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Where I grew up, folk weren’t really into canning vegetables or making fresh fruit preserves. Canning was the province of Laura Ingles or Marilla Cuthbert; something done by the characters in the books I read.  So you can imagine my delight, much later in life, when I realized that canning was something that people actually still do. I found this charming and fun, but I didn’t jump on the bandwagon. The whole process seemed mysterious and complicated; filled with bubbling cauldrons and beakers and the secret arts of the rustic grandmother. So I was intrigued and filled with wonder, but also fear, for I was not an initiate in these ways.

Then, one year, my step-mom made jam. I was surprised and pleased and became a great fan of her strawberry and peach jams*.  The fact that she was making these out at their house seemed to make the whole concept much more approachable and I began to ponder making my own. Then my dad made his own batch of strawberry jam and that pretty much sealed the deal. If my dad could make jam, then so could I.

I found an appealing book on Amazon and bought a basic canning set. When the book arrived only one day later, I began reading. I learned about pH levels, jar sterilization, pectin, botulism and all kinds of stuff. Feeling virtuous and wholesome about my future pantry stocked with preserved goods, I went out, purchased a whole bunch of fruit and mason jars and dove in.

About four hours later I was feeling less than virtuous. I was hot and sticky from head to toe, my feet hurt and my kitchen looked like a fruit bomb had gone off in it. I tell myself that this is probably most people’s first canning experience, but I’m not sure that’s true. See, instead of just following a recipe and taking it step by step, I had to improvise.  I didn’t want plain old regular strawberry jam, I wanted strawberry champagne jam like the one at Fortnum and Mason in London, so I was pretty much making it up as I went. It was another strong language day in my kitchen. However, I eventually emerged, exhausted and victorious, with about 8 half-pints of delicious strawberry champagne jam and an initiate into the mysteries of, what I like to refer to as, canning-fu.

That was about two or three months ago. Since my initial foray, I’ve made blueberry preserves, tomato-peach jam, strained and crushed tomatoes, sliced peaches in syrup and now, peach preserves with ginger and basil. I am by no means an expert, but I’m slowly developing a rhythm and the utter destruction of my kitchen each time seems to be lessening. I think this is a sign of good things to come.

So about this recipe, which has been adapted from Liana Krissoff’s Classic Peach Jam Recipe out of her book Canning for a New Generation: I really like the relatively low sugar content and the addition of the basil and ginger. When eating the jam, the basil and ginger don’t really pop out at you, but I think they give the peaches some good depth. In addition, overbearing sweetness is one of the dangers of cooking with peaches and the basil and ginger help keep the flavors grounded and complex. There’s also no added pectin. The recipe utilizes some green apples to take advantage of their natural pectin content, but the jam will be a little softer and runnier than grocery store jam. I’m okay with that, because it is delicious.

*I use the terms jam and preserves pretty much interchangeably. Yes, I know they are different, but so be it.

Makes approximately 10 half-pints.

Ingredients:

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8 lbs Peaches (the weight is after having peeled and pitted the peaches)
4 C Sugar
approx 24 oz Granny Smith apples, about 4 large
6 Tbsp Lemon Juice, fresh, about 2 med – large lemons
1 Tbsp Basil, fresh, minced
2 tsp Ginger Puree (or more, as desired) I would have used fresh ginger, but the grocery store I visited didn’t carry it.

extra equipment: half-pint mason jars, canning pot & rack, funnel, strainer, cheesecloth

Instructions:

Sterilization procedure: this section is first because the water generally takes a while to come to a boil and sterilizing the mason jars can be ongoing while the rest of the jam is being prepared. This is also my general procedure, checking out the sterilization instructions from the jar manufacturer is always a good idea.

Set a large canning pot filled with water on the stove to boil. Make sure to start with more water than you think you’ll need. A lot boils off and some gets ladled off for the lids and whatnot, so you lose a lot of water along the way. When the water has been boiling for at least 10 minute, gently put the mason jars (sans lids) in the pot to sterilize. Make sure you are using a canning rack or something so the jars don’t sit directly on the bottom of the pot. Leave the jars in the boiling water for at least 10 minutes. Leaving them in for longer won’t hurt them at all and will keep them warm, so feel free to do that. If you need to sterilize your jars in batches, remove the jars to a towel on your counter and keep them filled with some of the hot water while the next batch goes.

About 15 minutes before you are ready to start filling the jars, put the lids in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water from the canning pot. Let the lids sit in the hot water until ready to use. The book I use for reference, Canning for a New Generation, explained that actually boiling the lids like you do the jars can damage the sealing compound.

