18:04 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Peach Jam makes Peach Jam

It had to be done... It's August, and peaches are ripe and perfect. I've never made jam before, but it seemed fitting that my first attempt should reflect the name of this blog, and the reasons behind it.

Last summer, Steviant and I celebrated 6 years together in Portugal. The Portuguese understand fruit. The peaches particularly are beautiful, velvety globes heavy with nectar and without a doubt the best I've eaten. A street juice bar will blend them for you as you wait, and serve the pulpy juice unadorned in a tall, cold glass. Simple perfection on a hot, humid day.

Our hotel served famously bad breakfasts. It's saving grace was the peach jam. I can't give the hotel credit for it really, as it came in little single servings bought in from elsewhere, but it was my first taste of the stuff and gave me one of those perfect food moments. Tony Bourdain sums up this phenomenon in his fantastic book 'A Cook's Tour'. He puts it down to several contributing factors - food, yes, but also the setting, the company, the promise of what is yet to come. A sort of backwards nostalgia, then. His examples; champagne on a woman's lips, a single wild strawberry, or your grandmothers lasagane, show the simplicity of food that can be transportive. He states wryly that; "No one remembers their best meal ever as being consumed jacketed and tied, in a starched dress shirt, sitting bolt upright in a four-star restaurant."

I think he's right, and that's why I thank that crummy Portuguese hotel for giving me a single perfect food moment, a honeyed, sunset pink morsel atop a stale croissant. The taste of peach jam will forever be connected to gleaming hot days, blue skies and seas, and a picture-perfect week with my favorite person. It reminds me of every other delicious thing I ate and drank on that holiday. It tastes of being in love and of new beginnings.

It was these romantic and rose-tinted notions that decided it, Steviant and I will be celebrating 7 years very soon, and come what may, we will have peach jam for breakfast again!

There is absolutely nothing romantic about jam making. You can rid yourselves of the images of plump, serene women stirring their cauldrons full of syrupy fruit, honeyed wafts floating enticingly through a sunny kitchen. Jam making is boring. It is hot. It is surprisingly dangerous. It is an enormous undertaking for a very small reward (Two tiny jars to be exact). These are things we do in the name of love.

My jam bears little resemblance to the pinky-peachy Portuguese jam. As you can see, it's very dark. While researching I found that peaches are very low in pectin, which is what causes a jam to set. Because it was my first attempt, I cheated a little and used jam sugar, which contains pectin. It also makes your jam very dark, I guess this is fine if you're making strawberry or plum, next time I'll try without to attain that beautiful sunrise colour I remember. I discovered that another contributing factor to darkening in jam is the froth that forms as you cook the fruit. You're supposed to skim it off. My frothed a little, but not nearly enough to skim. Perhaps I stirred too much, or had too little fruit in too big a container.

If you are brave and want to attempt a peach jam of your own, I can offer a few guidelines here. I'm not going to give you a proper recipe, as I don't think mine is good enough, but the basic premise is this:

It's all about ratio. Allow half as much sugar as fruit. Get the ripest peaches you can find. You're preserving their flavour, so you want it to be good to start with. Some lemon juice will help it set (About one lemons worth per pound of fruit) I also added a little good-quality vanilla extract, as I am aware of the difference between the peaches available to me in this country, compared to the super-fresh Portuguese kind. I thought vanilla would help bring out the honey character that my peaches lost in their journey from Italy to my fruit bowl.

Peel and chop your peaches into little chunks, mix with the sugar and lemon juice and allow to sit, covered, for 2 hours. Then chuck the mixture into a big, metal preserving pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Add the vanilla if you're using it, and then up the heat to a rolling boil. Allow the jam to boil for about 15-20 mins, stirring regularly to prevent it from catching. to test, put a little bit of jam on a saucer and pop in the fridge for a minute or so and then remove. Push it gently with the tip of your finger. Your looking for it to wrinkle slightly, if it just slides, allow it to cook a little longer to achieve it's set.

When your jam has achieved set, you need to decant it into hot sterilised jars. To sterilise, wash your jars with hot soapy water and rinse. Then fill them right to the brim with boiling water and allow to cool slightly. Empty the water and 'dry' the jars in a warmish oven until you're ready for them. They must be hot when the jam goes in. Once you have wrestled your jam into jars, push a wax circle right down onto the the jam to seal and add a lid or cover and label. You're done!

I haven't tried my jam yet, as it must cool before eating. I understand my jam is unlikely to transport me back to sunny Portugal, but I'm looking forward to another food moment. A celebratory Sunday morning breakfast in bed with Steviant, with hot coffee and my dark, rich and very British looking jam on a warm, fresh croissant. The beautiful thing about cooking for someone who loves you, is that they will smile and eat it even if it isn't that fantastic. Next year I will try again, and we will eat slightly better jam for breakfast. Failing that, there's always Portugal. Happy anniversary Steviant.


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