I think for some of us there is an ingrained need, an inherited proclivity, to put food by. Not so much out of physical necessity or fear of running short of foodstores come winter, but because we have a genetic predisposition to do so. Whether it’s because we want to ensure the ability to eat local produce year-round, or because we are control freaks who need to know exactly what ingredients go into every little thing that we eat, when we see mounds of fruits and vegetables we immediately get excited at the prospect of standing over a hot stove in the high heat of August so that we can load our pantry shelves with gleaming glass jars of jams, jellies, tomatoes and other assorted foodstuffs. It may be hot, hard work, but for us the reward is far greater than the effort needed to achieve it.
On Monday, after dropping my oldest at day camp, my mother and I strapped the baby in his car seat and headed an hour south of home to the state farmers market in Forest Park, GA. While it is called the “state farmers market”, it is really more of a giant produce market – with products hailing from as far away as California and Mexico. However, there is a row of stalls dedicated to Georgia farmers, and the market produce stand features local and regional options as well.
We wandered the stalls, marveling at some of the more exotic options, but mostly keeping our eye out for peaches and plums. We both have fond memories of my grandmother’s peach jam and plum jelly – put up every year from the fruit that grew on trees just outside the kitchen window at their home in rural Mississippi. I can remember clearly standing in the shade of the peach tree, biting into the warm flesh of a perfectly ripe peach that I had just plucked from overhead. And while I would love to tell you that we have our own miniature orchard in our backyard, that just isn’t the case. Luckily we live in an area where peaches and plums are readily available this time of year.
I know – it’s a little ridiculous. But the prices were too good to pass up, and the prospect of freezing and preserving all of that lovely fruit for use throughout the winter was equally as enticing.
We got everything home and immediately set to work processing the ripest of the fruit. The cherries we pitted and froze in gallon bags. I’ll figure out what I want to do with them later. The strawberries were so ripe, we chose to make jam out of most of them, and then freeze a couple of gallons.I also made a few sheets of fruit leather from the strawberries. I’ll do an entire post on the processing of the strawberries, and the strange circumstances that led us to buy 24 lbs. of almost (but not quite) rotten strawberries later.
Today, I’m focusing on peaches. 50 lbs. of peaches is a lot, in case you were wondering. We froze three gallons worth, and I managed to ruin at least 10 cups (and one stock pot) in my first attempt at jam – you really do need to keep an eye on things like fruit and sugar when you’re cooking them over high heat. Scorched peaches and sugar are not the most pleasant scents with which to start your day.
The second and third attempts were much more successful, and I’m now the proud owner of nine pints of peach jam – three of which are spiced up a bit with the addition of some heat from habanero peppers and given a floral note from a few sprigs of purple basil.
Peach Habanero Basil Jam
prep time: 30 minutes
cook time: 2-3 hours
processing time: 25 minutes
- 5 cups peaches, peeled, halved and pitted
- 3 cups sugar
- 3 habanero peppers, stems removed and four slits cut into the sides (leave them whole)
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 3 large sprigs of purple basil
- 1 packet liquid fruit pectin
- Combine peaches, sugar, peppers and lemon juice in a 4 quart (or larger) saucepan. Stir to mix, then let sit for 10 minutes or so to allow the peaches to release some of their juices.
- Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to low and allow to gently boil and reduce to a jam-like consistency. This could take as many as 2-3 hours. Do not rush it – that’s how I ruined the first batch. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
- Once the mixture has reduced and thickened, stir in the basil and let it steep for a few minutes.
- While the basil is steeping, prepare your jars (I used a mixture of pint and half-pint jars) – sterilize jars and rings in simmering water.
- After the basil has steeped for a few minutes, add the pectin to the peach mixture and bring to a hard boil. Allow to boil hard for five minutes.
- Remove from the heat, remove habanero peppers and basil sprigs from the mixture and discard; fill the hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head space.
- Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 20-25 minutes (20 for half-pint, 25 for pint).
- Remove from the water bath and allow to cool on the counter.
The resulting jam is decidedly peachy in flavor, with just the slightest heat. The basil isn’t terribly prevalent, but it lends a nice back note to the whole thing. I’ve eaten some on toast for the last two mornings at breakfast, and it is a great way to start the day. I think it would also be a great glaze on a roasted chicken or a pork loin.
What kinds of things are you putting by this summer? Or is the prospect of spending hours on end in a hot kitchen just too much to bear? Inquiring minds want to know!