Stone Fruits

There’s nothing better than a ripe peach, apricot, plum, or nectarine. Nothing says summer more than the sweetness of these fruits, the juice running down your arms. I think they’re especially great because their availability really is limited to the last days of summer. You can’t just buy a peach anytime of year like you can an apple or an orange.

Since I finally bought myself a full canning kit this year, I wanted to look up a few recipes to keep this decadent sweetness in our cupboards year-round.

I wandered down to Barnes and Noble with a gift card I’ve been hanging onto, and after hemming and hawing over several wonderful looking books, I ended up with the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I figure, if you’re going to start somewhere, that’s the book to have. Plus, 400 recipes, come on! Talk about bang for your buck. Nothing in the book is particularly groundbreaking in terms of crazy flavors, but I figure get the hang of proportions and timing, then add in some creativity.

I snagged a bunch of uber ripe apricots and Italian prunes as well as some deliciously fuzzy peaches from a couple neighborhood farm stands and went to town. It was a couple long nights of blanching, peeling, chopping, and reducing, but hopefully it will all be delicious. Out of the book I chose to make Traditional Pectin Free Apricot Jam and Peach  butter with a couple modifications as follows:

Old-Fashioned Apricot Jam

8 cups chopped pitted peeled apricots

2 cups chopped pitted peeled italian prunes

4 tbsp lemon juice

6 cups granulated sugar

* Prepare canner, jars, and lids

* In a large saucepan, combine apricots, lemon juice, and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly to dissolve sugar. Boil, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and test gel [For a link on testing gel click here. I had some problems with mine setting up, mainly due to overripeness discussed before]. If gel stage has been reached, skim off foam.

* Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4 in headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace. Wipe rim, center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.

* Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes.

Peach & Lavender Butter

** Modifications from recipe at Washington’s Green Grocer which is previously adapted from Canning & Preserving **

4-5 pounds peaches

1/2 cup water

3 Tbsp fresh or dried lavender buds

3 Tbsp bottled lemon juice

4 cups granulated sugar

* Put the 2 tablespoons of the lavender buds in a small bowl. Take 1/3 cup of your boiling water and pour it over the buds. Cover, and let them steep for 15 minutes.

* Blanch peaches and when they are cool enough to handle peel, pit and chop roughly.

* Strain the lavender buds from the water. Set aside the buds…you’ll add them in later.  Combine the lavender water, peaches, and 3 tablespoons bottled lemon juice in a heavy stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, until the peach mixture thickens and clings to a spoon. Remove from the heat. Once the peach mixture has cooled slightly, puree using a food processor.

* Return the puree to the pan, add the sugar and lavender buds [I can see how some people would leave out the lavender buds for texture, but I think it adds a nice visual and they soften up a lot during the cooking process], and bring it up to a gentle boil over medium heat.

* Stir continuously until the sugar is completely dissolved. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 25 minutes. Place the sterilized jars on top of a kitchen cloth on the counter. With the help of a canning funnel, pack peach butter into the jars, reserving 1/2 inch of headspace. Use a nonmetallic spatula to remove any trapped air bubbles, and wipe the rims clean with a damp cloth. Place on the lids and screw bands, tightening only until fingertip-tight.

* Using a jar lifter, place the jars in the canner. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

My hands were to sticky to capture the whole process, so you get photos of the finished product. I already took a sneak taste at the apricot jam this past week (apricot is Erik’s favorite so I took him a half pint when I was in Virginia last week).

Lessons learned: I had read a couple places that if you are trying to make pectin free jam, don’t use fruits that are too ripe because their natural pectin deteriorates as they ripen. Well, the apricots I bought were REALLY ripe. Like falling apart ripe. The man at the farm stand suggested the Italian prunes as a way to firm up the apricots in the jam, but it still ended up pretty soft. The flavor is great, but its not quite all the way to jam. I’m thinking it might make it a bit more versatile, though, because I think we can use it as a meat glaze or ice cream topping in addition to just on toast and muffins.

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