A Blueprint for Peach Jam
Updated: Aug 20, 2019
Before moving to Arkansas, I would have told you Georgia was the Peach Capital; they produced the Gold Standard of peaches. I'm not sure any stone fruit will ever dethrone the Georgia Peach. However, we are inordinately proud of our peaches here in the Ozarks. In fact, if it weren't for the legendary status of the aforementioned classic stone fruit, we might just give Georgia a run for its money. My favorite peaches come from A&A Orchards in Berryville, AR. John Aselage, the owner/operator/farmer is one of the nicest, most knowledgeable, most interesting people you'll ever meet, and he is rightfully proud of the fruit he grows. You can often catch him at local farmers markets, and he, himself, delivers to the restaurants he supplies. I inquired once about getting a few peach leaves to experiment with, and the next week he brought me a garbage bag-full! A gorgeous, floral, almondy peach leaf cream became the centerpiece of that summer's peach dessert.
This is a jam I make whenever I find myself with peach odds and ends, or come across a collection of too-soft peaches in the walk-in cooler. It's never officially on the day's To Do list, and we've never got a specific purpose for it, but it's great on thumbprint cookies, swirled into ice cream, layered in jam bars, on a cheese plate, or smeared on a bread end for a quick snack. Tossing scraps or less-than-beautiful fruit is not an option. We'd never dream of wasting John's peaches!
This is another recipe that argues for the use of a kitchen scale, largely because it's not a recipe so much as a method and a ratio.
Peaches, pitted and sliced/chopped, peeled or not
Sugar, as needed
Lemon juice, to taste
Lemon or orange zest, optional
Vanilla or almond extract, optional
Spices or fresh, sturdy herbs, optional
Toss peach slices, bits, whatever you find yourself with, in a pot large enough to accommodate them all in a single layer. Add a splash of water - enough to fill the pot about 1/8". Bring the contents of the pot to a simmer, then turn heat down to medium-low, cover the pot, and allow things to simmer until the peaches are very soft, stirring occasionally. Depending on the size of your peaches/peach pieces, you may need to break them up with a spoon or spatula. Once the peaches have broken down, remove the pan from the heat and allow everything to cool with the lid off.
Run the cooled peaches and any liquid through a food mill or press them through a coarse strainer. This will give you a casual puree, and will remove any peels. Using a strainer will take you a bit of time, and both a food mill and a peach-encrusted strainer are a pain to wash, so I will look the other way if you'd like to just leave the skins in there and get on with your life. Measure/weigh your puree, then measure out half the weight in sugar. A cup of peach puree and a cup of sugar weigh (very roughly) the same amount, so if you're without a scale, you can still forge ahead. Know that you can play with the type of sugar you use. White sugar is clean and classic, but light brown, dark brown, or raw sugar can add richness and complexity.
Add a generous splash of fresh lemon juice. Give your future jam a taste and see what you'd like to do with it. It might be fine as-is, or you might like to add a little citrus zest or vanilla. Cinnamon is a nice addition, fresh thyme is another good option.
Return the pot to the heat, and cook on high just until everything begins to boil. Turn the heat down to medium and allow it to boil, stirring constantly. The more peaches you started with, the longer the jam will take to cook. I made my last batch of jam with the equivalent of two large peaches, and it was ready in about 5 minutes. I look for lots of evenly spaced, small bubbles, a significant reduction in the foam, some thickening of the jam, and for it to stick to the bottom of the pot just a little. A cold plate from the freezer is a good way to see how your jam is doing: remove the plate from the freezer, dollop a small amount of jam on there, and check it out. Note that jam of any sort thickens as it cools.
I like my jams a bit loose, and in this case a loose jam is going to be best. With less sugar than usually called for in jam recipes, and no added pectin, our peach jam would need to cook longer than is ideal if we were to want a super-thick end product. All the fresh peach flavor would disappear, and your jam would have a dull, "cooked" flavor. Err on the side of not-cooked-enough if you’re nervous. Peach sauce would be amazing on waffles. Also know that you can pop this jam back on the stove and cook it a little more if it's too runny.
This is a good point at which to make clear that this is NOT a jam for canning. Keep it in a container in your refrigerator for a week, or freeze it. Jam for preservation via water bath canning has specific recipe requirements in order for it to be safe to store at room temperature. This jam does not meet those requirements.
I just discovered this biscuit recipe, and its compatibility with jams of all sorts, particularly peach. It's perfect for those of us nurturing a sourdough starter who hate to throw out the "discard" from feeding it. The biscuits get a little extra flavor from the starter, and are beautifully flaky. Peaches are a good way to get into “root to stem” cooking: peach leaves impart an almond flavor when infused, as do the kernels from inside the pits, and peach peels can be turned into Peach Sugar. I'll confess, I've never tried this, but if I come up with a good use for peach sugar, I assure you I'll stop composting my peels and start making sugar.