I'll Take 52 Pounds of Peaches, Please.
Jul 24, 2012 08:13PM ● Published by Anonymous
Somewhere in the planning process things like Pinterest, Facebook, photos, magazines, blogs, websites, outside opinions, budget, and a myriad of other things come along and influence brides-to-be in other directions. A lot of the time, it turns out to be a great thing. After all, if you stuck with what you'd pictured as a little girl, you'd probably carry 10,000 dandelions, have a 40-foot train, rock puffy sleeves, cut a giant heart-shaped cake, and prance around in ruby red slippers. My first dance would have been to something by Celine Dion, for sure and The Husband would be wearing a top hot. Do a double read if you want, but I'm not wrong.
But since at least middle school, I've known I wanted to give homemade jam as wedding favors. I've mentioned it to just about everyone I know at some point or another, but the idea is consistently met with reactions like "That's sweet, but it'll never happen," and "I think that would be more work than you are anticipating. You'll probably rethink that." Looking back, my favorite response was "Do you know how much fruit you'd have to buy?"
Because now, I do. 52 pounds.
I admit that at first, I wanted to make blueberry jam. But I'd never bought blueberries before and I learned this summer that they are not cheap. Upon re-evaluation, I decided it would be much more cost efficient to make peach jam. Though, after hour four of peeling peaches I was ruing the day I'd nixed blueberries. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
So, the girl who doesn't (successfully) cook (without reading line by line directions like a lunatic), and has a kitchen the size of a shoebox, wanted to make homemade jam for 100 people. Isn't that peachy. (You knew there'd be one of those in here...)
I'd done some research on how to can things when I ordered 60 four-ounce mason jars with rings and lids from Ace Hardware. They were to arrive in the Severna Park store last week, and when I told Aaron that we'd pick them up and start canning on Saturday, he was happy to humor me, but totally skeptical.
"Are you sure you know what you're doing?"
"No, but aren't you excited to see how that works out?"
Further doubt was eradicated with: "Some day we're going to look back on this crazy planning process and smile, Hubs. And if it's a total disaster, we'll laugh. We're making memories here love, not just jam."
So on Friday I scoured a few websites for general jam-making tips, and to understand the process-- we wanted to make the actual recipe itself our own. And I came across a lot of ways to make jam--different ways to chop/mash/blend peaches, different points at which to add sugar and other ingredients; some recipes even suggested marinating the peaches in other ingredients; many called for multi-step processes of cooking ingredients separately and then fusing them together for the final product. What I gathered from all that was simple: peel, chop, stir in a sauce pan for 12 minutes, can.
At first I decided peaches and sugar were all we needed, but when a friend mentioned topping her pancakes with peaches and cinnamon, I decided we'd add cinnamon. When I thought about the fact that Mr. Hubs will put hot sauce on anything--including the sweet and sour chicken we ate that day--I decided we'd add hot peppers, to heat up the sweet. And finally, when we were at the produce stand gathering our peaches, I spotted bunches of fresh basil and thought, "What the heck?" (Full disclosure: that's 98 percent "After all, what doesn't basil make better?" and two percent "I mean, we don't have to eat it.") Might as well try something new.
After taking a quick how-to-tell-if-a-peach-is-ripe lesson from another produce stand customer, we bagged up 120 peaches--the number we estimated we'd need to fill 60 jars. We feared we'd overestimated, and we did; we reassured ourselves we'd need extra, because we'd probably burn a couple of batches, and we did that, too. At the end of the experience we really only had maybe 20 peaches too many. And really, do you ever have too many? The Hubs has been enjoying a couple of peaches a day ever since. No harm, no foul.
So we set up a system: he peeled, I chopped. I chopped the basil and habaneros too, added it all together in a bowl and tossed. Eight peaches, a handful of basil, and two habaneros at a time, we did this. From there, I poured half the mixture into a saucepan with about a half cup of sugar, give or take. (It sounds ridiculous, but it's a significantly smaller sugar-to-peach ratio than any recipe we found .)
I sprinkled on a dash of cinnamon and stirred. For 12 minutes. Until each batch seemed to spring from the pan and the foam died down a little.
From there, the Hubs spooned the jam into jars (this made about four at a time), sealed the lids, and dropped the jars in a pot of boiling water for seven minutes to officially "can." A few minutes after he removed the jars from the boiling water, they cooled just enough that we could hear the "pop" of the lids dropping in, and we knew they were ready. (Now I totally understand the warning on labels that says "If this jar doesn't 'pop' when you open it, don't eat it." Our first lesson of the day in canning: lids have to 'pop' in, before they can 'pop' out when you open them to eat.)
We did that for eight hours. Here are the stats, in no particular order:
52 pounds, 120 peaches
5 taste tests
8 hours of cooking and canning
2 batches burned and tossed out. (That's a total of 8 peaches)
6 times that the stove caught on fire, contained to 2 separated incidents
1 day/overnight the burners had to soak in soap and water to get the peach/burn/residue off
The next morning we went out and bought some ribbon and two yards of seersucker fabric. I spent that evening watching The Bachelor season finale, cutting fabric and tying on swatches. At the end of it all, I am tickled. They are perfect and I'm absolutely in love. In love with the jam jars, and in love with the Hubs even more for having the patience to stick through eight hours of making them perfect. He's a trooper, and I get another element of my middle-school-self's dream wedding.
Take-aways from the experience:
1. If you make jam for wedding favors, make one per invitation. There isn't enough time in the day for more than that.
2. Unless you have the patience, opt for a fruit you don't have to peel or seed.
3. Peaches are sticky. And flammable.
4. Jam is good, y'all.