Peach Jam, FreshTECH and canning

PeachJamI’m a jam makin’ fool here. The only jam, jelly or preserve I have made before has been apple jelly and apple butter. (When you have free apples, you have to do something with them.) For some reason I’m in the mood for jam making this year. I’ve already made more than I will probably use in a year, but that won’t stop me. This time I’m tackling peach jam. Prepare yourself for a long post here, because I will cover the whole jam making and canning process. I also have lots of pictures for those who get tired of reading the words.

Now, I don’t have much experience with peaches. When I was a kid my mother would serve them out of a can but never fresh. I may have eaten a fresh peach at some time between childhood and now, but if so, I can’t remember. I’ve never baked or cooked with them, nor canned them. I used to work in a produce department so I know about peaches and can tell when they were ripe, but peaches have never been high on my “to eat” list. However, peaches are in season and on sale and I have empty jam jars, so peach jam, here we come.

I don’t have any pictures of prepping the peaches, but I think I would feel kind of silly if I did. Hell, I feel silly anyways. First, I wanted to skin the peaches. Easy peasy. You slit an “X” in the bottom of the peach, dunk it in boiling water and then in ice water and the skin just slips off. Well, that’s true, but when you lose track of time and boil them for two minutes you really start to cook the peaches. Don’t do that. I did them in two batches and the forty-five seconds the second batch spent in the hot water was plenty.

Taking the skins off like that works really well. They do slip off pretty easily. Slippery describes the fruit, too, after you’ve taken the skin off. Be careful or you’ll be playing “catch the greased pig” across the counter top (and hopefully not across the floor). This makes it tricky to cut them up, too. Fortunately they don’t need much cutting – a quick slice along both sides of the pit, a quick twist, and these freestone peaches came apart in two halves.

Now here’s where my inexperience with peaches came into play. As I pulled the pit out of the peach, it seemed like the peach fruit that had been right next to the pit was “tough”.  I don’t know if it really was, or if it would make a difference once you cook it up, but it seemed to me that I should trim that area out. Wow, what a chore. Remember what I said about being slippery? Not to mention the fruit that I wasted. I’ve since found out that I didn’t need to do that. Oh well – live and learn.

After my experience with the sweetness of the strawberry jam, I decided that I wanted to make a low sugar version of peach jam. I had bought eight goodly sized peaches, based on information I had found in a peach jam recipe, and thought that would be enough. Well, it was, but then I had a dilemma. If I made low sugar jam, I needed more fruit than sugar. I was fine with that, but when I got done processing all the fruit, I found I had enough for about a batch and a half.

I didn’t really feel like trying to deal with a half batch and, coincidentally enough, the one and a half batches worth of peaches I had would make two whole batches of regular sugar jam. Well, I went for volume, so I did the two regular sugar batches instead of the low sugar. To cut to the chase on that issue, the regular sugar tastes fine, but is, once again, a little sweeter than I would like. Oh well – next year . . .

So, I had all my peaches cut up and mashed with a potato masher and all the ingredients assembled. Using the Ball® Jam & Jelly Maker, the first thing you do is sprinkle Ball® RealFruit® Classic Pectin over the bottom of the cooking pot. No, I don’t know about using another brand of pectin, but from what I’ve read the Ball pectin works well and since that was specified in the recipe, that’s what I used. I used the required three tablespoons –

PJ_PectinInThe recipe is pretty simple. If you want the recipe, this is it –

2 2/3 cups crushed peaches (about 2 lbs or six medium)
3 Tbsp Ball® RealFruit® Classic Pectin
2 Tbsp bottled lemon juice
1/2 tsp butter or margarine
3 1/3 cups granulated sugar

That’s from the Ball web site – http://www.freshpreserving.com – it is supposed to make four half pints.

