Garden Diary - August 2011

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Sunday, 7 August 2011
Saving Summer in a Jar: Peach Jam

It's summer. Farm stands and gardens are burgeoning with luscious produce. These delicious peaches
need to be eaten naked, in the bathtub, as sweet juice runs down your chin. Difficult, in these hot days
of summer's bounty to remember that winter will come with its cold and snow. Now is the time to save,
save summer in a jar with flavorful sweet preserves that bring memories of summer with each spoonful.

Baskets of peaches with fuzzy soft skin, tender to the touch and perfumed with the aroma of summer, picked early this morning.

Where shall we start? Something simple, something easy. How about Peach Jam. What's needed:
No doubt you probably already have a couple of large pots, measuring cups, large metal spoons.
Buy some canning jars and 2 piece lids. Peaches and sugar, some lemon. Ready, set, let's start.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop in a few peaches at a time. Let them seethe for just a minute.

Lift them out with a slotted spoon and drop them into a cold water bath with a tray of ice cubes added.

Lift out of the cold water and slip off their skins. Repeat until you've processed about 3 pounds of peaches.

An Important Note: For fruit to gel it is necessary - together with the fruit - to have the right proportions of pectin, a certain level of acidity,
and sugar, boiled to a temperature of 220 Fahrenheit. These very ripe peaches are are low in acidity and pectin. So I'm going add a lemon.
Chop one medium lemon, peel and all. Place in a small pot with half as much water as lemon, cover the pot, and simmer gently until soft.


Another Important Note: This quantity of peaches yields seven 8-ounce jars of jam. Wash jars with hot soapy water.
Rinse thoroughly. Place jars in a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Then turn down the heat and
keep the jars hot while you make the jam. The two piece lids - bands and flat lids - need just a brief simmer.

Cut the peaches in half and remove their pits. Crush the peaches. Then measure. You should have about 6 cups.

In a large pot combine the crushed peaches, lemon, and 4 cups of sugar.

Slowly bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently,
until the jam has thickened. A spoon dragged through the mass will leave a slowly filling track.

Remove the jars from their hot water bath. Use a funnel with a wide opening to fill each jar.
Wipe the rim and screw threads with a cloth dipped in hot water to make sure they're clean.

Use a magnetic rod to left each flat lid out of the hot water. Place
on jar and fasten finger tight with the band. As each jar is filled and
covered, place into the hot water bath. When all are filled, bring
water back to a boil and process the jars for 10 minutes.

In order to safely remove the jars use a jar lifter. Set each jar on a heat safe surface
such as a wooden cutting board and allow the jars to sit, undisturbed, until cool.

Now that you've made peach jam there are some easy variations that I think you'll enjoy, such as Ginger Peachy Jam, and Peach with Chile Pepper Jam.

For Ginger Peachy Jam, prepare the peaches as described above. Combine 1/2 cup sugar
with a generous tablespoon of candied ginger in a food processor. Pulse until the ginger is
chopped. If you want to kick it up a notch, add an additional tablespoon of grated fresh ginger.

For Peach with Chile Pepper Jam prepare the peaches as previously described. Wash,
stem, and seed two fresh red chile peppers. Mince fine. Keep in mind that different kinds
of chile peppers have different Scoville / heat index ratings from the incendiary
little Scotch bonnet and chile pequin to the larger, mildly hot Ancho chiles. Choose the
type that best suits your palate, and / or adjust the quantity added to the peaches.

If these recipes for peach jams inspired you, let me say that sweet preserves offer year-round possibilities. From the strawberries of Spring to summer's bounty, pears and apples in the autumn, and cranberries so necessary on the Thanksgiving table there are all sorts of delicious possibilities. My book, "Preserving Memories: Growing Up in My Mother's Kitchen" has tips, techniques, recipes and memories of making a diversity of sweet preserves.

Making sweet preserves has a resonance for me. It's something I do, my mother did, my daughter does.
I hope you too, will discover the year-round pleasures of saving the seasons in a jar. Enjoy.

Inspired but feel you might need more help? Want to get your friends involved? Perfect!
Because it just so happens that Saturday August 13th is National Can-It_Forward Day
a fun event with all sorts of on-line happenings, downloadable recipes and labels, even coupons.
Get ready, get set, let's get canning. And not just on August 13th. Any day is a good day to can.

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