Peach Jam and Freezing Peaches
I just love peaches, and since they are only available for such a short time in the summer, I try to eat as many as I can and make as many peachy type things as I can during the season. Especially if the peaches are good – not all seasons produce good peaches. I used to go to visit my Grandfather in Penticton, BC every summer as a child, and in those days, all along the road were roadside stands from all the fruit farms. We always gorged on cherries in July, and peaches in August. My Grandma always had homemade peach jam (which was something we never had in our house), and that taste always brings me back to my childhood. In fact, I am eating a slab of Granny’s zucchini bread slathered with home made peach jam as I write this. mmmmmm!!!!
Peach jam is not hard to make; anyone can buy a box or two of pectin (I use the powdered Certo) and follow the directions. To be honest, that is exactly what I do. But, I do have a couple of tips and tricks to share with you, that are not so readily found. So, that is why I decided to do a post on peaches – to share some of that knowledge that is usually passed down from mother to daughter, and usually doesn’t make it into cook books or directions on boxes of pectin.
Two Types of Peaches:
There are two main kinds of peaches: free stone and cling peaches. The names describe whether the flesh clings to the stone (cling peaches) or whether the stone releases easily from the flesh (freestone). Freestone peaches usually are ready earlier in the season, they tend to have thinner skins, are very juicy, and are the best ones for eating fresh. Cling peaches are ready a little later in the season, have thicker skins, aren’t quite as watery as the freestones, and are the best choice for cooking and making jams. Having said that, it isn’t impossible to use freestone peaches to make jam with, you just have to compensate for the fact that they have more water in their flesh.
Peaches this year were really good. We were eating so many, that when I saw a whole case for a really good price, I grabbed it. Then, we got an invitation to go to Manitoba to visit my son for a week, so we put the peaches in the basement where it is cool, and away we went. When we got home, they were all ready at once – really ready – like almost too ripe. So, I decided to make a double batch of peach jam and then freeze the rest of the peaches. I wasn’t sure exactly how to compensate for the fact that these were really juicy…..I thought about using an extra box of Certo, but I wasn’t real sure, and the Certo instructions didn’t say anything. So, I just followed the instructions exactly, and hoped for the best. Well, the jam tasted OK, but it didn’t set 🙁
So, I found myself the next morning emptying all the jars that I had just filled the previous evening into a big pot, and remaking the jam with an extra box of Certo. Voila! Success! Not only that, but I thought that the jam tasted kind of watery….or weak. Not as “peachy” as it should have. So, here is my little secret: I used 1/4 cup of peach flavor drink crystals when I re-boiled the double recipe of jam. Wow! What a difference! So, now you know. If you are using freestone peaches for jam, increase the amount of Certo that you use (by 1/2 extra box for each recipe of jam), and throw in some Peach drink crystals to enhance the flavour (2 Tbsp for each recipe of jam). My neighbor is just raving about how good the jam is! Am I going to tell her my secret? Nah.
Ideally, you should use perfectly ripe fruit both for freezing and for making jam. Jam made with underripe fruit, besides being sour, might jell too much, while jam made with overripe fruit, might not jell enough. This may have been part of my problem, since my peaches were very ripe. And yet, they were great for eating out of hand, so I wouldn’t call them over-ripe. Anyway, this is another piece of information that may help you decide in the future if you want to use some extra pectin.
Most fruit contains pectin in the fruit, but in varying amounts. Pectin is the ingredient that makes the fruits jell. Some fruits are high in natural pectin (like apples and citrus), while others are very low in pectin (like peaches). In days gone by, women had to know how much pectin was in the fruit they were making the jam with, and added lemons or apples to introduce extra pectin to help the jam set. Then they boiled the heck out of it until enough moisture was lost and the pectin was brought out of the fruit, so that the jam would set (or so they hoped. I suspect there were lots of failed jams that became “syrup”). Today, most recipes call for additional pectin to thicken the jam, giving it that familiar jammy consistency. Commercially produced pectin is derived from fruit–usually apples or citrus. Store-bought pectin comes in two forms: powder and liquid. Most recipes call for powdered pectin, but these are not interchangeable–use whichever form your recipe calls for. I am accustomed to the powder since that is most readily available in the stores around here, so that is what I am referring to when I talk about boxes of Certo. It’s funny, when I search the internet for Certo recipes, I find that Certo is made by Kraft foods, and they say that the liquid pectin is called Certo, and their pectin powder is called Sure Jell. Which is weird, because I always use the Certo powder??!! And I always follow the recipe that comes with the insert in the box. But I can’t find that same recipe on the internet using Certo powder. You can use any brand, as long as it is powder in the recipe I am providing below. Anyway, the closest I could find for recipes using powder is at this website, which you can go to if you like for more recipes and tips: http://www.kraftbrands.com/surejell/howto_cookedjam.aspx
Sugar inhibits the growth of bacteria, keeping your jam fresh, fruity, and safe to eat. Jam recipes are formulated to call for a certain ratio of pectin to sugar, and they will not jell properly if you don’t use the correct amount of sugar. If you’d like to make less-sweet jam, you’ll need to buy a special kind of pectin that’s formulated to work with less sugar. Don’t try to use less sugar with regular Certo – your jam won’t set.
