Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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Simple Peach Jam

Did you help me pick the peaches? Did you help me skin the peaches? Did you help me chop the peaches? Did you help me cook the peaches? Did you help me make the jam? Did you help me can the jam? Will you help me eat the jam?

I sure hope so, I made way too much of it.

Last year we gave away jars of apple butter as gifts and favors for the holidays. This year we decided to do peach jam instead. I ran down to the orchard at the beginning of August and picked 30lbs of big yellow peaches. Then, in mid-September we rushed up there to grab another 45lbs before they were done for the season. I ended up with three batches of a simple peach jam for gifting (and a few other things as well).

In my book, Christine Ferber has a recipe for a jam made from “vineyard peaches”. Information about vineyard peaches is hard to come by. Even Wikipedia doesn’t seem to have any reference to it.  Searching the interwebs, I’ve found two possible explanations for the origins and uses of these fruits, neither with much corroborating evidence:

  1. Vineyard peaches have a natural weakness to mildew, which made it an excellent bellwether for vineyards. These peaches would be grown on the outskirts of the vineyard to help alert farmers to the impending approach of mildew.
  2. Rows of vineyard peaches are grown in vineyards to help separate distinct grape varieties, and their presence actually improves or modifies the flavor of the wines grown from the nearby grapes.

In the first case it would seem to be a specific cultivar of peach grown for it’s particular “mildewiness”, while in the second case it would seem to be any cultivar of peaches so long as they are grown on the grounds of a vineyard. Regardless, I’ve never found a store or farmstand which will sell me a “vineyard peach” or a peach which has been grown on a vineyard. (Although, the orchard we go to does have some grapes, which, I suppose, qualifies).

In lieu of the mysterious vineyard peach, I’ve used the big, bright, sunny globes from our local orchard to make a simple, but wonderful, holiday treat.

Simple Peach Jam

  • 2.5lbs Peaches, net
  • 3 cups Sugar, divided
  • 1 box Pectin Sure-Jel low-sugar pectin
  • Lemon Juice [1]

Peel, pit and finely chop the peaches [2]. Add to a stockpot with lemon juice and 2 cups sugar. Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, pour the mixture into a nonreactive bowl [3] and refrigerate overnight.

Next day, add the peach mixture and the remaining sugar to a large stock pot. Bring to a boil. Add the pectin and boil hard, stirring, for 1 minute. Ladle into prepared jars and process in a boiling water bath [4].

Results

I kept the chunks of peaches a little big on purpose. The set of the jam seems to be nearly perfect, and the flavor is fantastic. It’s bright and sunny, just like the peaches it’s made from. This recipe is simple but it’s definitely a winner.

We made several batches of this jam to give away as gifts this year, and the 2-day process actually worked out very well. I end up only having to work with one batch of peaches per day, which is great if they aren’t all ripe at the same time. The first day I process and refrigerate the first batch of peaches. The second day I finish the first batch and begin the second batch. Continue like this until all the peaches are gone.  Each batch made about 7 half-pint jars, so I made three batches to give away.

Dana bought printable labels, and put the jars together as nice gifts.

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I hope the holiday season went well for everybody! It’s a fun time of year, but I’m definitely looking forward to the warmer and more garden-productive months ahead. Here’s a picture of another holiday food treat, that requires no explanation:

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Notes

  1. Juice of 1 lemon or equivalent amount of store-bought juice. I used juice from the store, because it’s more consistent and safe for such a big batch.
  2. Peel peaches easily by cutting an X in the bottom, floating them in boiling water for 30 seconds, then dunking them quickly into a bowl of ice water. In theory, if they’re properly ripe, the skins will slide right off. In reality I’ve found several varieties that are still not easy to peel even after this hot-cold treatment. This current batch has been about 95% easy to peel, the rest just get chopped up and eaten.
  3. I used glass.
  4. I processed for 10 minutes.


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Cherry Melomel

My first batch of hard apple cider is aging in a reclaimed wine bottle. My second batch is sitting out, slowly turning into vinegar. The jug that I’ve been using to ferment is sitting idle.

Remembering that I still had some cash leftover from my birthday, which I was forced to promise to use on myself, I decided to run down to the home brew store and pick up some new stuff. First things first: a proper sanitizing compound so I can get the involved materials squeaky-clean. I also picked up a packet of champagne yeast and a 2lb jar of honey.

This time I’m making a mead.

Mead isn’t extremely popular anymore, but it used to be extremely so and I hear tell that it’s making something of a comeback. There are many varieties of mead, in part because it has such a long and storied history. It also turns out that mead is fast and easy to make. Simple mead is just honey, yeast and water, but even with so few ingredients there is a whole spectrum from dry to sweet, with different alcohol contents and different tones. By changing strains of yeast, types of honey, or the relative amounts of honey and water, many different types of mead can be made. In addition, there are many varieties to be found with different additives, like fruit, herbs or spices. Mead made with apples or apple juice may be called a Cyser. Mead made with grapes might be called a Pyment. In general, mead made with fruit is called Melomel.

