Perfectly fresh local tree-ripened peaches are the epitome of summer. As the growing season comes to a close, preserving the last of summer’s produce feels urgent. My withering herb garden calls out to be saved somehow, brought indoors, harvested and dried, added to jams and pickles and salsas. Anything but compost.
A couple years ago, I made peach jam with lemon basil, which was delicious and subtle. The lemon basil’s long gone from my garden now but my bumper crop of lemon verbena needs to be trimmed. It won’t overwinter so I am drying leaves for tea and trying to determine what else to do. (I made a fabulous lemon verbena ice cream, which can find in a search of this site – three tiny buttons on the right hand side.)
Since my peaches were very juicy, I added ample lemon juice to keep them from browning while they macerated in sugar for a few hours to render juice. I also added a pinch or two of salt, which gives a little spark. Even though I knew lemon verbena would impart a stronger grass-like flavor to the jam, more than lemon basil, I added some slivered lemon peel for good measure.
Peach Jam with Lemon Verbena
6-8 peaches (2½ lb measured after pitting, 6 c cubed)
Juice of 1 lemon, peel and seeds reserved
1½ c granulated sugar
Big pinch of salt
4-5 large sprigs of lemon verbena, rinsed and lightly bruised
Peel the peaches by plunging them first into boiling water for a few seconds and then into ice water. The skins will slip off easily. Chop the peaches, dropping them into a large bowl in which you’ve placed the lemon juice. Add the sugar and salt and stir to combine, being careful not to bruise the fruit. Sliver enough lemon peel (avoiding the pith) to measure 1 teaspoon and add to the peach mixture. Place the lemon seeds and the rest of the peel in a small muslin bag and immerse it in the fruit. Lightly bruise the lemon verbena leaves to release their oil and add to the peaches. Cover with crumpled parchment paper and macerate in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.
(Alternatively, if your peaches are not juicy, you can cook the peaches, sugar and salt for about 10 minutes over low heat until they render their juice, cool them and immerse the bag of lemon seeds and peel and the lemon basil before setting aside overnight.)
Prepare the kettle, jars and lids for water bath canning. Place a small saucer in the freezer.
Bring the peach mixture to a boil, reduce the heat until medium, and cook until thick and gelled, under 10 minutes. (Test for gel by placing a drop of jam on the frozen saucer. If it wrinkles to the touch, the gel is good.) Spoon the jam into prepared jars and seal with two-piece lids that have been sterilized by dunking them in boiling water for under a minute.
Process the jars for 10 minutes after the water returns to a boil. Turn off the heat, remove the lid and let sit for 5 minutes before moving the jars to a counter to sit undisturbed until cool.
Makes approximately 8 four-ounce jars.