I made jam last weekend. Peach jam from those little wild (not so sure they’re truly ‘wild’, but whatever) white peaches. They’re about the size of an obese ping pong ball. They have thick, extra fuzzy skin but as a side benefit, are freestone. The tree we have was planted from a pit quite a few years ago and has had fruit for several years but never enough to work up. This year it was loaded. So loaded that one of the main branches broke off, but kept the bark intact. It was so intact that the peaches managed to finish growing and ripen. The tree will have to come down and we’ll start over, but at least this year, I could make jam.
The husband picked a big basket full for me. I did all the regular canning prep – rounding up jelly jars and half pint jars (and a few pint jars), washing them and finding all the rings and lids. That’s the easy part. Then I had to slip all the skins from the hundreds of little extra fuzzy peaches.
That’s a real magic trick – leave them in the simmering water long enough to loosen the skin so it slips right off but not long enough to cook them. I got in a groove and got them all slipped and pitted. That took about an hour and a half.
I measured them carefully into 2 big pots on the stove to cook. I measured the pectin PER THE INSTRUCTIONS ON THE JAR and added it to each carefully measured pot, along with some lemon juice so the jam didn’t end up looking like apple butter. A note about pectin (or Sure-Jell, as it’s sold) – it’s a tricky thing. Too much pectin can give jam a serious attitude. I made strawberry jam a few years ago that had the consistency of a gummie bear. So I was careful about measuring to get the exact fruit to pectin ratio. Cooked them down, used my amazing immersion blender to mostly crush them up but leaving a few chunks…small ones – my family isn’t big on chunky jams. At the right time (after the fruit was at a rolling boil that couldn’t be stirred down), I added the sugar. In theory, using the pectin that I used, I could cut back on the sugar pretty substantially. Cooked it some more to melt all the sugar. Leave it on a simmer and prep the jars.
I hot pack tomatoes, jams and applesauce. Yes, I know that I’m suppposedly taking the risk of poisoning my family and anyone else that eats this stuff. But really, if you prep the jars and the lids, hot packing saves a pile of time by eliminating that tiresome hot water bath process. And anyway, if on the off chance some little germ of poison slipped by and managed to grow in the jar, the seal would pop and you wouldn’t eat it anyway. To date, I’ve never poisoned anyone with my canned goods.
I put about 2′ of water in ANOTHER big pot and put jars upside down in it and turned it on. As the water heats to a boil, it sterilizes the jars and they get HOT. in another little pan, I put the lids and get them boiling – both to sterilize them and to really soften the rubber so they seal.
Now begins the canning dance – quickly pull a jar out of the pan, put the funnel in the jar and ladle the jam into it, leaving just the right amount of head space. Remove the funnel, use a hot wet dishcloth to wipe the mouth of the jar to make sure there’s nothing on it that will ruin the seal, fish out a lid, drop it on the jar and quick put a ring on it.
Oh, and keep stirring the jam almost constantly so it doesn’t scorch on the bottom. Put the jar in a cool spot, on a towel and cover with another towel. In my case, this is across the kitchen.
Repeat 19 times.
While i’m cleaning up the sticky messes, I listen for that most glorious sound of the lids popping as the jars cool and created a vacuum that seals the lid. It’s a magical sound that gives me a little thrill every time I hear it.
20 pops! Success! They all sealed. I had about 1/2 pint left over that I just stuck a lid on and put in the fridge to eat first.
It takes jam a looooooong time to cool. By about 7pm last night, the jars finally felt room temperature. I picked one up and looked at it. The color was beautiful. The texture looked perfect. I tipped the jar. And guess what? It’s runny. It hadn’t set. Not a single jar. The jar in the fridge was set, sort of, but still had the consistency of applesauce.
CURSES. DOUBLE TRIPLE QUADRUPLE CURSES. Something went wrong. Even with my careful measurements, I must not have used enough pectin. I don’t know if it’s because of the peaches themselves or the reduced sugar (which shouldn’t have caused it but who knows at this point…) but whatever the reason, my jam is like ice cream topping. Which isn’t a bad idea for a jar or two, but not 20 jars.
So now the only thing I can do is empty all the jars back into a pot, try to make a guess about how much more pectin it needs and maybe a little more sugar and go through this entire process All. Over. Again. I made strawberry jam this year and it came out perfectly.
Wish me luck, whenever I get past pissed to do it again. On the upside, it tastes really good. These little wild peaches don’t taste much like peaches at all. They have a flavor all their own, like an entirely different fruit. When I was a kid, I would go with my mom and pick wild peaches (and plums) from trees growing up in fence rows and we’d make jam. I never remember hers not setting up, but then again, she was the queen of canning. Instead of bitching, I should just be grateful that she taught me how to can. And so I will. Be grateful, that is, for my mom and the things she taught me. And I am. Every single day.