05 September 2012


If you have some annoying pop song stuck in your head (I'm talking to you, Carly Rae), perhaps this post will inspire you to swap it out for some classic Bob Marley instead.

By some definitions, namely those of schoolchildren, summer is over. And I've barely posted at all this summer, so now I've got a backlog of homemade stuff I'm pretty stoked to share. We've definitely had a lot of summer going on lately, with loads of backyard barbeques, camping and enjoying the best of the season's produce.

Nothing says summer to me like peaches. Unfortunately, in the west, we usually get pretty mediocre peaches, nothing like the ones from the south that I grew up enjoying. But this year, maybe owing to the high heat we had super early in the summer, or just discovering the joys of the Sierra foothills peaches now that we live close enough to buy them, we have been getting some phenomenally juicy, delicious peaches. So delicious that I found myself buying cases of them.

I hope you like jammin' too. 

That meant, of course, that it was finally time for me to learn how to can, since cases of peaches won't last nearly long enough to eat them all, especially in our bulging household of two. I had made jam before, to great effect, so the jam making part of it was easy. But canning always seemed scary to me -- too many chances to mess up, numerous ways germs could sneak in and spoil the batch, the chance that I could give contaminated food away. Really, though, people have been canning food and mostly not dying from eating it for quite a few years now. Once I reminded myself of that, it became a lot easier to sack up and try it.

A few notes on method:

1. Scores of nice folks have covered the basics of water bath canning, which is what I do, so I won't reinvent the wheel. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has also the info you could want about safe home canning, if you want to give it a go (you should!).

2. I am way too lazy to peel and slice a zillion peaches, so I use the food mill method: 1. Roughly crush the peaches (reserving 1 or 2 peaches for every 10), leaving skins on but removing pits, and place them in big pot. 2. Cook on very low heat for 45-60 minutes until most of the juice has come out of the peaches and the flesh has become very soft. 3. Process the juice and pulp through the medium sized plate on the food mill. 4. Return resulting skinless pulp to pot. 5. Peel and slice reserved peaches and add them to the pot. 6. Add sugar and pectin, if using, per the recipe. 7. Can or preserve accordingly.

I decided to try a test batch, and to make it interesting, I threw in a handful of fresh mint. It was super yummy, and I definitely recommend adding fresh mint to your jam. I would have done it with the bigger batch, but didn't have enough mint to make it happen. Notice in the pic below how the skins are in there and the peach chunks are all irregular. Thank goodness for the food mill. If you're skeptical of milling your jam, I understand, but one nice benefit is how much redder and fuller flavored it gets from being cooked with the skins. That's how red wine becomes red wine, after all. If they take the same grapes and don't let them sit with their skins, then it becomes rose wine, which is widely scorned by many with bad memories of white zinfandel. (I happen to love rose wine, especially the stuff from the south of France.) So think red wine and cook with the skins on. You'll be happy you did. Also, milling is not straining. You won't be making jelly. Just a smoother jam.

Here's the resulting peach mint jam, which didn't last too long (because we ate it, not because it went bad). But, I didn't like the handwriting-on-green-tag label (green tags are code in our house for both "gluten free" and "don't stick your gross gluten-tainted knife in my pristine jam!"), and didn't love the lack of chunks in the jam.

Time for the real deal.

For the big batch, I followed the steps in my food mill method above, namely reserving some of the peaches and chopping them up, then adding them late in the game so that the resulting jam would have some pretty chunks.

Then I filled up a whole slew of half pint and pint jars. Here are some waiting for their turn in the water bath. 

Feeling like a voyeur, spying on the bathing cans. 

I pulled them out and let them sit overnight...

And then discovered, to my shock and sadness, that the jam was too bland. I had gone way too light on the sugar. (What? A cup of sugar in a whole pot of jam isn't enough?)

So, back to square one. Or possibly square two.

If you do what I do and dump out all of your jam, it's important to start with new lids. You can reuse the jars and screw rings, provided you re-sterilize them, but the lids are meant for single use only.

The  jam went back in the pot, this time with the proper amount of sugar. Then another round of sterilizing jars, filling them, processing them in the water bath...

This time, though, I wanted the jars to be a little bit more attractive than with my first test batch. And thankfully I also took a class this summer in stamp making (more on this to follow soon) at the amazing store owned by my friend Heather, Bespoke. So I busted out my linocutters and my speedy carve, and made a little stamp to adorn the jam.

The next day, after resting the jars appropriately, I tasted the jam and found (hooray!) that I had fixed the sweetness problem and it was now worthy of giving away to friends and family. So on the labels went. 

Of course, even with the pretty labels, the jars are still only half dressed. So I made another couple stamps, tied on some ribbon, and then deemed the jam gift-worthy.

Jammin' and stamp-making. That's probably the story of my summer. Have you made any crafty projects lately? Any interest in a stamp-making tutorial?

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  1. I commend you for your persistence! Two rounds of canning the same batch! I do not can a lot but I usually do a couple rounds of salsa every summer and I have been playing with a new ice cream maker this year. Unrelated I guess but still goes in a container with a pretty labeled sticker like yours...so somewhat related! Glad to have you back! Wish I could get a taste of that peach jam! ;)

  2. Too freaking cute, those stamps. I have only done freezer jam. I fear the water bath! Even my shelf-stable pickles use a different method. One of these years... :) My friend just made strawberry serrano jam and I love the sound of that! My favorite is strawberry nectarine (thin skins, no peeling!).

    1. Water bath canning is actually not hard at all, and now that I've done it a few times, I'm kind of kicking myself for waiting so long. It is a fear worth getting over! The only important thing for us is to add time to adjust for the altitude.


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