Summer Peach Jam

A couple of weeks ago, on a warm, sundrenched summer day, I took my girls to a local peach festival, where we spent several hours reveling in fuzzy, fragrant fruit. Abundant bushels of ripe white- and yellow-fleshed peaches abounded. After filling our baskets at the farm market, we perused the bakery, where we discovered ping-pong-table-size peach layer cake, from which enthusiastic ladies wielding long serrated knives were slicing oversized, whipped cream-cloaked squares. Nearly every conceivable confection celebrated the fruit that day, from crisps and pies to breads and cakes and, of course, ice cream.

Once home I was ready to get to work cooking with the several pounds of the ripe peaches we purchased. Although there were many delicious desserts I could have made, I decided to engage in one of my favorite cooking pastimes: making jam. I have made peach jam a handful of times—sometimes with pectin and sometimes just with sugar. In the interest of time and accuracy, I decided to go with the conventional method and pulled a packed of liquid pectin from my pantry. The instructions in the box of Ball Fruit Jell Liquid Pectin make the process just about foolproof.

I happen to like altering recipes, adding ingredients here and changing amounts there. With jam, however, it really is necessary to follow directions and abide by the ratio of sugar, pectin, and fruit called for. This ensures that the jam will set up properly and maintain an appropriately thick consistency. That being said, I couldn’t help myself and did change the ingredients slightly. I added a pinch of salt, which I think is necessary to enhance the brightness and depth of the fruit flavor, and I stirred in a bit of finely chopped crystallized ginger. Peaches and ginger love each other. Adding too much ginger can overpower the peaches’ delicate sweetness and acidity. Incorporating just enough, though, contributes a lovely balance of warmth, spice, and roundness to the finished jam. The heat and intensity of the spice also mellows slightly as the jam sets for several days. In case you don’t care for ginger, simply leave it out, or add a couple teaspoons of vanilla extract once the jam is done if you want. The peach jam is, of course, also perfect without any additions or alterations.

A final note about canning: Many recipes call for boiling the filled, capped jars of jam in a rack-lined pot of water to help create a successful vacuum and increase the jam’s shelf life. I usually don’t do this. My method of filling the jars, putting on the lids, inverting the jars for about ten seconds, and then allowing them to cool on the counter always creates a successful seal. I then store the jars in the refrigerator for at least three weeks and often up to a couple of months. This is an easy method of preserving, and once you start making your own fruit jams, I bet you’ll never again buy another jar of the store-bought stuff.

Summer Peach Jam

Pit, peel, and chop 3 pounds of peaches. You should have about 4 cups. Put the peaches in a large saucepan along with 7 1/2 cups of sugar, the juice of 1 lemon, and a pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to full boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Stir in 1 packet of Ball Fruit Jell Liquid Pectin. Return to a rolling boil and cook for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat, skim any foam that has formed on the surface, and stir in 1/3 to a scant 1/2 cup of finely chopped crystallized ginger, if desired. Carefully ladle the hot jam into jars, leaving about 1/4 inch from the rims, and seal tightly. Invert each jar for about 10 seconds to create a vacuum and then set aside at room temperature to cool. This jam will keep well in the refrigerator for at least 3 weeks.

Makes about eight 8-ounce jars (8 cups)

 

Summer Melon Soup

To my mind, one of the best things about summer is the abundance of available fresh, ripe, and often local, melon. My favorites are orange-flesh muskmelons, such as cantaloupe and Tuscan cantaloupe (similar to the former, but enhanced with green stripes). I am rather picky, I admit. The fruit should be firm but appropriately tender, juicy, sweet, fragrant, and never, never mealy.

Even though my family doesn’t often have trouble consuming the one or two melons we buy each week at the market, the summer heat can often transform a lovely ripe melon into a mealy mess within a day. To avoid this catastrophe, I have found that preparing soup is one of the best ways to quickly put a good bit of this fruit to delicious use.

The following recipe actually serves equally well as a cold or room-temperature soup and the base of a fruit smoothie to which you could add other fruit, yogurt, buttermilk, or ice cream, for that matter. This is also one of those nifty dishes that babies, children, and adults can all enjoy.

