Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Beginner's Guide to (the perils of) Peach Jam

A couple of weeks ago I ordered a half a bushel of peaches. I am not entirely sure why I did it, but they were cheap and freshly picked and I figured that I had a couple of weeks until they were delivered to figure out what exactly I was going to do with half a bushel of very ripe peaches.

They were delivered this week.

So there they sat, attracting every fruit fly in the state and tempting my one-year old to attack the box and take a single bite out of every single peach. Obviously, something had to be done. We are a family of three people right now, and one of those people eats very little. Simply bingeing on fresh peaches until they are gone wasn't really an option, so canning it was! Peach jam? Sure! Even though I have never made jam before in my life? Sure!

Well, I have now officially made jam for the first time. I have decided that if any of you are thinking about making jam for the first time yourselves, you might benefit from a little "Jam for Dummies," written by one who is, quite often, actually a dummy.

Ahem. Strap in, because we are about to get jammin'!

1. First of all, you need to pick a recipe to use. You can find about a million of them online, but keep in mind that due to incompetence and a really bad memory, you will end up mixing up about three different recipes you looked up while narrowing it down, so it doesn't really matter which one you choose in the end.

2. Gather your supplies. If you do not have everything you need, never fear! You can always make two trips to a grocery store and three trips to your friendly neighborhood hardware store- all in one day. That is not only acceptable, but highly encouraged when making jam for the first time. Bonus points if it is pouring rain all day.

Supplies you will generally need:
  • Fruit of some kind. Preferably fruit that is extremely ripe so that you get a cloud of fruit flies following your every move. It's the mark of a true canner*.
  • Sugar. A lot of it. Apparently jam uses a lot of sugar. Who knew?! Not me.
  • Lemon juice. Ignore any recipe that calls for "fresh" lemon juice, because by the time you get around to adding the lemon juice to the jam, the last thing you will want to do is actually cut up a lemon and juice it yourself. Trust me on this one.
  • Pectin. Any recipe that tells you that it is possible to make jam without pectin is spewing fiery lies of LIES and as penance they need to come to my house and wash every dish I used to attempt to make their recipe of LIES.
  • Jars. 
  • Every single pot, pan, and kitchen utensil you own.
*I made that up. I have no idea what the mark of a true canner is, because I am most certainly not a true canner.

3. Peel and dice your peaches. You might as well strip down naked now because by the end of this you will have a sheen of peach juice from head to toe. I only wish I were exaggerating, but my hair may never be the same again. I'll let you know if peach juice turns out to be some sort of miracle hair conditioner.

It all started so exciting and delicious-looking.

4. Put diced peaches in a pot and add the sugar and lemon juice. If you come up about half a cup of sugar short, you might think that you can just roll with it. You can't. Then again, maybe it wasn't the half a cup of missing sugar that did me in on that particular batch, but the accidental scorching. Those one-year-olds can be so dang distracting!

Now you know what burned peach mush looks like. You are welcome.

5. Bring to a boil. Don't let it burn. It seems so simple, and yet...

6. If needed, throw out your first attempt. Make your first trip to the grocery store to buy more sugar. Go back to step 3 and repeat.

7. Add the pectin. If, like some other first-time-jammers, you realize at this point that you forgot to buy pectin, never fear! You have all day! You don't have a life! All you have to do is push pause on the jam-making, make space in your fridge for a large stock pot of peach mush, clear a space on your counters and stove to make dinner for yourself and your one-year-old, feed yourself and your one-year-old, head out to the hardware store for the second (or was it third?) time that day, discover they are all out of pectin, head to the nearest grocery store for the second time that day (bonus points if you hit up the same cashiers as the previous trips!), buy the only kind of pectin they have there (bonus points if it isn't the kind your recipe calls for, but you could care less at this point!), head home, put the baby to bed, discover the second batch of jam is no good and START ALL OVER AGAIN! FOR THE THIRD TIME! AT EIGHT O'CLOCK IN THE EVENING!

(Step seven was pretty much my favorite step of the whole process.)

8. Go back to step 3 and repeat.

9. Admit to yourself that you wish you had never started, but now that you have you have to have something to show for it.

Something other than a kitchen that looks like this.

10. Call everyone you have ever met who has ever successfully made jam and ask them why your jam isn't thickening even though you added the pectin that you moved heaven and earth to obtain.

11. Decide you don't care if the jam is thick or not- you have had enough. It's time to end this.

12. Fill the jars using any combination of spoons and measuring cups you can concoct, since you apparently do not own a funnel. Ignore the fact that your "jam" is basically diced peaches in light syrup.

And there are loads of uses for diced peaches in light syrup, right?

13. Place jars in the rack of your borrowed canning pot.

They almost look like actual jam. Deceptive little buggers.

14. Realize that you forgot to boil water for the very large canning pot and proceed to fill it and boil it. This will take a while, so feel free to find something to watch on Netflix and try not to think too hard about whether or not this delay will interrupt the jars' sealing process.

15. Place the rack of jars into the boiling water and boil for however long it says in one of the many recipes you consulted that day. This varies according to the altitude of where you live, so take a moment to go Google that. My city is a whopping 75 feet above sea level. I was hoping for a bit more altitude than that so I could claim a lack of oxygen as why I am so bad at canning. This is sadly not the case.

If you were wondering how hot your house is after all this boiling of various liquids...
The answer is HOT.

16. Sit down to write a blog post about the utter failure that was your first attempt at jam-making and in the process forget about the jars you have boiling on the stove. Figure that boiling them twice as long as you were supposed to can't have done that much more damage than everything else you've done to those poor peaches, so....meh.

17. Remove the jars, place them on a towel to cool and try to ignore the strange popping sounds they make. I'm new at this, so I'm just going to ahead and pretend that popping is a sign of success, not complete and utter failure*.

*Update: popping or no, my "jam" was a complete and utter failure, in that it in no way resembles jam.

Diced peaches, anyone? I've got plenty.

18. Do whatever you need to to recover from 12 hours* of jam making.

*Allowing pauses for two meals, half a dozen snacks (for you and the baby), several diaper changes, five minutes spent extracting your son's leg from a hole in the peach box, fifteen minutes for putting the baby down for naps (twice), and ten blessed minutes when you let yourself ignore the peaches for a bit and sit and eat ice cream.

Have at it, kid. I'm not about to do anything with those peaches any time soon.


Laurie said...

I think your jam looks beautiful! And if it doesn't set up like you want you can use it as an ice cream topping or pancake syrup. Trust me, been there & done that. Good for you, I hope you enjoy the fruits of your labors for many months ahead!

Laurie said...

I think your jam looks beautiful! And if it doesn't set up like you want you can use it as an ice cream topping or pancake syrup. Trust me, been there & done that. Good for you, I hope you enjoy the fruits of your labors for many months ahead!

Jill said...

It DOES look rather delicious, doesn't it? I'm thinking it about just leaving it in the jars and looking at it, rather than busting them open and reminding myself of how un-jam-like they really are!