Why I can (and freeze and pickle)

The nastiest peaches — hard as rocks, boiling water wouldn’t budge their skins and the pits clung like burrs on a long-haired dog. But Dixie St. Clair was right — they make wonderful jam.

I enjoy preserving Stoic’s garden bounty (along with that of the Lynn St. Clair Orchard in Taylorsville) because it makes me feel like a good steward and because — of everything going on in my life — it’s the only process with a beginning, middle and end. I can actually see what I’ve accomplished, usually within a single day.

Today, for instance, I froze sweet peppers (absurdly easy), cooked and froze pasta sauce with our own tomatoes and basil and made a peachy marmalade with the St. Clairs’ peaches.

This was my second batch of peach jam this summer. I made the first (different kind of peaches) two weeks ago. It’s still runny, and the recipe called for pectin to make it jell. Can’t imagine what it would have been like without the SureJell. With the pectin, it’s really only fit to brush on a pork tenderloin or chops or spread between cake layers.

However, today’s successful recipe (no pectin) came right off the Domino sugar bag. It was probably someone’s grandmother’s treasured recipe. Not only is it deliciously sticky, now that it’s cooked down; it tastes like peaches, oranges and lemon.

I know I’ve said this before: Don’t be afraid. All you need is a canner, some jars and lids. You’ll find a canner (make sure it has the interior rack for lowering and lifting the jars from the boiling water) at any thrift store. Same for jars and lids, but you can also find new ones at the grocery stores and you must never re-use the round lids.  (You can re-use the rings.)

Run the jars through the dishwasher, timing the cycle with preparing and cooking your fruit and heating the water in your canner. You’ll want to take the warm jars out of the washer and fill them immediately. Lids and ladles and tongs you can simmer in another pot of boiling water. Just turn off heat when it’s had a good boil and take your surgical instruments out of the water when you’re ready to use them.

My last tips: Always have one more jar (or two) than the recipe says you’ll need. Set your finished jars on several towels on the counter and leave them undisturbed overnight. The next day remove every ring, turn every jar upside down carefully (hand underneath) to make sure it’s sealed and then replace and tighten ring. Any that are not sealed can be put back in canner and the fool boiled out of them once again. Label your jars and store them in the cool dark for at least 6 weeks before eating.

Peachy orange jam

Just one of the many times in my cooking life that I’ve lifted a really good recipe from packaging!

3 large juice oranges

1 lemon

3 pounds medium firm ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and chopped into uniform-size chunks

6 cups granulated sugar

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

Grate rinds of oranges and lemon. A microplane works best to get a lot of zest without the bitter pith. Juice the fruit. Remove seeds but don’t strain juice — you want every bit of pulp for its natural pectin.

Add orange and lemon zest and juice to heavy stainless cooking kettle along with chopped peaches, sugar and salt. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring often. DO NOT COVER. Reduce heat and let simmer slowly until thickened, about 35 to 45 minutes. Stir every now and then — when the drops roll like jelly from your spoon, you’re really close. Sometimes the color changes at this point.

Ladle into hot canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Wipe jar rims with surgically clean paper towel moistened with blisteringly hot water. Place lids on jars and screw bands down (not tightly). Place jars on rack in canning kettle, making sure they’re completely covered by water at a depth of no less than 1 inch. Lower jars. Cover kettle and bring to rolling boil. Boil for 15 minutes — no skimping.

Carefully remove jars from water and listen for the chirpy pop of a lid self-sealing. Be sure no drafts touch these jars while they’re hot. Cold air plus hot jar = explosive device. Makes 5 pints (only I got 6 and that was with weighing peaches). Local cantaloupe, reduced-fat cottage cheese and a dollop of any leftovers that wouldn’t fit into your 5 or 6 jars makes a fabulous breakfast.

Next winter, slathered between two pieces of French toast. What do you think?

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