2011 will go down as the year of the peach. I’m not sure whether this is because we’ve simply had ideal peach conditions. Or whether it’s due to the fact that I bothered to spray my peach trees at appropriate times, rather leaving them – as usually happens – to develop rampant leaf curl and spend most of the summer leafless, fruitless and forlorn. If this latter is the case, then it puts paid to my very convenient theory that leaf curl has no effect whatsoever on fruit production… a theory I use most years to justify my failure to get around to applying sulphur and copper as I should.
Anyway, this year my beautifully leafy trees are bent down under the weight of their own fruit, which taps the roof of the car as we drive down the lane, and clunks me on the head each time I go down the top path into the vegetable garden. One morning I stripped 12 kilos of very underripe peaches to allow some of the remainders room to develop into huge, juicy eaters. And with these underripe ones, I made jam.
It wasn’t easy: so hard were they that they ran very little juice and, in my absent-minded way, I failed to notice that they were sticking and burning on the bottom of the pan. Never mind. Plenty more fruit where that came from, so I started again. All this was after the peel-or-not-to-peel dilemma.
Recipes everywhere were telling me that I should peel. Fine. Drop peaches in a big saucepan of boiling water, bring in back to the boil, then plunge the peaches into cold water. What I got was a mucky mess and peaches with skins even harder to remove because great chunks of flesh came off when I tried to pull it. Hopeless. As I was applying my potato peeler to the unboiled ones (far easier) I thought: why? I don’t peel any other fruit. And so I stopped, with about one third peeled and the rest just cut off the stone. I don’t really think I needed to peel away anything but blemishes and damage. The skin simply adds texture to the finished jam.
A couple of days later I tried a much more sensible five kilos of peaches. Peaches are low in pectin, but underripe ones have slightly more than mature ones. If you can get them, I recommend using these: they speed the gelling process along.
Peaches – 5 kg
Sugar – 2kg
Lemon – 2
Cinnamon stick – 1
Wash the peaches and cut the flesh off the stone: how large or small the pieces are is immaterial because it will all boil down to a nicely textured pulp in the end. Chop the lemons – which should be unwaxed and scrubbed thoroughly – into eighths.
In a preserving pan or large saucepan, put sufficient water to cover the bottom to a depth of a centimetre or two. Tip the peach and lemon pieces into the water and set them over a low heat. Keep a very close eye on the pan as you slowly bring it to the boil, stirring frequently. When it has come to a gentle boil, drop the cinnamon stick in and keep the fruit bubbling for 15 minutes or so, allowing it to soften a little and run some juice.
Now tip in the sugar. As usual, I used a very low sugar-to-fruit ratio. This has the disadvantage of making it a long slow process but the advantage of making the jam taste of peach rather than sugar. If you’re not worried by such matters, you can increase the sugar. Stir the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved, then turn the heat up a little.
You’ll speed things up slightly by not stirring too much. Then again, you don’t want a solid black lump of burnt-on jam gracing the bottom of your pan: you’ll need to find a happy medium. When the jam reaches gelling point (105°C at sea level, less as you climb), pour it into sterilised jars (see here for information on sterilising).
My five kilos of peaches produced just over three kilos of jam and took about an hour and a half of bubbling.
© Anne Hanley, 2011