If the melon is ripe enough, you don’t need to add much else to it, save for a bit of salt to brighten and enhance the fruit’s sweetness and a splash of vanilla extract or a pinch of vanilla seeds scraped from a plump bean. You can’t really taste the vanilla, but it does add depth and complexity to the melon’s floral characteristics.

Serve this soup by itself, with a sprig of mint or basil, and a scoop of fresh ricotta cheese, if desired.

Summer Melon Soup

Seed, peel, and chop one medium cantaloupe or other orange-flesh muskmelon. (You should have about 4 cups.) Put the fruit in a blender, add ½ teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract (or the seeds from about ½ a vanilla bean), and puree until very smooth. Pour the soup into bowls and serve with a dollop of fresh ricotta cheese and garnished with fresh basil or mint, if desired.

Makes about 4 cups

Roasted Nectarine Bread

I love summer fruit. Problem is, however, that in recent years, I’ve developed an allergy to a variety of fruits, including all stone fruits. The season’s loveliest and most flavorful peaches, nectarines, plums, and cherries are all off limits to me. As soon as the sweet nectar touches my tongue, my lips, throat, and areas around my mouth itch and develop little blisters, causing me to run for the Benadryl. This reaction seems to be due to the chemical interaction that occurs between the pollens and proteins found in these fruits (see more about fruit allergies at http://allergiesspring.com/fruit-allergies.php).

Happily, though, I have discovered that when these fruits are cooked or dried, my reactions are lessened or disappear completely. This is apparently quite common in allergy sufferers like myself, as cooking or drying (particularly at higher temperatures, I imagine) destroys the pesky pollens and proteins.

So, although I would prefer eating luscious summer fruit out of hand, I have taken to cooking virtually any variety that bothers me in ways that are not only delicious, but celebrate their natural sweetness, perfume, and flavor.

Just about any stone fruit (or other fruits, for that matter) can be grilled, poached, stewed, sautéed, or roasted. I like all of these methods, but roasting is my newest favorite. In only a matter of minutes, pitted and sliced nectarines, peaches, plums, or cherries can be tossed with a little sugar or honey, if desired, spread onto a baking sheet, and cooked into soft caramelized gems that are delicious on their own, served with a dollop of whipped cream or yogurt, blended into smooth purees (for babies, especially), or used to add flavor and texture to other recipes.

Recently, I have been playing with fruited quick bread recipes. Chopped roasted fruit adds unique flavor and moistness to these comforting loaves. The recipe that follows celebrates ripe nectarines. This is a fragrant, moist bread that develops a delicate caramel flavor from the addition of brown sugar, a slight nuttiness from almond extract and whole-wheat flour, and a sweet fruitiness from the roasted nectarines. Serve it warm or room temperature, on its own or with butter and jam (blackberry or apricot would be particularly lovely). This recipe makes one large (9 ½-by-5 ½-by-3-inch) loaf or four small (5 ½-by-3 ¼-by-2 ¼-inch) loaves. Store the baked and cooled bread in the freezer for up to a month or in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Roasted Nectarine Bread

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Butter and flour one 9 ½-by-5 ½-by-3-inch loaf pan or four small 5 ½-by-3 ¼-by-2 ¼-inch loaf pans.

Remove the pits from 4 nectarines, cut them into ½-inch slices, and arrange on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with raw sugar, or drizzle with honey or agave nectar, if desired. Roast until the fruit is tender, lightly browned and caramelized, and fragrant, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. Coarsely chop the fruit and set aside to cool completely (you should have about 1 ½ cups).

Whisk together 2 cups all-purpose flour, ½ cup whole-wheat flour, 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon in a medium bowl.

Combine 2 sticks (1/2 pound) of room temperature unsalted butter, 1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon almond extract in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy. Add 4 eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth and stopping occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl.

Reduce the mixing speed to low, mix in the chopped roasted fruit, and gradually incorporate the flour mixture, again stopping occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan(s), arrange the pans on a baking sheet, and bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center(s) comes out clean, about 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from the bread from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool in the pan(s) for about 20 minutes before turning out each one to cool completely.