Disclaimer: I am neither a scientist nor a professional canner and therefore urge you to do your own research into safe canning procedures and recipes. I have been using the book i referred to above, Canning for a New Generation, as my reference and starting point for recipes and the University of Georgia runs the National Center for Home Food Preservation, which has tons of information on safe procedures available online. Or, when in doubt, ask your grandmother. If she doesn’t preserve food, you can probably find someone else’s grandmother who does.

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peelingpeaches-31As for the jam…first thing to do is peel and pit the peaches. The peaches I used were ripe enough that they were really easy to peel with a paring knife, but if your peaches are feeling a little more attached to the skin then this is how I would go about peeling them:

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and have a large bowl of ice water on standby. Put several peaches in the water for 30 seconds to 1 minute and then transfer the peaches to the ice water to stop the cooking process. This is called blanching.

2. Once the peaches are cool enough to handle, the skin should basically just rub off.

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Now that the peaches are peeled and pitted, chop them up and put them in a wide pot with the 4 cups of sugar. Proceed to heat the peaches, stirring occasionally, until the the juices have come to a simmer and the just about cover the chopped peaches.

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At this point, remove the peaches from the pan and strain out the juices.  Return the juices to the pan.

Quarter and core the granny smith apples, reserving the core and seeds. I weighed by apples after removing the cores so I had 25 oz of apple without the core and used 4 apples. Wrap the core and seeds up in cheese cloth and tie it off to make a nice little bundle. If you happen to be out of cheese cloth, like a certain blogger, you can put the core and seeds in a medium small mesh strainer to let rest in the pot.

Add the apple slices and cheesecloth packets (or strainer) to the juices and then let the whole thing simmer away, reducing and getting all that good pectin out of the apples.

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While the juices are reducing, stir the lemon juice, basil and ginger puree into the peaches. (The peaches will release more juice while they are sitting. That’s okay, just pour it all back in later.)

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Once the juices have reduced down to about 1/3 or 1/2, remove the apple slices and strain out any juices from them, but leave the core and seeds. Return the chopped peaches to the pot and bring it back to a simmer.

At this point, put a small plate in the freezer. After the peaches have cooked down for a while, spoon a little of the jam on the chilled plate and return it the freezer for 30 seconds to 1 minute. If the jam starts to firm up, then the jam is ready for canning. The “firming up” of the jam is different that gelling, because we haven’t added any extra pectin to pot. However, the jam will get a little firmer before freezing and if you test every so often, you’ll be able to see the progression from runny, to slightly less runny to starting to firm up.

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When the jam has finished cooking, remove the apple core packets (or strainer) and remove the pot from the heat. If there is any water in the mason jars, dump it out and dry off the top of the jar mouths. Place a wide-mouthed funnel in each jar as you fill it and ladle the hot jam into the jars. There should be at least 1/4 inch of room left at the top of each jar. If you see any big bubbles in the jam, run a chopstick or skewer around the edge of the jar to release them. If you have any jam on the top of the jars where the lids go, make sure to wipe it off.

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(note, this image is of another canning day using much larger jars, but you get the idea)

Put the lids on the jars and close them up before returning them to the hot water bath. Process them in the boiling water for 5 minutes before returning them to the counter. Make sure that the water completely covers the jars while processing. If you don’t have enough water do that, add some to the pot and return to a boil before processing the jam.

Now comes the difficult part. Once you have all the jars on your counter top, walk away. Leave them alone and don’t touch them. You may be tempted back by intriguing popping noises, but resist the urge to pick them up and look at them. The jam needs to be left alone in order to set properly. After about an hour or two, you can check back to make sure that the jars have properly sealed. You can do this by lightly touching the top of the lid. If you can press it down and it makes that popping sound then it hasn’t sealed and you can put it in your refrigerator to use in the next week or so. However, give it that first hour before checking because I’ve found that the lids will have little tantrums and pop up and down in that first hour before becoming resigned to being sealed up. If you check too early you could have false negatives (or positives).

After checking on the jars for the seal, let them sit, undisturbed for another 11 hours to fully set. Then you can put them up so you can enjoy delicious peach jam all winter long!

