Wow! Spring has been very busy at Hudson’s Farm on the Cement Pond down here south of Houston, but summer is quickly approaching. Everything has come in early — including our best crop of peaches.
Okay, so it’s really only our second full crop, and it came in at a whopping 63 pounds on our little 10-foot tree. We had to cover it with netting to keeps the birds at bay back in mid-April. The branches were sagging and weighted down from all of the peaches and the net. The tree looked relieved when the final peach was picked and the net removed as if a heavy burden and responsibility had been lifted from its “shoulders." You did well tree, you did well.
As we are still learning about the tree, the peaches were picked around the same time but they were ripening at different rates. Initially, this concerned me, but it has been nice in hindsight because it has allowed me to process the fruit over several weekends as opposed to having a hectic weekend of canning peaches.
Last year, we froze most of the peaches to be used in pies, cobblers and ice creams. This year, it was time to replenish our peach jam stock. 2014 was a good year, but come on, fresh peach jam rules. In addition, I canned some in syrup and made a peach and pepper salsa.
I stuck with the ol’ standby Ball recipe using their regular pectin. However, this year I added/tested two modifications to my process.
While the recipe is simple and straightforward, it is does take significant time to peel my clingstone peaches. Even with blanching the peaches to help in peeling, an 8 quart container took 3.5 to 4 hours to peel and remove the pits. Thankfully, the jam-making steps go much faster.
If you are buying peaches, get freestone peaches and save yourself some time. Here is where I incorporated my first modifications.
When peeling peaches and removing the pits, especially with clingstone varieties, you generate a lot of juice. To capture and collect this juice, I peeled over a colander that was set over a large bowl. I would collect the peels in the colander, mashing them occasionally to get as much juice as possible, and put the pits in a separate bowl to be discarded while the peels went to the chickens.
By using this approach, I collected 1-2 quarts of peach juice with each batch. Some of it I am using to make a peach vinegar, the rest I will use to try to make a peach jelly.
The other modification that I tested was to use an antioxidant to prevent the browning of the fruit. I prepared a solution with the antioxidant and put the slices or chunks of peach into it as I went along. I never thought much about this in years past, and you can tell.
The first batch that I did this year was without antioxidant, the second was with antioxidant. Both used the same recipe, and you can see in the picture below that the one with antioxidant (on the right) is brighter and more "peachy" in color, however the flavor is nearly the same. I used Ball’s Fresh Fruit (I hope I do not sound like a Ball shill) which is just ascorbic acid (aka vitamin C).
There are other products available, so use your favorite or prepare acidulated water, if you like, with lemon juice and use it the same way.
Yields 6 pints
• 4 cups pitted and peeled peaches, mashed to the consistency you like.
• 2 Tbsp lemon juice
• 50 g (1 package) Ball brand regular pectin
• 5 cups sugar
1. Prepare cans, jars and lids.
2. In a large saucepan/pot, combine peaches and lemon juice. Add pectin and stir until dissolved.
3. Bring to a boil. Stir. Very important step.
4. Once boiling, add all of sugar at once and stir constantly. Regain boil.
5. Once boiling vigorously, stir and boil hard for 1 minute. I got mine to 219 degrees Fahrenheit.
6. Remove from heat. Skim off foam.
7. While hot, fill jars leaving a half inch of headspace. Wipe rims and threads clean. Apply lid and rings. Hand tighten. Do not overtighten.
8. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes making sure jars are completely submerged.
9. Remove from water bath. Let cool overnight. Label, store and/or enjoy.
So how did it turn out? Have you ever “licked” the bowl after you or your mom or dad made a cake, or pudding or cookies? This was so good, we toasted up fresh made sourdough bread and used it to clean the pot chowing down the whole time. It was great and the inspiration for a second batch.
I like both modifications I tested this year so I will use the colander and antioxidant when I can in the future. In addition, I also want to play with the sugar. This recipe used the classic pectin technique with a high methoxyl pectin, and a lot of sugar.
While I liked it, I want to see how it tastes with lower sugar so in the future I will make peach jam using some of the low-methoxyl pectins that allow you to use low or no sugar.
The arch nemeses of the gardener - weather and bugs - have wreaked havoc on the garden this spring. We have been hit by an inordinate amount of rain which has gotten to the point that it is slowing growth and blooming of all of the plants, especially the tomatoes. It looks like whether they are determinate or indeterminate, we are only getting one round of tomatoes this year. Perhaps when things dry up, they will get back to producing new blooms and tomatoes.
The rain has also brought fungus with the cucumbers being the hardest hit. They are getting treated and holding on but perhaps a few dry days should get production back up and going.
The squash vine borer has been our biggest pest. It has been a pest in the past so this year I am trying some new squash varieties and even an edible gourd in hopes of finding something that can stand up to the destructive critter. We have lost some plants already. I buried a long section of the vine of a few that were hit hard in hopes that they take root and keep growing,
All of that said, we have gotten pretty good yields so far and stand at 224 pounds as of this writing in our roughly 400 square feet of garden.
Rumor has it that the fully loaded Reuben sandwich, melty Swiss cheese and all, has been spotted in the wilds of our kitchen. Our crack photographer shot the blurry photograph below of the elusive Reuben sandwich reportedly seen in our kitchen. She remains on assignment in hopes of capturing more images of this elusive sandwich, but it may not reveal itself until it has some full sour dill pickles to accompany it.
Word has it, they are in the works, and the trap will soon be set. I also have operatives out in the field trying to acquire Dad’s Reuben Sauce recipe. More next month.
1Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving: 400 Delicious and Creative Recipes for Today. Edited by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine. Toronto, R. Rose, 2006, p.31. (Available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store via the link.)
Photos by Jennifer Hudson
Ed Hudson is a biochemist for NASA in Houston. His free time is filled with gardening and an ongoing list of Food Preservation Projects with his lovely wife, Jennifer. You can read more MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts from Ed here, and contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is always looking for comments, new ideas and suggestions.
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