The availability of good peaches is starting to wane…but not completely. Summer’s not quite over yet in California. To buy fruit for canning (or anything, really), my new trick is to go to the farmer’s market around 12:30. This is the magic time when vendors start putting things on sale. I love supporting local farmers, but I also love saving a few bucks.
So this jam was my first do-it-myself batch. You may remember I wrote about a jamming class I took last month where we made a wonderful strawberry jam, but we did it in a class environment with an instructor readily available for each question on consistency, timing, and processing. This afternoon, it was just me and Oprah. But I set out confidently–in fact, I broke the first cardinal rule that Jordan Champagne told us that night in class: as a beginner, never mess with the recipe. There are important PH considerations with canning, and usually with jams you’re o.k., but you need to understand the necessary proportions of sugar to fruit before you start playing around.
But every recipe I found had equal amounts fruit to sugar, and I hate overly sweet jam. But I also hate sugar substitutes and am really attracted to jams that don’t use pectin. There’s something about the old fashioned ‘simmer and stir’ method that just feels right. So I researched numerous recipes, and decided to take down the sugar content and increase the amount of lemon juice…and voila: a chunky, delicious peach jam.
I should tell you that, in general, sugar acts largely as a preserver in jam and has a lot to do with the color. Because I used less sugar than is found in supermarket brands, the jam isn’t a brilliant shade of orange. It’s a lovely muted peach color, but if you’re going for “shock and awe” orange, this may not be the recipe for you. Otherwise, it’s a gratifying way to celebrate the waning days of summer.
Peel and slice peaches. For a peeling trick, place peaches in boiling water for 15-30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and dunk in cool water. Gently rub to loosen the skins from the fruit (I use a paper towel). Place slices in a large non-reactive pan. Sprinkle the sugar and lemon juice over the top of the fruit. Don’t stir–just let the sugar sit and seep into the peaches. It will help release the natural juices of the fruit. Allow to sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours.
Place pot on stove and bring to a vigorous boil. Using a potato masher or other handy kitchen tool, begin to mash down the peaches. Then using a wooden spoon or stick, continue stirring the peaches as they cook down, 25-30 minutes, or until they reach the gelling state. Read about the “cold plate” trick (scroll down to italicized directions) if you’re unfamiliar with how to tell if your jam has reached the gelling state. Using a funnel, pour the hot mixture into clean, dry class jars leaving about 1/4 inch at the top. Cap and screw on lids, leaving them rather loose. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. If you’re unfamiliar with hot water bath canning, read this. Enjoy with scones, buckwheat pancakes, as a filling for a homemade cake (I have some plans to use it in an olive oil layer cake)–or however you like.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.