I have a bunch of projects happening— announcement of at least one will happen very soon, I promise— and I haven’t been anywhere or done anything except those projects, or meeting about those projects, so going into the holiday seems like a good time to put up something I never got around to posting when it happened, which was August. I made jam, for the first time.
My friend Cathy Lambrecht has been giving canning seminars of late, but as with my piccalilli canning session last year, I succeeded in luring her over to my house to help me can something (and teach me how to do so without creating deadly toxins) by posing a challenge that would pique her curiosity. In this case, it was… peach fennel jam.
There’s this woman on the west coast named June Taylor who makes jams. No, not this June Taylor:
She does very high quality, very expensive little jars of preserves, you can find them at places like Fox & Obel or order online. Their secret is no secret: really great in season fruit, and as little sugar as you can get away with, so the fruit flavor really comes through. They may be runny compared to Smuckers, but they’re excellent. She also does some interesting combination flavors, and one that sounded intriguing to me was peach fennel. So that was my challenge: add fennel to peach jam, and see if it would be any good.
I had a half bushel of peaches I bought at a farmstand in Libertyville, and some great in-season raspberries (which were so good this summer!) in the freezer, and one head of fennel. Cathy brought some likewise in-season blueberries, and she also brought this:
Nduja, the spreadable cured Calabrian sausage which everybody suddenly was talking about and making. This was from Boccalone in San Francisco (brought to Cathy by Charlotte Tan, aka LTHer Crazy C). The flavor was good but the Underwood Deviled Ham texture is kind of offputting; I like my cured meats to have some chew, frankly. Still, I meant to go try Mado’s for comparison, but… guess now I’ll be trying The Butcher and Larder’s for comparison!
So while I diced fennel and skinned peaches, Cathy prepared two pots, one for peach and fennel, one for peach and raspberry, which is a classic enough combination that it has its own name: peach blush.
Five jars of peach fennel were done first. (I put a bit of the fronds in each jar for an arty touch.) And what we learned was… far from being overpoweringly vegetal (I had feared something like peach-celery or peach-garlic), the fennel apparently volatilized so much during cooking that it was barely detectable at all, just the slightest hint of licorice in the peach. So basically it’s peach jam, nothing wrong with that, but if you want peach-fennel, you need more fennel, at least another head for this ratio.
Peach blush was up next, lots of it. It is a great combination, at first you think you’re just tasting the brassy raspberries but then the cello notes of peach develop underneath. It’s my favorite of the bunch, again, because raspberries were just so good this year.
Getting those two done felt like a day’s work, but there were peaches left and we had the blueberries and… well, we knew we’d be glad we did. So we cleaned the pot and tossed in the blueberries (at least they didn’t have to be peeled):
This came out really well, too, though I’d still say the peach blush was my favorite. And it was the one that really drove home the point, the miracle of canning: here’s something that was so evanescent, 6 or 8 weeks of amazing raspberries, I set them down in my kitchen after one farmer’s market trip and by the time I was back from walking the dog, the whole kitchen smelled like raspberry. And Cathy and I took that fleeting moment… and gave it immortality. Or at least another year. That’s a pretty wonderful thing, and if I haven’t put the photos up till now, believe me, as winter has come I’ve enjoyed our efforts from that day on plenty of mornings.