A perfectly ripe peach at the height of the summer season is something that I actually dream about. When a peach is at its most glorious it needs a plate to catch the juice, though I invariably forget. So my preferred method for eating a peach is standing over the sink, letting the juice run down my chin and hands and then my arm. There is something quite seductive about a peach, its beautiful blushing skin, the soft fuzz, the tenderness and weight of the peach begs for a light and gentle touch. When cooking peaches for crumbles, crisps or cobblers I inevitably peel them, but when eating out of hand I enjoy its skin of fine sunset colored down. The feel of the peach’s soft fuzz first on my upper and then lower lip, the way the skin puckers as I bite, then the sweet flesh to follow.
For all its intimate pleasure the skin that covers those crimson cheeks is usually removed after cooking, when it gives way under the slight nudging of a small paring knife, revealing the rich golden flesh beneath. To peel peaches, simply drop them into boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, and then gently remove them with a slotted spoon and place in a single layer on a baking sheet or sheet pan. Let the peaches rest until they are cool enough to handle and then carefully slip off their skins.
There are endless different varieties of peach, both yellow and white; some varieties may also be strongly tinged with red. When selecting peaches, always look for fruit without any green and is slightly firm to the touch. Tasting the fruit before purchasing is the best possible scenario, usually if purchasing from a farmers market they gladly offer tastings. For making jam, what you are looking for is vividly flavored fruit with a high degree of tartness. Once you arrive home with your peaches, place them on a baking sheet to ripen at room temperature, being sure they are not touching each other.
Although I love fresh peaches out of hand or if cooked put within a blanket of pastry dough or else nestled underneath a crumble made of oats. But what gives me the most satisfaction is preserving them, saving a little bit of summer in a jar. Being able to open my pantry in the dead of winter and see these glistening jars of summer sunshine just begging to be savored brings great pleasure. Preserving transforms seemingly ordinary fruit into something truly extraordinary. As the jam maker you can determine the eventual texture, appearance, flavor, consistency, and complexity of each individual preserve. This white cherry and peach jam is the perfect example. The rough and varied texture of the peaches mingled with the sweet tart Rainier cherries make this jam stand out. With its beautiful texture, warm color and flecks of vanilla bean, this preserve is unusual and delicious. -s
White Cherry & Peach Jam
Approximate yield: six 8-ounce jars
Shelf life: 8 months
2 ½ pounds peeled, yellow peaches
2 ½ pounds pitted Rainier or other white cherries
2 pounds 2 ounces white cane sugar
5 ounces strained freshly squeezed lemon juice
Several drops of pure almond extract
Several drops of Maraschino liqueur
1 vanilla bean, split
Place a saucer with five metal teaspoons in a flat place in your freezer for testing the jam later.
Place a cutting board on a rimmed baking sheet or sheet pan. Put the peaches on the board and , using a paring knife, cut enough flesh off the pit to make 2 pounds of prepared fruit. You should end up with pieces of all different shapes and sizes. When you are finished, discard the peach pits.
Place the peach pieces and their collected juices from the baking sheet with the cherries, sugar, and lemon juice in a large mixing bowl, stirring well to combine. Add a few drops each of almond extract and maraschino. Taste, add a drop or two more of the flavorings if necessary, and add the vanilla bean. Transfer the mixture to an 11 or 12 quart copper preserving pan or a wide nonreactive kettle.
Place the jam mixture over high heat and bring it to a boil, stirring every couple of minutes or so. Continue to cook, monitoring the heat closely, until the jam thickens, 25 to 30 minutes. Scrape the bottom of the pan often with your spatula, and decrease the heat gradually as more and more moisture cooks out of the jam. For the last 10 to 15 minutes of cooking stir the jam slowly and steadily to keep it from scorching. Skim off any stiff foam from the surface of the jam as it cooks and discard.
When the jam has thickened and appears glossy, test it for doneness. To test, carefully transfer a small representative half-spoonful of jam to one of your frozen spoons. Replace the spoon in the freezer for 3 to 4 minutes, then remove and carefully feel the underside of the spoon. It should be neither warm nor cold; if still warm, return it to the freezer for a moment. Tilt the spoon vertically to see how quickly the jam runs; if it is reluctant to run, and if it has thickened to a gloopy consistency, it is done. If it runs very quickly or appears watery, cook it for another few minutes, stirring and test again as needed. While you are waiting for the jam in the freezer to cool, skim off any white foam that appears on the surface of the jam in the pan.
When the jam is ready, pour into hot sterilized jars leaving ¼ inch of room at the top, wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth. Put the lids on, being careful to screw them on just until they are snug, and replace the jars in the oven set at 250 degrees F for 15 minutes or so to ensure that they are completely sterilized. They will seal as they cool.
Upon removing your filled jars from the oven, place them 1 inch apart on a drying rack to set overnight at room temperature. Do not jiggle or disturb them during this time, as this may disrupt their ability to set correctly. As the preserves cool, you may hear a few little pops as the lids seal. Before putting your preserves away, be sure to feel the top of each lid to verify that it has sealed, it should be curving in very slightly in the middle. If the jars have not sealed, put them in the refrigerator for safekeeping.
To store sealed preserves, label and date them and keep them in a cool, dark place until you open them. After you open the jar, keep it in the refrigerator.
Recipe from Blue Chair Jam Cookbook