The triple digit heat has finally abated, just in time to get back to canning summer’s harvest. We have two peach trees and most of the fruit from the Red Haven tree went into the freezer. But the last of the peaches went into this batch of old-fashioned preserves.
I much prefer preserves over jam. Some people will tell you that there is no taste difference but they are wrong! To me, preserves have a fresher fruit taste compared to jam or jelly. I’ve been following this particular recipe so long I could make it in my sleep. But the whole family looks forward to receiving peach preserves at Christmas, and the grandchildren love it year round.
The difference between preserves and jam? In preserves the fruit is “preserved” with the sugar and thus holds its shape while cooking. Most preserves combine fruit and sugar, and then sit for a while. The cooking process is slow and it will do no good to check temperatures when making preserves. Jam is made from crushed or chopped fruit and is cooked quickly after the sugar melts. Both should be made in small batches. Don’t be tempted to double fruit spread recipes. You will most likely end up with an over cooked, burnt mess, or will have to re-make an undercooked mess. Sadly, this is the voice of experience once again.
Old-Fashioned Peach Preserves
Peel and slice peaches until you have 8 cups (about 10 large peaches). Make sure that there is a good combination of really ripe peaches (for flavor) and a couple of not as ripe peaches (more pectin in under-ripe peaches). Add 6 cups of sugar and stir to combine. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator for 12-18 hours.
Bring the peaches/sugar combination to a boil – slowly – over medium heat. I use my trusty Dutch oven. Don’t forget to rub butter around the top inner lip to prevent boiling over. Stir frequently to keep from burning. Boil gently until the fruit becomes clear. The syrup will thicken. All this takes about 40 minutes.
The best way to check for “done-ness” is to drop some of the boiling syrup onto a plate and pop it in the fridge for a minute. If it sets up the way you want, remove from heat and pour into clean jars.
Process in a water bath for 15 minutes (see our water bath tutorial here). This recipe makes about 7 half-pints, although I had a little extra. Since I didn’t have another whole jar, the extra went in the refrigerator to use now. Here it is topping a rice cake. The perfect afternoon treat.
Preserves can be eaten on toast, English muffins, bagels, etc. Also really good used as a glaze on chicken or chicken substitutes, on fish, or added to homemade burgers as a “secret ingredient.”