Peach Habanero Basil Jam

I think for some of us there is an ingrained need, an inherited proclivity, to put food by.  Not so much out of physical necessity or fear of running short of foodstores come winter, but because we have a genetic predisposition to do so.  Whether it’s because we want to ensure the ability to eat local produce year-round, or because we are control freaks who need to know exactly what ingredients go into every little thing that we eat, when we see mounds of fruits and vegetables we immediately get excited at the prospect of standing over a hot stove in the high heat of August so that we can load our pantry shelves with gleaming glass jars of jams, jellies, tomatoes and other assorted foodstuffs.  It may be hot, hard work, but for us the reward is far greater than the effort needed to achieve it.

On Monday, after dropping my oldest at day camp, my mother and I strapped the baby in his car seat and headed an hour south of home to the state farmers market in Forest Park, GA.  While it is called the “state farmers market”, it is really more of a giant produce market – with products hailing from as far away as California and Mexico.  However, there is a row of stalls dedicated to Georgia farmers, and the market produce stand features local and regional options as well.

We wandered the stalls, marveling at some of the more exotic options, but mostly keeping our eye out for peaches and plums.  We both have fond memories of my grandmother’s peach jam and plum jelly – put up every year from the fruit that grew on trees just outside the kitchen window at their home in rural Mississippi.  I can remember clearly standing in the shade of the peach tree, biting into the warm flesh of a perfectly ripe peach that I had just plucked from overhead.  And while I would love to tell you that we have our own miniature orchard in our backyard, that just isn’t the case.  Luckily we live in an area where peaches and plums are readily available this time of year.

Needless to say, we came away from our perusal with more than a few bits of fruit.  That is to say, 50 lbs. of peaches, 25 lbs. of plums and 24 lbs. of cherries.  Oh, and 24 lbs. of strawberries.

I know – it’s a little ridiculous.  But the prices were too good to pass up, and the prospect of freezing and preserving all of that lovely fruit for use throughout the winter was equally as enticing.

We got everything home and immediately set to work processing the ripest of the fruit.  The cherries we pitted and froze in gallon bags.  I’ll figure out what I want to do with them later.  The strawberries were so ripe, we chose to make jam out of most of them, and then freeze a couple of gallons.I also made a few sheets of fruit leather from the strawberries.  I’ll do an entire post on the processing of the strawberries, and the strange circumstances that led us to buy 24 lbs. of almost (but not quite) rotten strawberries later.

Today, I’m focusing on peaches.  50 lbs. of peaches is a lot, in case you were wondering.  We froze three gallons worth, and I managed to ruin at least 10 cups (and one stock pot) in my first attempt at jam – you really do need to keep an eye on things like fruit and sugar when you’re cooking them over high heat.  Scorched peaches and sugar are not the most pleasant scents with which to start your day.

The second and third attempts were much more successful, and I’m now the proud owner of nine pints of peach jam – three of which are spiced up a bit with the addition of some heat from habanero peppers and given a floral note from a few sprigs of purple basil.

Peach Habanero Basil Jam
prep time: 30 minutes
cook time: 2-3 hours
processing time: 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 5 cups peaches, peeled, halved and pitted
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 habanero peppers, stems removed and four slits cut into the sides (leave them whole)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 large sprigs of purple basil
  • 1 packet liquid fruit pectin

  1. Combine peaches, sugar, peppers and lemon juice in a 4 quart (or larger) saucepan.  Stir to mix, then let sit for 10 minutes or so to allow the peaches to release some of their juices.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to low and allow to gently boil and reduce to a jam-like consistency.  This could take as many as 2-3 hours.  Do not rush it – that’s how I ruined the first batch.  Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
  3. Once the mixture has reduced and thickened, stir in the basil and let it steep for a few minutes.
  4. While the basil is steeping, prepare your jars (I used a mixture of pint and half-pint jars) – sterilize jars and rings in simmering water.
  5. After the basil has steeped for a few minutes, add the pectin to the peach mixture and bring to a hard boil.  Allow to boil hard for five minutes.
  6. Remove from the heat, remove habanero peppers and basil sprigs from the mixture and discard; fill the hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head space.
  7. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 20-25 minutes (20 for half-pint, 25 for pint).
  8. Remove from the water bath and allow to cool on the counter.
  9. Enjoy!

