Jam made with nectarines is a favorite around here. It’s summer in a jar just as is, although the addition of vanilla, pepper or herbs gives it a little oomph. There’s something wonderfully clear about the taste and texture, so it doesn’t need to be fussed up.
Someone wrote to me the other day about the effect of excess liquid after macerating the fruit with sugar for a fairly long time. This resulted in her cooking the jam for a much longer time than she might have otherwise done. When that’s happened to me, as in the way I used to make strawberry jam, the fruit becomes overcooked and loses some of its fresh flavor. I suppose that accounts for my poor attitude toward strawberry jam, even though I have since fixed the problem by macerating the fruit before jamming it.
Macerating is basically a method of breaking down the fibers and drawing liquid from a fruit or vegetable. For jam, maceration is usually done by adding sugar and letting the fruit sit for a few hours or overnight, stirring a few times to dissolve the sugar. The fruit produces liquid, the sugar bonds with the fruit’s exuded water molecules to become syrupy, and the natural pectin – the stuff that makes jam gel – is developed. That’s my “school of experience” kitchen science and probably not chemically correct, but it works. The other trick to getting a natural gel without using added pectin is to add lemon juice to the fruit and the lemon seeds and a little peel tied in a small muslin sack to the macerating fruit.
I usually start my jam with slightly under-ripe fruit and therefore I suspect that my reader used very ripe fruit. Using my recipe, her jam took over an hour to cook. My original one took 25 minutes to gel. This one took less than 15 minutes. Once you’ve macerated the fruit, you have two choices: cook the whole thing – fruit and liquid together – to the gel point, or separate the liquid and fruit and cook the liquid to a near gel point, add the fruit and cook again to gel. The latter solves the problem of excess liquid. My 25-minute version cooked the fruit and liquid together. My 15-minute version separated them. While this seems like a lot of steps, the truth is that it breaks down the task of jam-making into small steps that can be done leisurely over a day or so.
Nectarine Vanilla Jam
2-2½ lb nectarines, washed, pitted and cut into ½-inch dice (about 6 c)
2 c sugar
Juice of 1 lemon, peels and seeds reserved
1 vanilla bean
Combine the nectarines, lemon juice and sugar in a large deep bowl, stirring lightly to dissolve the sugar without bruising the fruit. (If your fruit tends to brown when cut, place the lemon juice in the bowl first and cut the fruit into it). Tie the lemon seeds and a little of peel (about ¼ of the lemon) in a muslin sack and submerge in the fruit. Crumble a piece of parchment paper on top of the fruit and set aside to macerate for about 6 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
Prepare jars for water bath canning. Place a saucer in the freezer (to test the gel).
If the fruit has exuded a significant amount of liquid (at least a cup), drain the liquid into a large broad-bottomed pot and reserve the fruit. Bring the liquid to a boil and cook until large bubbles form (stone fruit will foam) and the liquid starts to gel, under 5 minutes depending on the volume of liquid. You know when it starts to gel when a small drop placed on the frozen saucer wrinkles to the touch.
Add the reserve fruit and being to a boil, cooking it until it reaches the gel point again, less than 10 minutes. Mash the fruit slightly to the desired consistency.
Ladle into prepared jams, clean the rims and top with two-piece lids. Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes after the water comes to a boil. Turn off heat, remove the canner lid and let sit for 5 minutes before removing to a counter to sit, undisturbed, until cool.
Makes 6-7 four-ounce jars.