Peaches are in, and I’ve been wanting to try some of the new (to me) peach recipes in my Home Preserving book. I made a few last year, with a reasonable amount of success. My family was not particularly fond of the spiced peaches (sad, because I thought they were quite tasty). I also discovered that peaches need at least a medium syrup. Light syrup – which I used – will make them discolor and lose texture much sooner, whether they are frozen or canned. And frozen ones should be used up within 4-6 months, or they will be stringy and icky. Also, honey is not particularly good with peach when you’re talking jam, as it also discolors.
Ginger, on the other hand, is particularly fabulous with peach when you’re talking jam.
Last year, friend L and I made “Gingered Peach Preserves” from one of her canning cookbooks. It was so good, I wrote myself a note in my notebook:
This jam is seriously good. It’s like sugary sex on a spoon. Good sex on a spoon. You don’t even need to put it on bread- you can just eat it out of the jar (hence the spoon). I still have jam from last year, but none of it is Gingered Peach Preserves. Those were gone practically by Christmas.
So yesterday I went to the market and bought a box of peaches, and dug out the candied ginger that I bought last year expressly for making this recipe.
And then I dutifully followed the recipe’s instructions and measured out five pounds of peaches (which, in case you’re wondering, is about 14-15 peaches).
Next, I did that nifty trick of dipping the fruits in boiling water for one minute
before plunging them into cold water (why is it that we “dip” in boiling water, but “plunge” into ice water?)
Now, this is where I can tell you about the really neat canning jars I picked up at the discount store a few weeks ago. They were a bit expensive, but still half as much as the fancy “Platinum” series that Ball sells. The thing I like best is the odd shape.
I bet they will be even more interesting when they’re full of jam.
So I got all the peaches chopped,
and the candied ginger minced,
and everything into the pot with the sugar,
and I filled up the canner, and got the jars and lids and rings ready. And then I looked at the next step in the recipe: one very important step that I, in my haste to fill those uber-cool jars with sex-on-a-spoon, had either forgotten about or subconsciously ignored. That would be this step:
Argh. Talk about your anticlimax.
No matter. There were still many peaches left. I prepped a second batch and put it in the refrigerator as well. And since “overnight” is a relative term, and it was only 11AM, I figured there was plenty of time to let them macerate and still end the night with lovely jars of hot, bubbly, gingery peach jam.
Ah, the best laid plans.
I still had 2/3 of a box of peaches to work with, so I flipped through the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and found Peach Butter. This recipe did not call for macerating overnight, or really doing anything overnight, so I figured it would be safe. I measured out the peaches, prepped them, stuck them in the pot, and started cooking.
In retrospect, I really should have thought this one through a little better as well. Fruit butters are basically the sweet equivalent of tomato paste. They have to cook a long while to become thick and buttery. This is a nebulous amount of time but you can be sure it’s longer than you feel like standing in front of a hot stove on an August day.
This is the puree when it first comes to a boil. It’s the consistency of a light tomato sauce, or maybe a creamy tomato soup.
This is the puree an hour and a half later. It’s the consistency (and color) of caramel topping.
Happily, I ended up with five half-pint (jelly) jars and two 4-oz jars of peach butter. Sadly, after nearly two hours of stirring and stirring and stirring some more, I really didn’t want to stand in front of the stove any longer. But those groovy new jars, which I’d set aside for Gingered Peach Preserves, kept beckoning. “Fill us!” they cried from their corner of the counter. “Sex on a spoon!” came the muffled cries of the macerating peaches from under the pot lid. So I dragged the first batch of preserves out of the fridge and started cooking it.
Also sadly, I had skimmed over yet another step in the jam recipe, the one where it said to cook the jam for about an hour until it reached the jelly stage. (It is “jelly stage”, and not “gel stage”, and that is an important distinction which will separate you from your less-informed friends. You’re welcome.)
It’s not essential, but is definitely helpful, to use a candy thermometer when you’re making jam, especially ones that do not use added pectin for the set. Mine is about seventy years old but still works great.
Okay, maybe it’s not 70 years old but it’s older than me, for whatever that’s worth.
So now there are no more pictures of peaches simmering, jam jelling, or anything beautiful and wonderful happening. This is because I got slightly bored, and somewhat tired of standing in front of the stove the whole long day*, and started wandering around the house. I washed some dishes, fed the new kitten, straightened the living room. The amount of time that defined intervals between “frequent stirring” grew longer and longer.
Soon it was time to can the jam. We hit the magical 220 degree mark, and the mixture passed two of the jelly stage tests. I pulled one of the nifty new jars out of the hot canner water and filled it with peachy goodness. I grabbed another with the lifters and rested the funnel in place, about to fill it as well.
And then, friends, my heart plummeted about twenty stories and smashed to bits on the figurative pavement below. Because instead of luscious, goldeny, sexy, gingery jam, I began ladling nasty brown chunks of burnt sugared peach. Somehow, between 210 and 220 degrees F, the jam had burned. All that hard work! All that waiting! All that skimming and stirring and sweating!
Somehow, through angry tears, I managed to get three four-ounce jars out without dredging up too much of the burnt stuff. I processed those four jars and filled another up with the bulk of what was left, which went into the fridge. But it was devastating.
Look, you can see the burnt bits floating in the jar. Eww.
I decided it would be tempting fate to attempt batch two that night. I went to bed instead and had fitful dreams about burnt sugar.
But today, with fresh coffee and a refreshed brain, I started again with batch two. I stirred constantly instead of just frequently. I kept a careful eye on the thermometer and hardly even looked away from the pot, let alone wander into another room. And this time, I ended up with three fancy and four plain jars of the awesomest, sweetest, bestest Gingered Peach Preserves.
I wish there was a better way to convey just how good this jam is.
Guess you’ll have to use your imagination.
*except for a fairly crucial five or six minutes