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)