Just a day after I purchased a twenty-five pound bucket of fresh cherries, my neighbor brought over a basket of beautiful Georgia peaches. Well, you can only eat so many peaches, so out came the big copper "confiture" and here's the result. I used a recipe from my all-time favorite jam cookbook: "The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook" by Rachel Saunders. Ms. Saunders uses every part of the fruit: the pits are cracked and the inner kernels steep in the jam as it cooks, and she adds fresh peach leaves at the end to imbue even more fresh peach flavor. I hammered away at the peach pits and retrieved the kernels, but I don't have access to fresh peach leaves. I decided that a few hearty sprigs of purple basil added right at the end of the cooking process might be a suitable substitute. I like the combination of sweet and savory elements and the subtle note that the basil adds to the jam is quite nice. If you're not sure about peaches and basil as flavor pals, you could use a little liqueur; peach schnapps or amaretto would be nice. Either way, it's a good use of late summer peaches. It will brighten up those dreary winter mornings that lurk ahead.
Peach Jam with Purple Basil
(makes about twelve 8-ounce jars)
6 1/2 pounds large, ripe yellow freestone peaches, peeled*
3 pounds white cane sugar
3 1/2 ounces strained, freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 to 4 sturdy sprigs of purple basil (regular basil works, too)
Place a large cutting board on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any juice that might run from the fruit. Place the peeled peaches on the board, halve them lengthwise, and pit them, reserving the pits. Cut enough of the peaches into slices about 1/3-inch thick to make 5 1/2 pounds of prepared fruit and juices. Transfer the sliced peaches to a hard plastic or glass storage container. Add the sugar and lemon juice and stir well. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the mixture, smoothing well to minimize air bubbles (this will help keep the fruit from browning as it sits). Cover the mixture tightly and let macerate in the refrigerator overnight. Place the peach pits in a separate container, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
Place a saucer with five metal teaspoons in a flat place in your freezer for testing the jam later. Rinse the basil sprigs, pat dry gently, and set aside. To remove the kernels from the peach pits, place several pits on the floor (or a sturdy work bench) between two old, clean cloths. Using a hammer, hit each pit through the top cloth a few times to crack it. Carefully remove the almond-like kernel from inside each pit until you have enough kernels to make 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped. Discard the shells and remaining pits. Place the chopped kernels into a fine-mesh stainless-steel tea infuser with a firm latch and set aside. Remove the peaches from the refrigerator and transfer them to an 11-or 12-quart copper preserving pan or a wide stainless-steel kettle. Stir well to incorporate any undissolved sugar. Taste and slowly add a drop or two more lemon juice if necessary. You should be able to taste the lemon juice, but it should not be overpowering. Add the mesh tea infuser and press down on it to submerge it. Bring the peaches to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently with a large, heatproof rubber spatula. Boil, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and, using a large stainless-steel spoon, skim the stiff foam from the top of the mixture and discard. Mash half of the fruit with a potato masher to encourage it to break down. Return the jam to the stove over medium-high heat. Cook until the jam has thickened and become cohesive, 25 to 40 minutes, decreasing the heat slightly if the mixture starts sticking. When the jam seems ready, test it for doneness. Transfer a small amount of jam to one of your frozen spoons. Replace the spoon in the freezer for 3 to 4 minutes, then remove it and tilt vertically to see how quickly the jam runs. If it runs very slowly and has thickened to a gloppy consistency, it is done. If it runs quickly or appears watery, cook for another few minutes, stirring, and test again as needed. When the cooking is completed, remove the mesh tea infuser. Place the basil sprigs into the mixture and let steep for a few minutes off the heat. Carefully taste the jam and either remove the sprigs or leave them in for another minute or two. Keep in mind that the flavor will be slightly weaker once the jam has cooled. Using tongs, discard the basil sprigs. Pour the jam into sterilized jars and process according to the manufacturer's instructions.
* I peel peaches with a serrated edge peeler rather than using the boiling water method.
For Ms. Saunder's method of sterilizing jars and processing jam, see this post
(minimally adapted from "The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook" by Rachel Saunders.