To the bowl of crushed peaches I added the lemon juice and mixed it in a bit. I then poured the fruit evenly over the top of the pectin in the pot. Then I threw in the 1/2 teaspoon of butter.  I guess it isn’t necessarily required but is supposed to keep foaming down. So far it has worked for me. Here we are at this stage –

PJ_WetIngredinInTime to start cooking. I pressed the “jam” button and “enter” and the stirrer began stirring. In the meantime I got the sugar ready to add –

PJ_SugarWaitingYeah, that’s a lot of sugar. At four minutes into the 21 minute cycle, the Jam Maker beeped, telling me it was time to add the sugar. I poured it in as the stirrer continued stirring. They say not to just dump it in all at once, so I distributed it as the stirrer stirred –

PJ_AddSugarAfter this, I put the lid on and let it do its cooking –

PJ_AfterSugar

Before I had even started preparing the peaches for the jam, I had filled my hot water bath canner with enough water to cover the jars by and inch or two and got it heating up. Since I have hard water, I always pour a couple of glugs (what? me measure?) of white vinegar into the water to keep minerals from building up on the jars.

PJ_WaterBathCannerI washed my glass jars, bands, lids and canning utensils with the usual hot, soapy water and rinsed them all well. I always wash more jars, bands and lids than I think I need, just in case. Better to have them ready than to need them and not have them. After washing the jars I set them upside down on a folded towel on my kitchen table –

PJ_CleanEmptyJarsThe right side of that towel is reserved for the processed jam jars when they come out of the hot water bath. You need to have someplace to set the hot jars that will not thermal shock them. Setting them directly on a granite counter top would not be a good idea. Once  I have the water in the hot water bath canner up to a simmer, I put five of the half pint jars into the hot water –

PJ_EmptyJarFromCannerNote the handy-dandy jar lifter, which is essential. This is actually me taking a hot jar out of the canner to fill it, but it looks pretty much the same as putting the empty jar into the canner. If you do this like me, here’s a word of warning. As you submerge the empty jar into the almost boiling water, the water can rush into the jar and spit back out at you. Been there, done that, don’t do it – it hurts. Submerge them slowly and carefully. I’ve never had a jar break going from room temperature into the hot water, but I suppose that could be a possibility to watch out for. The jars are supposed to sit in the simmering water for at least ten minutes. Here are the jars sterilizing in the hot water bath –

PJ_WBathCannerWithJarsMeanwhile, I have also filled a saucepan with a couple inches of water and heated it up to simmer. This is for the lids. I put a couple of tablespoons or so of white vinegar into this water to keep the lids from getting coated with hard water mineral. I get the water to the right temperature (again, simmering, not boiling) and then I slide the lids into the hot water one at a time, dropping them on different sides of the pot so they don’t all stack up in one place –

PJ_CanningLidsI also prepare my canning area right in front of the Jam Maker and get my tools set up –

PJ_CanningToolsThe “stick” on the left is my magnetic lid lifter, used to take the lids out of the hot water (I don’t have asbestos fingers). There’s my canning ladle that works pretty well for getting into the corners of the Jam Maker’s cooking pot. My dark green filling funnel is on the right and that light green translucent thing is a tool to help remove bubbles from the jars and a head space gauge. In the past I’ve used a plastic picnic knife for removing bubbles and an actual ruler to check head space, but this was a cheap tool that can be used for both. In addition to these tools I use a silicon spatula to help scrape the last of the jam out of the pot so none is wasted. I also keep a teaspoon handy in case I overfill a jar and need to take some out.

So, twenty-one minutes have passed and the Jam Maker has beeped its final beep at me. I hit cancel, unplug the appliance and take the lid off, being careful not to set it someplace that will be damaged by something hot, nor into cold water. The jam is done and ready to can –

PJ_CookingDoneFirst, let’s take out that stirrer. Use a hot pad or oven mitt – that thing is hot!