We had a pack of store-bought frozen dark sweet cherries in the freezer that weren’t going anywhere. When I boiled up the honey and water, I tossed in the rest of the bag of cherries into the jug as well. I was planning a simple mead recipe, but now we’ve got a Cherry Melomel [1]. I suspect we won’t regret the decision.

Cherry Melomel

  • 0.5 gallons water [2]
  • 2 cups honey (approx 1.5lbs)
  • Yeast [3]
  • Frozen sweet cherries [4]
  • Yeast nutrients [5]

Sterilize your fermenting container [6], airlock, funnel and anything else that will be coming into contact with your mead. Add the water and honey to a large pot under medium heat. You want to heat the mixture to near-boiling without actually allowing it to boil. Heat it like this for 10 minutes, to pasteurize the mixture and kill any microbes that are hanging out in your honey. While heating, skim any foam off the top.

After heating, turn off the stove and allow your honey mixture to come to room temperature [7].

Add the cherries (thawed), honey mixture, yeast, nutrients and any other additives to the fermenting container. Put on your air lock and set aside in a dark, quiet place to ferment. Depending on a variety of factors, it may take 2 weeks or more for primary fermentation to end.

After two weeks, or when bubbling has slowed to a crawl or stopped completely, rack the mixture to a secondary container [8] for settling and conditioning. Grab a small tasting cup, and try a sample along the way. Some recipes call for racking to a new container every few weeks for a period of months, to help remove all the lees (dead yeast) and sediment, and help keep the flavor pure.

Results

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I’ve just racked the mead to secondary, and grabbed a quick taste along the way. It is wowsers good. Good with a capital ‘G’. There’s a little bit of yeastyness that I think will go away with more settling and another round of racking. There is a raw, funky character to it that I think will dissipate with conditioning. Behind all that the mead is sweet, but not extremely so, strongly alcoholic, and has a great cherry flavor. It really does lose much of the character of the honey along the way, which is disappointing. If I weren’t using a cheap jug of clover honey, it might be more of a loss, but the cherry flavor is so great that I really can’t complain.

I wonder, strongly, whether adding a small chunk of vanilla bean to the mixture might be a good addition?

I will probably rack the mead again sometime after the new year, and give it another taste around then. If it’s good, maybe I’ll try to get it into a more permanent bottle, like a small corked wine bottle.

Notes

  1. I’ve seen, rarely, that cherry melomel may be called “vikings blood”. I don’t know how accurate or common this name may be, and I am not really interested in it. “Cherry Melomel” is a perfectly usable name for this concoction, and it’s what I’m sticking with.
  2. My jug is a half-gallon, a very unpopular size for recipes on the internet. Multiply this recipe by 2 to fill a gallon jug, or by 10 to fill a 10-gallon bucket and carboy.
  3. This time I’ve used champagne yeast. I am looking to make a flat, sweet wine.
  4. I think I used about a cup and a half, but I didn’t measure. I just tossed in whatever was left in the bag.
  5. Honey doesn’t have all the nutrients that yeast need to thrive, so you’ll probably want some kind of nutrient additives to help them out. Without, I hear you can get some off-flavors from stressed yeast. There are other chemicals I’ve seen in other recipes to manage the yeast life cycle: yeast activators, yeast conditions, sodium metabisulfite (to kill the yeast at the end, when you’re done fermenting), etc. I’m starting simple.
  6. I am using an acid-based sterilizer from the local homebrew store. You mix a dollop with a few gallons of water, and soak your equipment in it. When you’re done, rinse it all and let it dry.
  7. At one point I filled the sink with cold water, and placed the container with the mead into the water to cool it faster. Some recipes recommend doing this, others make no mention of it.
  8. I only have the one container. I sterilized two quart mason jars, and siphoned the mead into them. I cleaned and sterilized the glass jug, dried it quickly, and then funneled the mead back into the jug.


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Cherry Thumbprint Cookies

It’s a super-secret family recipe. Like, hush-hush, keep a lid on it, this message will self-destruct in 5 seconds kinds of secret. I’m posting it on this blog where anybody can see it, but I’m trusting you not to tell nobody. Responsibility, shifted.

Dana was making some sugar cookies and I was trying to get rid of some left-over cherry jam, when magic happened.

Oh, and we have this adorable xmas-themed serving plate, which we can only use at this time of year. Let’s take a picture so we can remember it the other 11 months of the year:

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The “recipe” is quite a simple one: Make sugar cookie dough, roll it up into little cookie-sized balls, use your thumb to press it down and form a little cavity, and fill each one with a dollop of jam. We used cherry (my very first batch, from June 2012). Bake according to the directions and, if you’ve been a good boy or girl this year, have one (or several).

These cookies are easy to make and the results are extremely tasty. I’d like to try it with some other jams as well. Luckily, I have a few.