"Extra effort is one powerful secret ingredient."
Jenna Woginrich - The Guardian
I think, and I sort of hope, that I have finished with making jam until maybe the marmalade season in June/July. Though you never know. Some friend might present me with a glut of something. I might see something ridiculously cheap at the market and won't be able to resist buying a tray. Or even the supermarket, where once I saw strawberries at $1.00 a punnet. Too good to refuse.
Which is a long way of saying that today I made peach jam with the peaches from my tree. Here is one of the finished jars, and behind it is the rather sorry looking tree. I guess it's on its way to the autumnal shedding of leaves, although I don't think summer is quite over yet. I seem to have got eight jars this time and I still have a few peaches left over to make a cake or something nice like that.
If you read the literature people get quite poetical about making jam.
"It can only be done when you force the day to be still. It's meditation, free therapy and cooking class all rolled up into one." Jenna Woginrich
Alas today it wasn't quite as wonderful as that. No meditation for me - just a backache, slippery juice fingers, frustration and mild annoyance. I knew I had to peel the peaches. They look pretty horrible on the outside - see below
I had a memory of peeling with the boiling water method - pour boiling water over them, leave them for half a minute or so and then the peel will just come off. Like tomatoes. Well I now learn that this only works with ripe peaches, and mine were slightly underripe - which I also learnt today is the best stage for fruit to be at if you want to make jam. Anyway the peel just wouldn't come off. I knew it was going to be a long and tedious process but this was rapidly developing into a bit of a nightmare. So I tried the peeler method - which worked, but you get juice all over your hands, and then everything starts slipping and there were so many ...
I had to resort to sitting down and putting on an apron as the juice was going everywhere. And then I had to cut up the peaches - also a very difficult process. These must be clingstones so the fruit as well as being underripe, just would not pull away from the stones, so of course a fair bit of peach was left on the stones. Never mind. And peaches start to get bruised if you squeeze them, and, of course, in the process of the peeling and the slicing they got pretty much squeezed. Lemon juice was poured over and stirred around and this helped a bit, but in the end I started cooking them before I had finished peeling and chopping all of them. Amazingly though, they were not bruised too much.
But at last, and I do mean at last - an hour or more later - it was all over and the peaches were safely in the pot. Now all you have to do is stir occasionally, so that it doesn't burn - that's happened to me before but not today. Imagine going through all that and then burning it! Whilst it's cooking you clear up the mess, make some pesto - no, not related to jam. Well when I think about it, it is a bit. Basil also doesn't like being touched so you have to be super quick with that too. I had bought a bunch this morning. Some is in my roast lamb which is cooking now. The smell is wafting down towards me which is an anticipatory pleasure. But I had to do something with the rest of the bunch because experience has taught me that by tomorrow it will be unusable. As I read lately, really if you want to use basil you have to grow your own. Something I find really hard to do. Whatever I do it doesn't flourish.
But back to the peaches. Safely cooking and softening, so eventually I add the sugar (oh and a little vanilla essence), probably too much sugar. It makes it very sweet but you have to get the jam to set somehow and there was some lemon juice in there. I had put some of the stones in a muslin bag, but I'm never sure that this helps all that much. I just hope you can taste the peaches over the sugar.
Then you have to wait whilst the jam spits all over the place - occasionally over you, so you need to wear an oven glove to help prevent burning. I find this part of the process really difficult too, because I'm not very patient and I have a tendency to bottle it before I should. Poor David had to redo the plum jam in the microwave because it hadn't really set. I think the peaches will be fine though. There was virtually no water in it and it was jelling nicely on the plate.
At the end of it all there was spattered peach jam all over the cooktop - but I have to say that cleaning an induction cooktop is a breeze. Then there's all the bits and pieces that need washing up too. But it's done and there are eight jars of peach jam, that I don't need sitting on the kitchen bench waiting for labels from David.
"Making jam is one of those things that is wonderful when it's over. Well peach jam anyway.
I grew some strawberries outside my front steps. I washed them, found a book with a basic jam recipe, and made a few jars of homemade preserves. I still remember seeing them all lined up on the shelf next to the cans of soup and boxed cake mix. I felt like I just finished writing a novel and stuck it with my other books." Jenna Woginrich
She's so right. It is absurdly satisfying when it's all over. She's also right about strawberry jam being very easy. No pips or skins. Best made in the microwave which seems to preserve the colour better. The only problem with strawberry jam being getting it to set. You just have to tell yourself that it's meant to be slightly runny.
Sales of jam are apparently plummeting over there in the UK. I don't know whether it's the same here, but it probably is. And it's not because people are making their own. I don't think that's what people have been doing in lockdown. No - it's all that sugar. They are using things like peanut butter instead.
"The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday - but never jam today." Lewis Carroll
You would sort of think that jam is an ancient thing, but no it isn't because there wasn't cheap sugar until the end of the 17th century - maybe not until the 18th, and it didn't really become a food of the poor until the late 19th century. When I came home from school we often had a slice of bread and jam, though I don't think my mother made jam. Maybe she did and I've forgotten. But I do like a bit of jam on my crumpet or my toast - or with a croissant too. And I give it away too. My son and his family like it.
"Sunshine in winter" they call it.