For almost ten years, I’ve had my eye on a beautiful little peach tree that graces the front yard of a house down the street. July has always meant at least one longing look over the white picket fence, wishing I could get my hands on those peaches. I never asked about them because it’s such a small tree and the fruit was always picked. If the peaches had seemed unwanted, I would have been through the gate in a second, knocking on the door.
You can probably imagine my delight when I walked past the house the other day and found a paper bag of peaches just outside the gate, with a sign inviting neighbors to help themselves. I took one and ate it as I walked home, and it was good — juicy and sweet, the way you hope a peach will be.
The next day I returned and there were even more peaches in the bag. This time, I wanted all of them! I knocked and when nobody answered, I carried away all the fruit. Well, not all the fruit. I could see there were many more peaches still on the tree. I felt sheepish about taking all the fruit (including the bag!) so a few days later I brought back a jar of peach jam to compensate for my fruit lust. My neighbors seemed happy to have the jam, and I found out then that several more peach trees prosper in their backyard. That explained why the bag kept filling up even though there seemed to be the same number of peaches on the little tree I could see.
Generally, I prefer to make jam without pectin, but for now I’ve decided peaches are an exception. The peach flavor is so delicate, and the fruit is so wet, that I’ve found it difficult to do the fruit justice in a pectin-free jam. Without pectin, I’ve had to add more sugar than I want and cook the fruit longer than I’d like, just to boil off the excess liquid. This jam, pure peach using Pomona’s Pectin, keeps both the sweet stuff and the cooking time low.
Also, I believe there are better ways to use Pomona’s than what’s described on the insert in the pectin box. I like to separate the sugar into two parts and let the fruit cook down a bit with most of the sugar before adding the remainder, mixed with the pectin powder, at the very end of the cooking process. To me, this gives a more natural result than the box instructions. (Last year’s recipe for blueberry raspberry jam uses a similar approach.) I hope you’ll find, as I did, that this recipe preserves the true peach flavor and color with a set that’s not too firm.
Low-Sugar Peach Jam
3 1/2 pounds peaches (after peeling, pitting, and mashing, this yielded 4 2/3 cups peach flesh)
1/2 teaspoon citric acid (or substitute 2 tablespoons lemon juice)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/4 cup white cane sugar
4 teaspoons calcium water
1 tablespoon Pomona’s Pectin
- Sterilize your jars. (I do this because I process the full jars for less than ten minutes.)
- Blanch, peel, and pit the peaches. To do this, bring a large pot of water to a boil. While that’s heating, fill a large bowl about two-thirds full with ice water and add 1/2 teaspoon citric acid (or 2 tablespoons lemon juice). You’ll also want another large bowl standing by to receive the peeled and pitted fruit, plus a receptacle for the peels and pits. Dividing the peaches into several batches, plunge each batch into the just-boiled water for 60 seconds, then transfer the whole fruits to the ice water. When they’re cool enough to handle, slip the skins off the peaches with your (clean!) hands. Pull apart each peach and remove the pit. I mash the peach flesh with my hands as I put it into the waiting bowl, but you could wait and use a potato masher on all the peeled and pitted peaches at the end. Repeat this process — making sure to bring the water back to a boil each time — until you have a bowl of peeled, pitted, well-mashed peach flesh.
- Combine the mashed peaches, just 1 cup of the sugar, the lemon juice, and the calcium water in a heavy-bottomed pot and stir well. (The box in the pectin packet explains what calcium water is and how to use it. You can also call Pomona’s jam hotline with any questions.)
- Bring the fruit mixture to a boil. Cook it at a steady boil for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- While the fruit mixture is cooking, thoroughly mix the pectin powder into the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar.
- After the fruit has cooked for 15 minutes, stir the pectin sugar into the rapidly boiling mix — don’t drop it all in there like a lump, shake it in gradually as you stir — then stir gently but continuously for 2 minutes more.
- Remove the mixture from the heat and pour or ladle the hot jam into your hot, sterilized jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Wipe the jar rims with a clean cloth if necessary, apply lids, and process in a hot-water bath canner for 5 minutes. (Add an extra minute for each 1,000 feet of altitude.)
Makes 5 half-pint jars