Late summer means steamy days, swimming holes, and the juice of fresh, ripe fruit dripping down your chin. The sweetest fruits of summer must be peaches, with their halo of fuzz and tender flesh that melts into pulpy syrup in your mouth. Last week I received a glorious box of Washington peaches at my door, and I could smell the delivery even before it arrived. I parked myself out on the picnic table to enjoy the day and peel the peaches.
When any fruit crop arrives, it comes in fast and plentiful. Suddenly there are pounds of fruit absolutely begging to be used. Typically I like to make jam from my fruits (as opposed to chutneys, curds, pickles, and such) because jams are some of the most versatile condiments. A great jam can serve as the springboard for barbecue sauces, salad dressings, cocktails, breakfast spreads, ice cream toppers, and so much more. AND if you hot-water process the jars, these babies can sit on the shelf for years.
Jam has two main ingredients: fruit and sugar. Sugar not only creates the gel and acts as a sweetener; it also functions as a preservative. But your jam need not drown in sugar to be delicious. If you’re using ripe, juicy fruit, less sugar is necessary. Our peach jam is more fruit than sugar, a rare find in the jam world.
A third, but no less important, ingredient in jam is pectin, a naturally occurring thickener derived from fruit like citrus, apples, and quince. In fact, without pectin, you can’t have jam! First and foremost, pectin helps to preserve the fresh taste of the fruit. Without pectin, ripe fruit must be cooked and cooked until it becomes thick on its own. This long cooking time makes the flavors less vibrant and fresh. Without pectin, you could add another fruit that naturally contains a lot of pectin, such as unripe apples, but then the pure flavor of your fruit is compromised. Luckily a little bit of pectin goes a long way, which means you don’t have to worry about cloyingly sweet jars of fruit, either.
How to Make Your Own Fruit Jam
Begin any jam by preparing the fruit. These Washington peaches were so tender, I cut them with a wooden knife and peeled them by dragging the same knife over the surface. Then I made seams with the knife and halved the peaches with my fingers. I pulled out the peach pits and stored the peaches in a large zipper bag.
Pro tip: If you don’t want to spend all day canning, freeze your fruit in portions ready for canning. I freeze six pounds of fruit in a one-gallon bag.
To keep the peaches from browning, add a bit of lemon juice. Seal the bag, leaving plenty of room at the top. Then gently squish the peaches until they’re crushed to a pulp. If you’re crushing in a bowl, skip the potato masher! Get a pair of gloves and squish the peaches in your hands. The action of smashing fruit in your hands will make you feel like a kid again…I promise. Now the peach pulp is ready to be frozen for later use.
For our signature savory spin on peach jam, I added the most summery herb I could think of: basil. I harvested some of our homegrown basil and rolled it tight. Then I sliced it thin (chiffonade) so that I could add ribbons of basil to the hot jam just before pouring into jars. You can make this batch of jam your own by adding your favorite herb, spice, or liquor during the jamming process.
Low Sugar Peach Basil Jam (Yield 18 – half pint jars*)
- 6 lb (approximately 9 cups) of peach pulp
- Up to one cup of water (or champagne or fruit juice)
- 8 oz (7 round Tbs) low-sugar pectin (we use Pacific Pectin LM-3, but Ball Low-Sugar also works.)
- 2 lbs cane sugar
- 3 Tbs lemon juice
- 1/3 C fresh basil, sliced thin
Sterilize 18 eight-ounce jars and prepare the lids. Then heat the peach pulp in a 16-quart pot over medium heat. Stir constantly to prevent sticking and burning. Add water if necessary. When the peach pulp is bubbling, add pectin and continue to stir until the peaches boil again. Slowly add the sugar. When the sugar is thoroughly stirred in and boiling, set a timer for three minutes (continue stirring). At the end of three minutes, stir in the basil if desired. Pour the hot jam into the hot, sterilized jars.
Wipe the rims, seal, and boil in a hot water bath for ten minutes. You jam is now ready to be put on the shelf or given as gifts.
Use this jam to bring a bit of summer to the middle of winter by serving it over cheese or chicken, or on toast.
*This recipe is easily cut in half