Alright friends, I have to admit it. I have been obsessed with stone fruits lately. And I mean OBSESSED. I go the farmers market with the intent of picking up some healthy vegetables, maybe some locally baked bread, or even possibly shelling out the money for local, pasture-raised chicken. And what actually happens? Oh right, I come home with pounds and pounds of peaches, bags of apricots, and jewel-toned plums. Not a huge problem I guess, because who says a girl can't live on fruit?
I think this whole obsession got a slow start around the end of July and is snowballing into August. You saw my lacquered peach, right? I thought that was the pinnacle of my stone fruit season, but it just keeps going. Next there were some apricots that were intended for a lovely cobbler, but somehow ended up in my stomach uncooked... I even put plums in my curry, and later this week I have an awesome peach salsa to share with you. I hope you are willing to come along with me on this fruity ride, because there seems to be no end in sight as long as stone fruits are in season. Apricots, peaches, plums, pluots, nectarines... I. Just. Can't. Stop! And who says I have to?
A great way to keep enjoying fruits (and even vegetables) long after they are out of season is to make jam. If you have never made jam before you might think it is difficult, and maybe not worth your effort. You might tell yourself, "I can just scoot my little butt up to the grocery store and buy some apricot jam for $4 if the mood strikes me." And this might be true. But that mass-produced, preservative-laden, artificially-colored stuff in those jars will never, ever, ever compare to the real stuff made with your own two hands and fresh, in-season fruit. Maybe you are worried about the cost of buying the fruit to make the jam? Well, that is where I can share a little secret I learned with you.
Next time you go to your local farmers market and are buying peaches from your favorite vendor, just ask, "Do you happen to have any bruised fruit you would be willing to sell?" They might say no, in which case you pay for your peaches and enjoy their splendor. If the farmer says yes, then hurray! You've struck gold! Next ask how much he or she would want for them, and I bet they will tell you that you can buy them for $1 a pound, or maybe 50 cents a pound, and if you are really lucky (or give them a cute wink and a smile) they might just give you some for free! You see, the farmers can't really sell these less-than-perfect fruits for their normal price of $2.50 a pound because people won't buy them. We all seem to forget that fruits are not made in a plastic mold and painted with ideal colors; we want our fruits to have movie-star good looks, and if they don't we won't buy them. Sad, but we forget that fruits are really just like people. Some are a little misshapen, others have blemishes or small imperfections, and a few might even have wrinkles or bruises and signs of a hard life. This doesn't mean the fruits are 'bad,' and if you just look past the surface you can find a treasure and make some delicious jam for pennies.
So here is what you look for if you get a chance to pick through the the basket of bruised fruits: Ideally, you would make jam from perfectly ripe fruit, so look first for those fruits that are completely ripe but might have just a little nick here or there or maybe some discoloration or wrinkles. These are the best ones, because they taste wonderful but just aren't as "pretty." Next, go for ones that are ripe, but have a bruise or soft spot here or there. But be careful: a little softness is ok, rotten and oozing is definitely not. Big distinction. And then lastly, they might have some that are a little under-ripe; those are good too, but keep in mind they will be less sweet so adjust your recipe accordingly.
Once you have purchased your fruits (at the awesome price of $1 or less a pound), first do a little happy dance; you saved a lot of money and got local, organic produce for a steal, PLUS helped support those farmers. A win-win situation! Then, get your butt back home because you will need to make the jam pronto. Most of those fruits will already be ripe and ready to go, so it is best to make the jam the same day you purchase the fruit, or refrigerate them until the next day if necessary.
The recipe I listed below is my go-to formulation and works best for apricots and peaches, but should be good for other stone fruits as well. A few things to consider:
-A reminder again, over-ripe fruits are your friends, rotten ones are not. We need to be safe with our food here.
-The more "ripe" or soft your fruits are, the more sweet they will be and will produce more liquid when cooking. Adjust the recipe accordingly by adding less sugar or honey, or by skimming off some of the liquid before blending. (If you skim the liquid, save it! Use it as syrup for ice cream, waffles, or yogurt!)
-The jam is best used within a week or two, and should always be refrigerated unless you have canned it.
-If you want to can your jam, I won't go into details, but there are loads of details all over the web; if you want to freeze your jam, Ms. Humble just shared some good tips here. She also uses pectin, which you might want to try out if your jam turns out thinner than you had hoped.
So have fun, get creative, and take advantage of peach season while it lasts! If you have any questions about making preserves or which farmers markets in San Diego are great, don't hesitate to email me. I am sure I can stop eating my plum, wipe the juice from my chin, and send you a reply back right away. ;)
Stone Fruit Preserves
2 lbs stone fruits, such as peaches, apricots, plums, etc; my favorite is a 3:1 ratio of apricots to peaches
200 grams sugar, or 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons
1/4 cup quality honey
Juice and zest from one lemon
Pit all fruits, and roughly chop them into 1-1 1/2 inch pieces. Place all the chopped fruit in a medium saucepan, and add the sugar, honey, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Stir well to mix, then heat until boiling; reduce heat and simmer mixture for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. After 1 hour, the fruit should be very soft, and the syrup surrounding the fruit should be a deep bronzed orange color (see photo above); if you have overcooked it, it might turn more brownish. Remove the mixture from the heat, and let it cool for about 10 minutes. Then, using either an immersion blender or a regular blender, process the mixture until it is smooth. If you want more "chunky" jam, process it less to leave more whole pieces of fruit. Transfer the preserves to small jars or other containers, and keep refrigerated; as the jam cools it will become thicker. Serve with fresh bread, scones, or cheese... or really whatever you want. :)