 

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Peach Jam with Basil and Ginger
 
Recipe By:
Ingredients
  • 8 lbs Peaches (the weight is after having peeled and pitted the peaches)
  • 4 C Sugar
  • approx 24 oz Granny Smith apples, about 4 large
  • 6 Tbsp Lemon Juice, fresh, about 2 med - large lemons
  • 1 Tbsp Basil, fresh, minced
  • 2 tsp Ginger Puree (or more, as desired)
  • extra equipment: half-pint mason jars, canning pot & rack, funnel, strainer, cheesecloth
Instructions
  1. Sterilization procedure: this section is first because the water generally takes a while to come to a boil and sterilizing the mason jars can be ongoing while the rest of the jam is being prepared. This is also my general procedure, checking out the sterilization instructions from the jar manufacturer is always a good idea.
  2. Set a large canning pot filled with water on the stove to boil. Make sure to start with more water than you think you'll need. A lot boils off and some gets ladled off for the lids and whatnot, so you lose a lot of water along the way. When the water has been boiling for at least 10 minute, gently put the mason jars (sans lids) in the pot to sterilize. Make sure you are using a canning rack or something so the jars don't sit directly on the bottom of the pot. Leave the jars in the boiling water for at least 10 minutes. Leaving them in for longer won't hurt them at all and will keep them warm, so feel free to do that. If you need to sterilize your jars in batches, remove the jars to a towel on your counter and keep them filled with some of the hot water while the next batch goes. About 15 minutes before you are ready to start filling the jars, put the lids in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water from the canning pot. Let the lids sit in the hot water until ready to use.
  3. As for the jam...first thing to do is peel and pit the peaches. The peaches I used were ripe enough that they were really easy to peel with a paring knife, but if your peaches are feeling a little more attached to the skin then you can remove the skins by blanching the peaches first.
  4. Now that the peaches are peeled and pitted, chop them up and put them in a wide pot with the 4 cups of sugar. Proceed to simmer the peaches, stirring occasionally, until the the juices have come to a simmer and the just about cover the chopped peaches.
  5. At this point, remove the peaches from the pan and strain out the juices. Return the juices to the pan.
  6. Quarter and core the granny smith apples, reserving the core and seeds. Wrap the core and seeds up in cheese cloth and tie it off to make a nice little bundle. If you happen to be out of cheese cloth, you can put the core and seeds in a medium small mesh strainer to let rest in the pot.
  7. Add the apple slices and cheesecloth packets (or strainer) to the juices and then let the whole thing simmer away, reducing and getting all that good pectin out of the apples.
  8. While the juices are reducing, stir the lemon juice, basil and ginger puree into the peaches. (The peaches will release more juice while they are sitting. That's okay, just pour it all back in later.)
  9. Once the juices have reduced down to about ⅓ or ½, remove the apple slices and strain out any juices from them, but leave the core and seeds. Return the chopped peaches to the pot and bring it back to a simmer.
  10. At this point, put a small plate in the freezer. After the peaches have cooked down for a while, spoon a little of the jam on the chilled plate and return it the freezer for 30 seconds to 1 minute. If the jam starts to firm up, then the jam is ready for canning.
  11. When the jam has finished cooking, remove the apple core packets (or strainer) and remove the pot from the heat. If there is any water in the mason jars, dump it out and dry off the top of the jar mouths. Place a wide-mouthed funnel in each jar as you fill it and ladle the hot jam into the jars. There should be at least ¼ inch of room left at the top of each jar. If you see any big bubbles in the jam, run a chopstick or skewer around the edge of the jar to release them. If you have any jam on the top of the jars where the lids go, make sure to wipe it off.
  12. Put the lids on the jars and close them up before returning them to the hot water bath. Process them in the boiling water for 5 minutes before returning them to the counter. Make sure that the water completely covers the jars while processing. If you don't have enough water do that, add some to the pot and return to a boil before processing the jam.
  13. Once you have all the jars on your counter top, walk away. The jam needs to be left alone in order to set properly. After about an hour, check back to make sure that the jars have properly sealed. You can do this by lightly touching the top of the lid. If you can press it down and it makes that popping sound then it hasn't sealed and you can put it in your refrigerator to use in the next week or so. However, give it that first hour before checking because the lids may have little tantrums and pop up and down in that first hour before becoming resigned to being sealed up. If you check too early you could have false negatives (or positives).
  14. After checking on the jars for the seal, let them sit, undisturbed for another 11 hours to fully set. Then you can put them up so you can enjoy delicious peach jam all winter long!
Notes
The "firming up" of the jam is different that gelling, because we haven't added any extra pectin to pot. However, the jam will get a little firmer before freezing and if you test every so often, you'll be able to see the progression from runny, to slightly less runny to starting to firm up.
 

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