jar and the band, but must discard the lid once it’s been used because its rubber seal will not do double duty.
What you will do:
A boiling water bath? Really? Ah, there’s the rub. Do you need it? Yes, if you want to keep your jars on the shelf for up to a year. No if you just make a little jam and keep it in the fridge. When you ladle your jam into jars, you will want to seal them and get rid of air to prevent the jam from spoiling. (p.s., botulism is not a risk since the acid and sugar in the jam provide an inhospitable environment for bacteria to flourish, but mold will be a problem if the jars aren’t sealed properly.)
Okay, calm down. You now know you won’t be poisoning anyone. The boiling water bath thing doesn’t ask too much. All you need is a deep pot—the jars must be covered by two inches of water—and an old dishtowel to place in the bottom of the pot to keep the jars from clinking together in the water bath. And ten minutes of extra time. See the recipe below for details.
Fruit and sugar and that’s it. I generally use twice as much fruit as sugar by weight. And if you don’t have a scale, it works out about the same by volume. You buy peaches by the pound, so you know the weight when you purchase them. One cup of granulated sugar weighs 8 ounces, so for 5 pounds of fruit you will need 2 1/2 pounds of sugar, which equals 5 cups. Following yet? Do you feel like you are in third grade arithmetic class?
I don’t use pectin because: you need to add twice as much sugar to the jam to make it set, and the pectin cooking process is so short that it keeps the sugar syrup from reducing. The result: the jam has more water and thus less concentrated yummy fruit flavor. I could give you a lot more information on pectin, but trust me on this, you will never get around to making jam if I blab on too much. Don’t use it.
So let’s get to the jam already. You will learn a lot just by going through the process and you can apply all this new-found knowledge to future jam recipes, just like Katie did. If you are already a jam pro, I hope you will enjoy this combination.
I loved Katie’s idea for this jam. While fresh peaches are irresistible and delicate, when they are preserved in sugar they are too cloyingly sweet for my taste, so the oranges furnish a desirable counterpoint. Try to use organic oranges, but if you can’t find them wash the fruit well. Note the peach peeling method: Halve and pit the peaches and then drop them in boiling water to loosen their skins. If you put whole peaches in the water and then try to halve and pit them after they are denuded, they are impossibly slippery to manage. The jars of jam are a gratifying deep golden color; it’s hard to decide whether to open them or line them up on the windowsill to admire. Well, not that hard.
Katie’s Peach Orange Preserves
Makes 7 to 8 8-ounce jars
2 to 3 large oranges, about 1 pound, organic if possible
4 pounds peaches
5 cups sugar
Juice of 1/2 large lemon
1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil.
2. Meanwhile, wash the oranges to thoroughly to remove pesticides and wax. Slice off the ends, quarter them lengthwise and slice them as thinly as possible. If your food processor has a thin (2 mm) slicing blade, you can whip them off quickly.
3. Fill a large bowl with ice water and set it next to the stove. Halve the peaches by cutting along the “crease” through to the pit. Twist the halves in opposite directions to release them from the pit, and then remove the pit. Working with a few peaches at a time, drop them into the boiling water and blanch them for about 20 seconds to loosen their skins. Very ripe peaches will not take more than a few seconds, while others may take longer. Transfer them with a slotted spoon to the bowl of cold water for another half a minute to cool them. Pull off their skins, lay them flat side down on a cutting board and cut them in 1/8-inch slices.
4. Combine the orange slices, peach slices, sugar, and lemon juice in a large heavy-bottomed pot. A wide pot with a capacity of at least 6 quarts is best. Preserves need room to bubble up as they boil, so the pot should not be full to the brim. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Raise the heat to medium-high and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the syrup deepens in color and the peaches begin to look translucent. They will need more stirring at the end of cooking, because they become heavily saturated with syrup and sink to the bottom of the pan. This can take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes, so be patient.
5. When the syrup, which was initally quite thin and runny, begins to thicken, put two or three small saucers in the freezer and start testing the preserves for the jellying point. Dip a large spoon into the pot. Hold it over the pot so that the bowl of the spoon is facing you and let the preserves fall back into the pot. Notice how the syrup falls off the spoon. As it approaches the jellying point, two distinct drops hang onto the rim of the spoon thickly. Spoon a small puddle of syrup onto a cold saucer from the freezer. Put it back in the freezer for about a minute and test it by drawing your finger across the middle to form a channel. If the surface of the jam wrinkles and the channel does not close up immediately, your jam is ready.
6. Ladle the hot jam into clean, warm jars, leaving a 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe the rim of each jar with a wet paper towel and place the lid on top. Screw on the band, but don’t screw it on too tight. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. The preserves will keep for up to one year. If you want to skip the boiling water bath, ladle the hot jam into clean jars and store in the refrigerator where they will keep for up to three months.
Boiling water bath to seal the jars:
1. Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil. The water level should be 2 inches above the top of the jars.
2. Place a folded dishtowel in the bottom of the pot. It will persist in floating, so just hold it down with a pair of tongs while you are filling the pot with the jars. Space the jars so they are not touching each other.
3. Return the water to a boil, and then lower the heat so that the water bubbles consistently. After 10 minutes, remove the jars from the water with a pair of tongs and set them on a dish towel to cool. You will know that your jars are sealed when you hear the pop pop pop of the center of the lids as the final confirmation that you can safely put these away in the cupboard. Write the name and date of the jam on the lid with a sharpie, or paste on a pretty label that includes that information..
FREEZING PEACHES: When peaches are available but time to make jam is not, halve them, remove the pits, and enclose them, with their peel, in a plastic bag and pop them in the freezer. When it comes time to make the jam, remove them from the freezer, spread them on a tray and leave them to thaw for about 20 minutes. They are easiest to handle when they are partially frozen but not rock solid. Place them in a colander and pour boiling water over them to loosen peel. Peel, slice and proceed with recipe.