PJ_RemoveMixerScrape the stirrer off with the silicon spatula, but don’t hang onto that stirrer any longer than you need to. Now it’s time to start filling jars. Refer to the earlier image to see how to take a hot jar out of the hot water canner. (There should be a winky smilie here – it’s getting so I can’t write something without wanting to use a smilie at some point.) I set the jar right on my laminate countertop without a problem, but it is a better idea to have a tea towel or paper towel or something under the jar if your countertop is cold or cool.

Putting the filling funnel into the neck of the jar, I start to fill it with the ladle –

PJ_JarFilledKeep the jar as close to the cooking pot as you can while filling it to keep from dripping all over. Once the jar is filled, take the funnel out and check the head space with the gauge or a ruler –

PJ_CheckHeadSpaceIn this case it is supposed to be 1/4″. Um, I guess I didn’t say what “head space” is, which is the distance from the top of the jam or jelly to the top of the jar. Sorry. Jam and jelly require very little head space. After you fill a couple of jars and check the head space, you’ll find that you can judge the head space pretty well from where the jam comes up to in the funnel. If you overfill the jar, use a teaspoon to take some out or to put a little more in if needed. After you have the head space right, wipe the rim of the jar with a dampened paper towel –

PJ_WipeRimYou want to make sure that there is nothing on the rim that will keep the lid from sealing correctly. Also, if you have really dribbled all over the outside of the jar it would be good to wipe that off as well as you can. Next, use your magnetic wand or asbestos fingers to get a lid out of the simmering water –

PJ_GetLidThe lid does not need to be dry; a quick shake will get it dry enough. Place the lid on the top of the jar (do I really have to say, “seal side to the jar?”) and then take a band and finger-tighten it. You should not make like a gorilla and really crank the band down because air will need to exhaust out from under the lid during processing and over-tightening will make this difficult if not impossible. I usually find that the filled jar is so hot that I can only finger tighten the band before I burn my little fingers anyways. Don’t use a band tightener unless you have lost all muscle tone, in which case what are you doing trying to make jam anyways? Here’s with the lid and then with the band added –

PJ_LidOnRingOnNow carefully take your jar lifter and place the filled jar into the hot water bath canner –

PJ_IntoCannerBy the way, when I start filling the first jar I usually crank the heat up on the hot water bath canner to get the water started back to boiling because even though it has been simmering it will still take time to come up to temp. Here is the canner filled with four jars –

PJ_FullJarsInCannerHard to tell but the water is about an inch and a half or two over the tops of the jars. The lid goes back on the canner and I wait for it to start boiling. When it does, the processing time begins with the timer set for ten minutes. (During this time, if I am making another batch of jam, I wash up the Jam Maker to get it ready.) After ten minutes of boiling I shut the burner off and then let the canner sit for five minutes.

After the five minutes I take the lid off the canner and use the jar lifter to move the jars from the canner to the dry, folded towel on the kitchen table. They sit there until they are completely cooled. During this time you will, or should, hear the lids “ping”, “click” or “snap” (choose your own sound effect) as a vacuum is formed in the jar, pulling the middle of the lid down. This indicates that you have a good seal and good product. If the center of the lid doesn’t “suck down” you can try reprocessing the jar, or just stick it in the fridge and use it first.

Here are my first four jars –

PeachJam_Jars4Purty, ain’t they? I wound up with eight jars, total, and a little extra which I put in a small bowl and put in the fridge to use first. Tastes pretty good, if a little sweet.

After the jars have cooled completely, I remove the bands and wash the jars off. Sometimes you get a little haze on the glass from hard water. Washing the jars off usually removes that, or a wipe with a vinegar dampened paper towel will.

That’s the way I do it. Now, don’t bitch at me if you think I am doing something wrong, but if you want to be nice about it I am happy to take suggestions. Also, this process is, to the best of my knowledge, the correct and current way to do this, but please don’t go by just my instructions. Check out a couple of different sources. In addition to the manual and recipe book that came with the Ball Jelly & Jam Maker, I refer to the latest edition of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

So, what’s next? Hmmm, sweet cherries are pretty plentiful right now. All I need to do is find them on sale someplace.