Confession Wednesday- Bittersweet Peach Immersion

If you realize the magnitude of my discovery, you might begin to understand the somewhat extreme behavior that ensued. I spent the last four days attempting to catch a break from all regular programming- cutting out all writing, most online reading, a lot of cooking, and some required activities to allow myself the time to read. Immersion reading. I read for hours every day- as many hours as I could. I read like it was the last book on the planet and someone was about to take it away from me any moment. I loved it.

At a book sale last week (an unusual book sale where advance copies are available) I uncovered in a stack a copy of Colman Andrews’ Ferran, not to be released for another few weeks. The thrill that this bookworm felt! I had the book. I was holding it, walking to the car alone, smiling like a school girl who just got asked out to prom by her biggest crush. I was going to prom and I had not one but two dates. Ferran Adrià on one side, Colman Andrews on the other. My prom lasted four days- four inspiring, exciting, arousing of my imagination and desires to cook, travel, and learn days.

In my world, the odds are that you heard of Ferran Adrià. Adrià has been named by the French master chef Robuchon the best chef in the world years ago and he has been recognized as remaining so in most circles. Known for his restaurant, El Bulli, Ferran is most often associated with molecular gastronomy. He rejects a lot of the assertions made about his cuisine, he enjoys sharing his discoveries and techniques, and no matter what you call his cooking, he is undoubtedly creative, daring, and inspired.

Perhaps you haven’t heard of Colman Andrews. Aside from being the founder of Saveur, a highly acclaimed food writer, and likely the foremost expert in Spanish cuisine in food writing circles, Andrews is fascinating to me because of his heated romantic involvement with another favorite author of mine, Ruth Reichl [her book, Comfort Me With Apples, gives some insight into their relationship]. Now, sure it has been years since the two were romantically involved and both of them were then young and crazy, but for me, in a food-sort-of-way that romantic episode mirrors William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O’Connor dating in law school. Somehow, both made it to the top of the very field that brought them together in the first place.

The timing of Andrews’s book is impeccably charged. Ferran (he and I are on first-name-basis since the prom date) announced recently that at the end of the season he will close his flagship business, the legendary El Bulli- indefinitely, likely for good. Shock waves are still felt in the food world and anticipation for Ferran’s new ventures is still building. Colman Andrews just won the James Beard award (international category) for his book The Country Cooking of Ireland and after reading Ferran, I can tell you that he is on a roll. The story of this new book is compelling and the writing is satisfying. It is a page-turner, a book you cannot put down and at the same time you hope never to end.

Bittersweet was the moment when I approached that end. With some 25 pages left, the low of my high, the halt of my reading ride, the light at the end of my pleasure tunnel was nearing. It was deja-vu from other books I’ve loved. I wanted to see the end, but I didn’t want it to be over. Like the greatest show, the best vacation, the happiest moment- this book would never to be relived the same way.

Two weeks ago, I didn’t have that book to go crazy on, or any book that I couldn’t immerse in and be slightly bitter finishing. But I had peaches, 40 pounds of Ela Farm peaches and an irresistible urge to can. I dedicated a weekend to it- immersion canning. It is that time of the year- jams, preserves, sauces- and let me tell you- here, there are STILL beautiful peaches awaiting their hot jar.

No matter the fruit, my recipe is meant to say that canning is not hard. It is easy, pleasurable, and rewarding. There is some magic in allowing yourself to relive summer just by opening a jar of fragrant peaches in December. There is also the joy of sharing the pretty creations- I consider some of my Christmas shopping completed!

Peach Jam, a made-up recipe.

Ingredients: 5 pound peaches, 2 pounds sugar (you can also do less, or more, depending on how sweet you like your jam), 2 lemons, juiced. Plus a bunch of mason jars with new lids and bands.

Ask yourself- do you want the peel in your jam? There is no wrong answer, just a matter of preference. Most will say no peel, so here’s how you take it off- with a sharp knife, cut an X on the bottom of each peach. To make it easier, you can continue your knife superficial indent into the skin peach all around it.

Fill up a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Place the peaches in the boiling water in batches – fewer at a time is better. The goal is to blanch or flash boil the skin without cooking the inside. To do that, the temperature of the water needs to be very hot. The fewer peaches you place in there at a time, the more likely the temperature of the water is to remain high. After 10-15 seconds of roaring boiling, remove the peaches. Allow to cool a few minutes and take off the skins.

Cut the peaches into quarters, remove the seeds and discard them. Repeat for the rest of the peaches and place them all into the heavy bottomed pot that you plan to cook your jam in. Sprinkle the sugar onto the cut up peaches. Stir well until the sugar is incorporated and becomes syrupy. Let stand for 4-6 hours.

Bring the pot with the peaches to a simmer over medium heat. Stir often for about 30 minutes. At this point, you have to ask yourself another question- what texture you prefer for your jam? Anything from quarter peaches to puree goes. I chose an in-between that I obtained by taking my trusty masher and mashing up the stewing peaches. Do what you need to do to get to your desired texture- yes, you can put it in a food processor and then return it to the pot.

Texture of the peach aside, the whole jam has to come together to a point where it is not all the way runny- if you put a drop of the liquid on a plate it doesn’t run in all directions, but rather tends to stay together in a circular shape. There are degrees of ‘doneness’ for this, but again, it is a matter of preference- if you find it to be too runny, let it stew longer.

Before you put your new creation into jars, you have to boil the jars. No, you need no special tools- I had none. I boiled a big pot of water and carefully immersed the jars into simmering water in batches. I used a thin long spatula-like kitchen utensil to help me lower the jars and remove them without scorching my hands. Boil the tops and bands as well. Fill up the jars leaving half an inch at the top. Seal the jars and find a pot big enough to fit the sealed jars with an inch of water over them. [That is, of course, if you can with no special props like I do]. Boil the water, place the sealed jars in, and simmer for 12-15 minutes. Remove and voila- you made jam!

Right around the time when I made this, I experienced one of the most positive side-effects of social media, in this case- twitter. A chef and blogger I met on twitter (find him at dropped off a beautiful piece of this foie gras torchon that I served along a bit of jam and a small taste of arugula-mint salad.

If you read or can like a maniac, we’re a match- share your stories, can your fruit.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

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  • A Plum By Any Other Name

    40 pounds of peaches PLUS fois gras to serve alongside your newly created peach jam? Sounds like the prom dinner dreams are made of. ;)

  • SilvanaMondo

    Nice article Andra! Your writing is very inspiring. Your love of reading shines through as does your passion for cooking. Now thinking that making jam is ridiculously easy and I should try it!

  • Monet

    Wonderful writing…I have yet to hear of his work, but now I'm eager to track it down! As an avid reader, I completely related to your experience with his book. Just beautiful! And thank you for sharing your peach jam…such a wonderful way to preserve the season!

  • Magic of Spice

    Beautiful post…and such a wonderful jam :) The last photo, such an elegant presentation and divine flavors :)

  • Gigabiting

    Lovely piece.
    As a lover of food AND good writing, this hit the spot.

  • Lauren Zabaneh

    What a treat, and I 'm not just talking about the jam! I mean that you could get those books before their release…it's like you were in on a big secret before anyone else- so exciting!

    love your blog, great job!

  • Baking Barrister

    You are a madwoman. That is all. A madwoman.

  • The Mom Chef

    Wow, that looks fantastic. And I can't imagine the last time I've had the freedom to pull back from everything and just READ. I'm SO jealous, but thrilled that you were given the opportunity to do that and then shared it all with us!