Before you make jam, and before you freeze peaches, you have to remove the skins. The best way to do this is to blanch them. The blanching process involves cutting a small slit or X in the bottom of the skin to give a place to get started coming off, then dropping them into hard boiling water, bring back to a boil, and boil them for several minutes – just long enough to make the skins slip off easily. Then the fruit is quickly put into ice-cold water to prevent cooking the fruit any more. I found instructions saying to boil for anywhere from one minute to three minutes. Three minutes is kind of the standard, and is what I use for blanching other things for freezing, like beans. But one blog on peaches said only one minute was needed.
So, I tried timing them for one minute, and found the skins were still stuck tight. Then I tried two minutes, and it was better, but I still had to coax the skins off by lightly scraping with a paring knife (not cutting, but scraping). Then I tried three minutes, but the skins weren’t any easier to remove and the outside of the flesh was mushy from being cooked. I think one of the problems is that I was using the freestone peaches, and the skins are quite thin. If they were thicker, they would have been easier to remove. So, two minutes it was. When you do this, make sure to work in small batches – about 4 peaches at a time, so that you don’t cool the water off too much. If it takes a long time to come back to a boil, you are cooking your peaches, and that is not the point of blanching. Plus it makes the flesh mushy, and you don’t want that either. Have a sink full of ice water ready to put the peaches in as soon as their two minutes of boiling is up.
Once you have taken all the skins off, and you have a bowl full of naked, slippery peaches, then what? I measured out what I needed for the jam, and the rest were sliced, a bit of Fruit Fresh added (to prevent browning, since peaches will brown like apples do), then packed into freezer bags and frozen. Below are the instructions for the jam. Then I will talk a little more about freezing the peaches.
If your peaches are clings, then use the lower amount of Certo. If your peaches are very juicy freestones, then use the larger amount of Certo and add the peach flavoring. Make sure to wash and sterilize your jars and lids before you start. This makes a double batch (according to the Certo recipe) which will give you 14 jars (cups) of jam.
- 8 cups diced or crushed peaches (I use a potato masher)
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 2 – 3 boxes Certo powdered pectin (use 3 if your peaches are freestone and very juicy)
- 1 cup water
- 10 cups sugar
- ¼ cup peach flavored drink crystals (optional – good to use with freestone peaches)
- Sterilize 14 1-cup jars and lids.
- Peel, pit, and finely chop peaches. You can mash half the fruit at a time with a potato masher for best results, or if using a food processor, pulse to very fine chop. DO NOT PUREE. Jam should have bits of fruit.
- Add Certo to lemon juice and water in the bottom of a large 6 – 8 quart saucepot and stir until Certo is dissolved. Measure exact amount of prepared fruit and add to the Certo mixture in the pot.
- Measure exact amount of sugar into a separate bowl and set aside.
- Bring fruit/Certo mixture to full rolling boil. (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on medium-high heat, stirring constantly.
- Stir in sugar quickly. Return to full rolling and boil exactly 1 ½ minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and skim off any foam from the top.
- Ladle quickly into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two-piece lids. Screw bands tightly.
- Let stand at room temperature 12 to 24 hours. Before storing, check seals by pressing middle of lid with finger. (If lid springs back, lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)
- Store unopened jams in a cool, dry, dark place up to 1 year. Refrigerate open jams up to 3 weeks.
A couple of years ago, I had the same dilemma that I had this year: a whole bunch of peaches, and not enough time to to anything with them. I read on the internet that you could freeze peaches whole, with the skins on – no prep required! Then, supposedly, you would just run under warm water to slip the skins off, then slice them up or whatever you wanted. NOT TRUE! Don’t do this! What waste of peaches! They browned, as peaches do, even with the skins on. Then, as they thawed enough to use, they were a brown mushy mess! Yuck! Not only did they look gross, they tasted bad. So, they all went into the garbage, and I cursed whoever said that you could do that. Just goes to show you: don’t believe everything you read on the internet! Except what you read on my site, of course! 🙂
Blanch the peaches and remove skins in the same way as above, for the peach jam. Slice the peaches into a large bowl, then add the required about of ascorbic acid to prevent browning (I use a product called Fruit Fresh. Use whatever product you can find that is meant to prevent browning of fruit). If all else fails and you can’t find such a product, you can add some lemon juice and sugar, which will do the same thing. To a large bowl of sliced peaches (about 8 cups), I would add about 3 Tbsp lemon juice and 1/2 cup sugar.
Spoon the peach slices into freezer bags. Wipe the zip-lock tops before sealing. Try to get as much air out as possible by zipping up nearly all the way, leaving just a small corner open. Press down slowly to get all the air out. Then finish zipping up all the way. Gently press the bags down flat to redistribute the peaches and make the bags easier to store. Catie from Pitchfork Diaries has a neat idea of dunking the bags in water to remove all the air from the bags. Check out her idea here: http://www.pitchforkdiaries.com/2011/08/17/quick-tip-how-to-freeze-peaches/
When it is the middle of winter, the taste of fresh peaches, whether in a peach pie or just thawed and over vanilla ice cream, will be a wonderful reminder of summer!Flatten bags to store in the freezer. Make sure to mark the bags with the year.[/caption]