Hey everyone, I went peach picking!! My first time! It was so, so, so lovely. We went about two weeks ago, so sadly at this point many peach orchards are closed for the year. BUT… we had so much fun I had to share a couple of photos and encourage y’all to make a point of going next summer. It was so fun watching a peach go from orchard to kitchen to fresh jam. Though most orchards are closed for you-pick now, there is still a narrow time frame when we’ll still be getting some delicious peaches at the markets, so keep your eyes peeled!
So, back to the peach picking….On this particular Saturday, Nate and I got up as early as we could, grabbed a bagel and headed out into the country. We left behind the city and traded in for a two-lane, dusty, gently curved and sloped road. We shared it with cyclists, horses, and pickup trucks and zipped along with windows down, staring at slightly browned hills and looming oak trees. By 11am we were somewhere in Brentwood, California and after a few wrong turns we pulled off onto an even teenier road at Tachella Family Farms.
I could barely contain my excitement as we got our buckets and instructions from the woman sitting behind the register in the shady farmstand. There was only one other group at the farm; a mother, father, and toddler, and I blew past them in a shameless attempt at the best picks of the day’s crop. Pretty soon Nate and I were weaving in and out of long rows of trees hunting for peaches. Every once in a while I’d allow myself a moment to take in the cornflower blue sky that sat atop the orchard. The air was heavy with the scent of sweet fruit and I barely noticed the heat, distracted as I was by my task at hand. I examined the different varieties, testing their feel, scent, and taste. I raised a “Fairtime” peach to my nose and as I did its fragrance hit my nose with a heaviness. I breathed it in as deeply as I could, stopped to appreciate its golden, blushed skin and gentle fuzz, and bit into it. It was almost hot from the sun and I slurped up the juice that dribbled down my chin. I couldn’t believe how good this little piece of fruit was. “THIS KIND” I declared to Nate, and we started plopping peach after peach into our buckets. After a while Nate asked how many pounds we needed. “At least 20!” I called over my shoulder, and I could feel him debate whether to laugh or reason with me. He settled on acceptance and I was grateful. 20 pounds later we were loading the fruit into the car, along with a few ears of fresh corn. I was already dreaming up recipes before we shut the trunk and raced to take comfort in some air conditioning.
Of course, most of the peaches were destined for preserves. As you may have read in my last post, I’m a sucker for canning, and already I almost can’t wait to bust out one of those jars of orangey-pink. I’ll be lucky if my jam lasts through the fall.
This recipe is very similar to my strawberry preserves and in face some of the instructions are cut and copy. Again, no pectin and relatively little sugar. The result is a very thick, very fruity jam with hardly any “jelly.” I like to think it’s healthier and more refreshing when you’re looking for just a spot of fruit. The recipe makes about 6 half-pint jars. If you find worth fruit I recommend making at least two batches… trust me! Look for peaches with a good, sweet scent and that have a little give when you press on them. I’m sorry I don’t have pictures yet of the jam itself, but I wanted to rush this recipe to you before the season is over!
- 6 clean half-pint jars, bands, and unused lids (you can always re-use jars and bands, but you can’t re-use lids!)
- 4 ¼ pounds of peeled, pitted, diced peaches*
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 ounce lemon juice
*If you’re looking for a shortcut for peeling peaches, cut an “x” in the bottom of each peach and drop into a pot of boiling water for 30-45 seconds. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and immediately drop into a bowl of ice water. As soon as the peaches are cool enough to handle, you should be able to sort of just brush the skins off with your fingers! Super easy.
- Carefully clean all jars, bands, and lids in hot soapy water. Place on a cookie sheet and put in an oven heated to 300F. Leave the jars here until you’re ready to fill them. Place a small plate in the freezer, which you’ll use later to test the “doneness” of the jam.
- Mix the fruit and sugar together over in a wide shallow-ish pan over medium heat. Simmer for a few minutes until the peaches start releasing some juice. You should get enough liquid going to just about cover up the fruit.
- Separate the peaches from the juices using a colander set over a big bowl(reserve both fruit and juice). Return juices to the pot and cook down until they have thickened and are just slightly syrupy. This will take 13 – 18 minutes depending on your heat. Stir constantly.
- Carefully add the peaches back in, along with the lemon juice, and continue simmering for another 10 – 15 minutes. Gradually the peaches will get very soft and mushy and the juices will really thicken up. When the whole mixture is about the consistency of a very very loose pudding, scoop a bit onto the plate and return to the freezer. Check after two minutes; if the jam is a little firm to the touch you’re done. If not, cook a little longer.
- When your jam is done, remove the jars from the oven and reduce heat to about 275F. Try to avoid contaminating the rims or lids by touching the parts that will come into contact with jam. Drop a small amount of jam into one of the jars to test the heat; if it bubbles let the jars cool just enough so you don’t get much of the bubbling. Carefully ladle the jam into the jars (a jam funnel is very helpful for this) and fill about ½ to ¼ inch from the top. Gently wipe away any jam that get around the rim with a clean damp cloth. Place the lid on each jar as you fill it and tighten a band around it. Place all the jars back in the oven for about 10 minutes to really ensure they seal.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool. You may hear little popping noises as the lids seal. Check all jars after an hour to ensure the lids have pulled in on themselves and there is a shallow indent in the top of each – you’ll know they’re sealed. If one hasn’t sealed completely you can eat it right away or freeze it for about 3 months.