Monday, October 6, 2014

Naturally Perfect Peach Jam without Pectin

I love the idea of making jam and canning it myself.  I know exactly what went into making it.  And there is a sense of pride that I feel when placing the homemade jam on the table.  Also I love love that my kids have no idea what store bought jam or jelly tastes like.  It does takes some work, but a lot of things worth doing take your time and energy.

So if you are feeling that desire to try canning --- peach jam is a great place to start.  No experience needed.  There actually is not much you have to invest in even if you have never canned before -- well, except your time.  But you do need to buy a few things.

Supplies you need to buy for canning:
Canning tongs (used to put the jars in and pull them out of the boiling water)
Canning magnet stick (used to pick up lids after the are boiled)
Air bubble stick

And lastly, I am sure you have a large deep pot.  It has to be deep enough that once the jars are in the pot you have 1 to 2 inches of water over the jars.

Ok -- Once you have the supplies and a large chunk of time.  It is time to get started. My mom and I did this together.  It was great having a partner to hang out with because it does take a while to go through this process.

Step 1: Taking the skin off the peaches -- blanching.  
This is the labor intensive part -- once this is done, the rest is just time -- it is easy.

I used 24 peaches; I was able to make 12 jam (half pint) jars from that quantity of peaches.  So adjust the recipe to your needs.  The first step in getting the thin skin off the peaches is getting a large pot of water to a fast rolling boil. Next, with your pairing knife, place an X at the bottom side (the opposite side of the stem) of each peach. Also get a large bowl and make an ice water bath for the peaches after they get out of the boiling water. The ice water bath will stop the cooking process; you don't want to cook the peaches -- just get the skin off.

Once the water is boiling, it is time to start blanching.  Work in small batches of peaches to make it easier for yourself. With a slotted spoon, take 6 or so peaches and place them in the boiling water for 40 to 60 seconds. After 40-60 seconds, take the peaches out of the boiling water and place them straight into the ice water bath.  After they have cooled off, using a paring knife the skin should come right off.  Continue in batches until you have blanched and cooled all your peaches.

Step 2: The recipe and lots of time
24 peaches
2 cups of sugar
4 Tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup of water

This recipe makes 12 jam jars of yumminess.  Take your 24 blanched and skinned peaches and cut them into large chunks, remember to take the pits out. In a large heavy bottom pot (I say this because it has to cook for a long time, and you don't want your jam to burn onto the bottom of your pot) place your peaches. Add the sugar, lemon, juice, and water.  Start cooking.  Try to keep it at a simmering boil.  Make sure to stir occasionally so you don't burn the jam onto the bottom of your pot.  The cooking will help thicken your jam.

After the peaches have been cooking for about 1 hour, I use a stick blender to puree to the consistency I like, which is somewhat chunky. I like chunky jam. I like to see and feel chunks of peaches, but if you like it smoother keep blending until it is as smooth as you like it.  Continue cooking until you reach the consistency you like. To check the consistency, you have to take a small amount of jam, place it on a plate, and put the plate in the refrigerator.  You cannot see the end consistency until it is cooled.  Which is why I started checking the consistency after about 2 hours. Remember it will always be looser than jam made with pectin.  It is more of the consistency of a French jam. Once you have settled on the taste and consistency, it will be time to start the canning.

Step 3: Canning begins with the sterilization of  jars and lids

Get that large pot we talked about before filled with water -- but not too much water that once you place the jars inside the pot it will over flow onto your stove  -- you would be mad at me if this happened, and I didn't mention it. Get that water to a rolling boil. Set up an assembly line for yourself. Put jar and lids into the boiling bath for a minute or so. Once jars are sterilized, you can place boiling jam into them.  Remembering to keep the sides of the jar clean from jam (you don't want jam on the side of the jar because you want the jars to be sealed perfectly). Leave a little room at the top  -- don't fill jam to the top rim of jars. Next, use the air bubble stick and slide in down the inside of the filled jar; this helps the air bubbles to escape.  Then use magnet stick to remove lids from boiling water and place them on top of jars.  Place lids on tightly (you will need to use oven mitts).

Step 4: Processing your jar -- Boiling the filled jars

The last step in canning is to process / boil the filled jars.  You will have to do this in batches as I am sure you don't have a pot big enough to place 12 jars in it.  My guess is you will be able to fit about 4 jars at a time at the bottom of your big pot.  Process / Boil your filled jars for about 10 minutes. Remove them from the boiling water bath with your tongs and set the jars aside on a towel for 12 hours. I have heard that putting the hot jars on a cold counter could cause the jars to crack.  I am not sure if this is an old wives tale, but I did it anyway because the jam takes too long to make to have a silly mistake like that get in the way of my morning coffee, toast, and fresh homemade peach jam.

As the jars start to cool, you will hear each of the jars "ping" or "pop."  This is the sound of the jars sealing -- pulling that lid down tight and creating the tight seal you want.  After the jars are cooled, you have to test each of the jars to see if they are sealed. The test is easy -- touch the top of the jar.  If the lid pops up and down with the pressure of your finger, it is NOT sealed.  So you have to reprocess (boil) that jar again.  Or fix the situation like I chose to do ---- this is the first one we are going to eat tomorrow morning.

Once you open a jar and start using it, keep it in the refrigerator. It can last about two weeks or so.

Step 5: Start enjoying your hard work

You are finished.  The morning following the canning day, I always sit down and enjoy a perfectly boiled egg, a hunk of cheese, and toast with my fresh peach jam. Mmmm a French breakfast... Yum!