Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lemon-Peach-Ginger Conserve

Yesterday, I shook off a lassitude so great that I did not even go to the gym, where I have been going faithfully for two hours a day, ever since school got out. I have an ulterior motive. I'm going to a hiking conference in Virginia on the first of July, and I don't want all the other hikers to finish two hours ahead of me. It's a given that they will all finish ahead of me, but I would like it to be no more than ten or 15 minutes. In seven years of hiking on the Appalachian Trail, I have only passed one person. And I had some real reservations about whether that person should even be out on the trail. So, we're talking slow here.
But anyway, I ran through my options. I could begin to pack. I could get a red city bike and ride around. I could clean up, or I could can, since I was running through these deliberations at 10:30 in the morning and had nearly the whole day. As I said, I'm trying to give attention to underused sections of the cookbook. The section on Pickles, Relishes and Preserves has had some of the recipes crossed off, but it's not like I spend my winter days putting up jars of pickles.
After spending a few minutes leafing through the stained and sticky pages and rejecting pickles because I didn't think cucumbers would be ready yet, (they were, actually), I settled upon Lemon-Peach, blah blah because hey, it's peach season. The whole point of "putting up" fruits and vegetables" is to preserve things while when they are fresh.
So I went off to the Bethesda Women's Farm Market, a little building that serves as a testament to the fact that Montgomery County was not always paved end to end with suburban cul-de-sacs and mini mansions, but was once farmland. It's kind of sad because out of the 20 or so stalls, only five or six actually sell something that grows in the ground. The rest sell artisanal soap, or take out food of varying ethnicities, or hand made jewelry.
The lady with the stand closest to the back door had three or four different kinds of peaches. I opted for the biggest kind, since that would result in less peeling. Peaches have been really good this year, although generally small because we're in a drought. I don't know if these came off of her irrigated trees, or what. I didn't ask, I merely bought. The women don't sell non local produce once their own fields and trees start to bear, so I had to go to Giant to get a lemon and an orange. I even got almonds, which I forgot to put in later.
I faithfully chopped the orange and lemon, and peeled the peaches. To peel peaches, you stick them in a pot of boiling water, and depending on their ripeness, fish them out immediately, or go off and read a book for five minutes. Some of my peaches were not altogether ripe, which the nice farm stand lady had tried to warn me about. It's tricky, selecting ripe peaches. If you squeeze them too hard, you bruise them, thereby ruining the fruit for the next person. About 75 percent of the peaches I selected were ripe. The others were hard like golf balls, so I just left them in the water longer and sliced off chunks of the sides of the peach, instead of trying to peel the peel off delicately leaving the entire peach.
This effort in the jam area came out better than the others. For one thing, I didn't have to add water, so I didn't have to boil the result for days. The fruit provided enough juice to be able to boil the mixture as intended. It thickened after something like 40 minutes. It was also helpful to consult The Joy of Cooking. Mrs. Joy, as Meryl Streep referred to her in the movie Julie and Julia, gives very comprehensive instructions about things like canning. One of her tidbits was that you could tell the jam was done when the fruit was translucent. A note to others who may want to try this. Don't be lazy. Stand at the stove and stir. Otherwise, the fruit rather quickly starts to burn and stick to the bottom of the pan.
The result is a little darker than I think nature intended, but altogether delicious. A conserve is a whole fruit jam made of fruit stewed in sugar. At least that's what Wikipedia says, and who am I to argue with some dude in his mother's basement? Although that doesn't really make sense, because the peaches, and the citrus fruits were sliced and chopped. Who knows?
This is a relatively quick canning effort. It doesn't have to be soaked for days, or boiled for months, or anything. It was in its neat little jars, with the paraffin hardening on top, by 4:00, just in time for me to take the Corgi for a walk.

Lemon-Peach-Ginger Conserve

1 large lemon or two small lemons, finely chopped
1 small orange, finely chopped
7 cups scaled, peeled and chopped firm ripe peaches, with all bruised spots removed
5 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, or one-quarter cup chopped crystallized ginger (I put in 1 teaspoon.)
1/2 cup blanched, slivered almonds

1. Combine the lemons, orange, and peaches in a stainless steel or enameled kettle and simmer gently fifteen or twenty minutes until orange and lemon skins are tender. (I found this took considerably longer, maybe 40 minutes.)
2. Add the sugar and ginger and birng to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Boil rapidly until mixture sheets off spoon. (This means when you tilt your spoon sideways the fruit runs off in a sheet, instead of glopping off.) or registers 220 degrees on a candy thermometer. Add almonds during the last five minutes of cooking.
3. Pour into hot sterilized jelly glasses. Pour two thin layers of melted paraffin over. Cool. Cover and store in a cool, dark, dry place. Makes about eight and a half pints.

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