In a Jam
Yesterday was kinda rough, in no small part because of the utter pain in the ass that is peach processing. It started out well enough, when I chose about five pounds of our peach harvest to use for a batch of jam:
As you can see in the picture, I chose some firm peaches for this (see how they're a little more yellow than orange? That's a clue that these came off the tree slightly underripe). I figured that since jam requires so much sugar, and since I've read that using firm peaches works well in canning, that these would be good for this project.
I scored and blanched these first, which is supposed to make them easier to peel. (There's a great, full tutorial on peeling peaches here.) That part wasn't a big deal, but it didn't work as well as it should have. One minute in the water was enough for the ripest ones, but the skins weren't just sliding off most of them. So I learned that underripe peaches are going to need more like a two-minute blanching. Hopefully.
Since I couldn't just slip the skins, I had to use a paring knife to peel most of them. Once the peels are off they are incredibly slippery, and I only had to cut myself once to learn that it's better to cut them in half (or quarters, if they're very stubborn) and pit them before peeling them, so you have a more angular piece to grip as you peel.
Anyway, our peaches are on the small side, so it took a lot to make up five pounds:
By the time I got to this point, two hours had passed, and both hands were cramped. It feels like I'm well on the way to rebuilding my bricklaying man-hands.
Our Ball Book recipe for peach jam has a "spiced" version, which I decided to try. My mother-in-law makes a really wonderful peachy-pear jam, and it has a little spice in it. We aren't getting nearly enough pears to make it this year, so I was hoping the Spiced Peach Jam would come close. The recipe (which you can find online in a tutorial by someone better at this than me) calls for two quarts of crushed peaches, which is a weird measurement, so I checked it:
As you can see, these aren't very crushed, but that's not all of them either. I used our meat tenderizing pounder thing once they were in the pot to smash them up:
And here is strike two against using firm peaches: The crushing takes FOREVER. I still ended up with chunks, I'm sure.
Anyway, after adding crushing-induced forearm cramps to my injury list, I dumped in the required piles of sugar and made a little cheesecloth spice bag:
It's cinnamon, clove, and allspice in the recipe; I added a little bit of cardamom for good measure.
Tie it up, stir it in, and bring it to a boil:
And ... keep boiling until the "gelling point." The Ball Book's estimate on this was 15 minutes, but when I dipped in a spoon to see if it was setting up, it seemed nowhere near done. After 20 minutes, it looked like this:
That color looks to me like I overcooked it, so even though the spoon test still wasn't very encouraging, I called it. Next time I'll use a thermometer instead — that seems far more clinical and accurate to me than this BS spoon test.
Still, it looks pretty in the jars. Four lovely pints, all ready for their boiling water bath.
Did I say four? Well, now it's three, because one broke in the canner and leaked peach jam bits everywhere. So much for my plan to quickly bring the already very hot canning water back to a boil to can up my brined kosher dills. It took another couple hours to finally complete that task, thanks to having to scrub out the canner and start all over. And I burnt my hand on the lid trying to clean it while it was still too hot.
Like I said, a red-letter day in the kitchen.
Why the glass failure? I'm thinking too much time between jarring and getting the jars into the canner might have allowed a temperature difference that caused it to break (because that's a thing). Kirk is thinking an undiscovered air bubble caused an explosion. Or it could just be a flaw in the jar from age. Shit happens.
Ok, so three sealed jars of jam. Since it seemed, even today, kinda runny in the jar when I tipped it, I had to crack one open to see if it set (or if I actually made a lovely peach syrup instead).
Success! Despite all the problems, this did set up. It is very sweet (duh, it's jam), and the spice is nice — kind of tastes like a pie. And before you go hating on all that sugar, it's actually what helps to preserve the fruit: Too much sugar makes just as hostile an environment for microbes as too little.
It’s quite nice with a little salted butter on the bread as well.
All in all, I'm sure I'll do it again — it's not like we can just skip it an let all the peaches go bad. Lots of tweaks to be made to this crazy process of processing, but that's how you learn, I guess.