Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Bread and Jam, Part I: Peach Freezer Jam

I should be a person who cans.

It makes sense. I knit, I garden, I bake. I even live in an old farmhouse with a canning cupboard in the basement, out of which I extracted many glass Ball jars (empty, thankfully) when I moved in. Canning should be the obvious next step.

It's not the labor I'm opposed to, or the special equipment. In an ideal world, I can totally envision myself putting up jars and jars of tomato sauce and peaches and jam. The problem, in this less-than-ideal world, is space. As in, I have no space to keep those jars and jars that I might wish to can. My kitchen is somewhat lacking in shelf space as it is. I've tried to make up for this with a set of Ikea shelves, although these now list rather alarmingly to one side, so full of cookbooks and pantry items they are. And that canning cupboard in the basement - - it's blocked by empty boxes and miscellaneous junk. Alas. Someday, in my ideal world--or even maybe in the real one--I will move the junk, toss the boxes and clear out the cupboard. Then, I will buy myself an enormous pot in which to sterilize jars and whatever else I need, and I will learn how to can.

For now, there's the freezer.

Not long ago, I read a blog post titled something like "Five Reasons Why I Don't Have a Second Freezer." And I thought instantly, that I could write a blog post singing the praises of my basement freezer. I'll spare you that. Suffice it to say that buying an upright freezer for my basement was something I was looking forward to well before I moved into this house. And for someone who schleps bagels home from New York and grows multitudes of tomatoes but doesn't like them raw and likes to make ice cream with a rather bulky Kitchen Aid Mixer attachment that needs to stay frozen, a second freezer is a no-brainer. It is also the answer to the canning dilemma.

Each year, in the late summer and early fall, I make vats of tomato sauce to freeze and eat throughout the winter. I freeze ratatouille and soup. A quart of last night's Caldo Verde, made with the bounty of kale from a colleague's garden, is already in the freezer for later. I take the freezer into account with most of my cooking projects. I would not want to do without it.

Still, the one thing that still tempts me about canning is jam. I love the image of those lovely colored jars on the shelves, the jammy goodness restorative in the middle of a New England winter. Somehow, jam in the freezer doesn't have the same appeal. Or, it didn't used to, at least.

I tried my first batch of freezer jam a year ago. That one called for pectin, and I may have over cooked it, as it ended up slightly firmer than I would have liked. I was thinking about giving it another go when I looked in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, in which I found a recipe for low-sugar jam, meant for either immediate eating or the freezer. Bittman's recipe didn't require pectin--just fruit, sugar and lemon juice. I was intrigued.

I started with peach seconds from the farmers' market. I figured that since I was just going to be mushing them up anyway, they didn't need to be pristine. They wouldn't win any beauty contests, but they didn't have to. Once they'd been blanched and chopped up, they just looked peachy rather than mushy.

I mashed them up with the potato masher, added the sugar and lemon juice and let it bubble and boil, while I puttered around the kitchen doing other things. (You need to be in the vicinity to give the jam a stir every few minutes so it doesn't burn.) Bittman says the jam should take 30 minutes to cook down. Mine took more like an hour, but still. It was an easy hour, and by then, the jam looked jam-like rather than sauce-like. I tried it plain and on toast, with butter and peanut butter, and except for lacking the decorative feel of canned jam, it's serving the purpose admirably.

I've since made a second batch, and while the canning cupboard remains empty, the freezer is filling up. There could be worse ways to begin the fall.

Peach Freezer Jam
Adapted from Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything

6 cups peaches, blanched and roughly chopped
1 1/2 - 2 cups sugar, more or less
2 tsp. lemon juice

  1. Place the fruit in a large saucepan and crush lightly with a fork or potato masher. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar and the lemon juice. Turn heat to medium high.
  2. Cook, stirring almost constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture liquefies. Taste, and add more sugar, if necessary. You may want 2 cups or more, total.
  3. Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fruit has broken down and the mixture is thick, 15 - 30 minutes. Taste and add more sugar or lemon juice if necessary, then cool and refrigerate or freeze.
A few things: I used between 4-5 cups of peaches and scaled the sugar down accordingly. 1 cup of sugar for 4 cups of peaches was more than enough. I didn't want it any sweeter.

Bittman says that 6 cups of peaches makes 3 pints of jam. Even though I used fewer peaches, I didn't have anything close to 3 pints.

Still, even in its limited quantities, the jam is lovely and worth making. I look forward to eating it on my toast in February.


kerry dexter said...

I've always wondered about freezer jam, in part because I often freeze fruit but do not add sugar to it, so I've been thinking that jam would be too sweet. you make this sound so easy and fun to make, though, I may have to try it out.

Sue Dickman said...

Kerry, you should! Freezer jam has much less sugar in it than regular jam, as I understand it because the sugar isn't required to help keep it from going bad. I think you could also play around with the amount so that you have the right fruit/sugar ratio for you. Now that I've done this with peaches, I'm definitely going to try it with other fruit . . . though probably not til next summer.