“The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today.”
“It must come sometime to jam today,” Alice objected.
“No it can’t,” said the Queen. “It’s jam every other day. Today isn’t any other day, you know.”
~ Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Have you ever made jam? Most people seem to think it’s some kind of messy and terrifying endeavour, but honestly, if you follow a few simple steps jam making is easy and satisfying, even for beginner cooks!
Today’s recipe is for a delicious peach and vanilla jam. The vanilla gives a lovely smoothness to the flavour, and the end result is like sunshine in a jar.
I have been kept in an abundance of peaches and nectarines this season from all of my friends with orchards. Our own orchard is predominantly citrus, so when citrus season comes the favour is returned with boxes of oranges, mandarins and tangellos. But I digress. Back to the recipe!
Fresh peaches, sugar, lemon, *vanilla paste – quantities to follow
*Note: Vanilla paste gives a better result, but if you only have vanilla essence feel free to use that. It will still be yummy. If using essence, add right at the end!
I made a massive batch of jam with two kilograms of cut fruit. The ratios I use are for every 500 grams of peaches use 250 grams of sugar, two teaspoons lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste.
Prepare your fruit. Wash thoroughly, and peel if needed. If the fruit is bright and unblemished you can leave the skins on. Some of my fruit was quite blemished and bird struck so I peeled most of mine with a paring knife while listening to the cricket. You can also blanch your fruit in a bowl of boiling water, a few at a time, then rinse under cold tap and peel. Blanching will make peeling easier. Remove flesh from stones and cut into chunks.
Weigh your fruit so that you can work out the sugar you’ll use. You’ll need half the weight of fruit in sugar.
Place peaches in a large, heavy-bottomed stainless steel saucepan (never use aluminium for jam making!). Make sure to use a generous size.
Turn on the heat and begin to soften the fruit. Don’t panic that there is no water in this recipe. Stir! Keep that fruit moving in the pot.
Once the fruit is softened and making juice, add your sugar and stir thoroughly until it is dissolved.
*Prize-winning jam tip: If your fruit is really firm you may need to add a tablespoon or so of water and cook it down a little before adding your sugar. Sugar hardens your fruit, and you’ll end up with really lumpy jam if you haven’t softened it enough first.
Add the sugar bit by bit if you have a lot of fruit, stirring after each addition so that the sugar melts completely.
Add your lemon juice, and vanilla paste (if you are using it – otherwise add your vanilla essence at the end of the cooking time).
Increase the temperature and bring the jam to a fast boil, like this:
Stir well and then lower the temperature to a steady simmer. Some people recommend a furious boil for jam making, but that isn’t such a great technique for beginners. You can’t go wrong if you go low and slow, but too much heat and sugar and you can burn a jam batch in an instant, ruining all your hard work!
A foam will being to form. Don’t panic. That’s supposed to happen. You need to let your jam simmer for a minimum of twenty minutes. Small batches may only take half an hour. Stir your jam occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Set a timer if you are forgetful.
If your peach pieces are enormous and you’re not happy with the texture, use a stick blender or potato masher to break some of the pieces up in the pot. Just be careful, because hot jam burns!
While you’re waiting put a saucer or two in the fridge and prepare your jars.
Preparing your jars: Clean jars and lids are essential for your jams and preserves. To sterilise your jars wash well in soapy water, rinse and then stand in a hot oven for ten minutes. Remove from oven and avoid touching neck of jar. You could also boil your jars and lids for ten minutes. Use tongs or a tea towel to hold them. Fill jars while hot. Wipe any excess from mouth of jar with a clean paper towel. Screw lids on while hot.
After twenty minutes take your saucer from the fridge and drop a teaspoon of jam onto the surface. Jam is set when it firms on the saucer, or if placed back in the fridge, the surface of the jam can be wrinkled with your finger when it is cool. Remember that jam will continue to firm as it cools.
I’ve shown you the progression of my jam making below, starting with the very liquid jam after twenty minutes.
My own batch took forty five minutes to produce the final, firm orange-coloured jam which has gelled nicely on the cold saucer. If jam is very runny, keep cooking. If you fear a runny jam disaster just add a little more lemon juice and cook some more.
I tested every ten minutes or so. (And I must confess to regular tasting too 🙂 )
When jam is ready, turn off the heat and move to another part of the stove so it doesn’t keep cooking. Add vanilla essence now if that’s what you are using. Leave to cool for five minutes and then skim off any remaining foam.
Spoon hot jam into hot jars, place lids on and leave to cool. While still warm, wipe jars to remove any spills. Label with variety and date when completely cold. Jam will last one year unopened, and a month in the fridge or a cool pantry once opened.
We tested some out on crumpets after dinner last night. The verdict? Heavenly!
You could also eat this jam with pikelets. Here’s my Nana’s recipe.
Works well with scones too, and these are fast to make: Hurry Up Scones
Variation: For a completely grown-up treat, add a tablespoon or so of whiskey, bourbon, brandy or cognac to your finished jam. If you’re not sure whether this will be to your taste, place a little hot jam in a cup and add a drop or two of liquor to the jam, stirring well. Taste. If you like, bottle half the jam as per the original recipe, and then add alcohol to the final half. This makes a lovely gift at Christmas time.