The resulting jam is decidedly peachy in flavor, with just the slightest heat.  The basil isn’t terribly prevalent, but it lends a nice back note to the whole thing.  I’ve eaten some on toast for the last two mornings at breakfast, and it is a great way to start the day.  I think it would also be a great glaze on a roasted chicken or a pork loin.

What kinds of things are you putting by this summer? Or is the prospect of spending hours on end in a hot kitchen just too much to bear?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Peaches and Cream

It’s farmer’s market season, and that means my Saturday mornings are spent perusing the vendor booths in the parking lot of our town’s city hall.  Choosing the prettiest heads of cabbage, and the plumpest pickling cucumbers, the brightest bouquet of zinnias, and the peaches with the prettiest blush on their fuzzy cheeks.

This morning, I found myself with two very ripe peaches staring up at me from the kitchen counter. Their skins were just beginning to get a little loose, and I could smell their sweet ripe scent without lifting them to my nose. They really needed to be eaten or used in some form or fashion. We’d ploughed through the other seven in the bunch, and these were the last two stragglers. They’d been slightly under-ripe when I’d brought them home on Saturday, but now they were threatening decomp on my counter.
When I glanced at my Facebook wall, I noticed that Foodimentary had posted that it was National Peaches and Cream day.

Well, then.  I guess that was my answer.  Peaches and cream.

So, I halved my peaches and removed the pits.  I dropped one half of each into 2 half-pint mason jars, and topped those with 1 teaspoon of salted butter, 3/4 teaspoon of sucanat (you could use brown sugar if you don’t have sucanat) and the leaves from a sprig of thyme per jar.  I topped that with the other half of the peach.

I made a sweet biscuit dough, comprised of 1/4 cup of flour, 1 tablespoon of sucanat, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1 Tablespoon of butter.  I brought it all together with about 1/4 cup of buttermilk and divided the batter evenly between the two jars.  I baked them in a 350F oven for about 15 minutes, or until the topping was golden brown, and I could see the peaches had softened and the liquid was bubbly.

I allowed them to cool a bit, then poked  holes in the crust with the fat end of a chopstick.  I carefully poured a couple of tablespoons of cold heavy cream into the jar and allowed it to soak into the crust and down into the peach syrup.  Then I ate it.  And I knew I had done the right thing.

Individual Peaches and Cream Cobblers
prep time: 5 minutes
bake time: 15 minutes
serves: 2

  • 2 peaches, halved and pitted
  • 1 Tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons sucanat, divided
  • 1 Tablespoon cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 teaspoons softened butter
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1/4 cup white whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 4 Tablespoons cold heavy cream
  1. Preheat your oven to 350F.  Have two half-pint mason jars ready
  2. Prepare the batter.  Combine the flour, 1 tablespoon of the sucanat, and the baking soda.  Cut the cold butter pieces into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.  Add the buttermilk and stir to combine – do not overmix.  Set aside.
  3. Place 1/2 of each peach into  the mason jars. Top each half with 1 teaspoon softened butter, 3/4 teaspoon of sucanat the leaves from the thyme sprigs.
  4. Place the other half of each peach on top and spoon half the batter into each jar.
  5. Place the jars on a pan and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until brown and bubbly.
  6. Remove from oven and allow to cool a bit.
  7. Just before eating, poke holes in the crust of each cobbler and pour 2 tablespoons of heavy cream into each, letting it soak into the topping and down into the fruit and syrup.
  8. Eat and enjoy!