Jams and the Giant Peach

Once upon a time period, long long ago, there was a bustling town gurt by fruit-laden orchards, fescue fields lush with fodder, and dairy farms aplenty. All the townsfolk were proud of their productive industries and parochial in their purchasing prowess: locally made…all the way to the kitchen larder. Whilst all fruit-growing-farms realised a Spiker of workers during the summer harvest period, one orchard in particular proved to be a Sponge for industriously minded locals keen to keep off the silly season pounds or put their somewhat lethargic, holidaying teenagers to work.

The morning of the particular day in question started just like any other. Rising with the sun, we picking workers lackadaisically assembled at the meeting point. A barren patch of earth located between a stand of flaccid looking oak trees and the weather-beaten living quarters for overseas itinerants. Covered from head to toe in light cotton garb, we were then separated into diversified teams of dab-hands and newbies before being loaded like pioneering convicts into the back of a dilapidated flat-tray wagon. Several kilometers of bumpy and suspensionless miles later and the 1950’s model Red Massey Furguson tractor came to a holt.

Colour picking was the job description for the day. A fact which only served to provoke the already irritable temperament of those keen to spend a long, afternoon session at the pub. Since no-one dared challenge the ganger’s authority on the call, we begrudgingly set to work resigning ourselves to the fact that many more climbs of the 6 ft long wooden ladder would be required to achieve the same “bin-volume” payment for ripe fruit.

By 10 am, the sun had begun to bear down on us with the full force of a 42oC day. Cursing and cussing at the exhausting and yeildless tree-clambers, I was ready to turn in the calico picking bag and head home to the cool retreat of the farm’s irrigation channel. “Hallelujah…would you come and look at this!”. Intrigued, we hastily emptied our part filled bags and headed to the base of an Empire State Building sized prunus persica tree. It didn’t take long for us to spy what Maria was directing her sharply pointed finger toward. There, hanging just above the top of the final rung of the precariously placed ladder was the the largest peach I had ever seen.

Awestruck, we stared longingly at the perfectly round, fifteen centimeter in diameter specimen still glistening with morning dew. For a fleeting moment my mind was lost in salubrious thoughts of the fructose-rich, orange flesh meandering its way toward my rumbling, smoko-break belly. “Oi ya slackers…what the devil you’ll gawkin’ at?”. Frozen in guilt ridden fear, we looked to each other for the courageous delivery of a placating explanation. Silence.

“Well since you’ll seem to have swallowed your tongues, I guess I’ll just have to ‘ave it all to myself”. And with a chain smoking chortle, our ganger adeptly retrieved the peach. Following several swift actions of the pen knife, he then presented each member of his relieved team with a lusciously fortifying segment. A meal that will always be remembered as one to feel all communally fuzzy about.

Thirteen years later, and a kernel of nostalgia is released from it’s robustly sealed pit..

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After a particularly energetic session of swings and roundabouts at one of our local parks, K1 stumbled across a rather drecrepid looking excuse for a tree. Unperturbed by the menacing looking branches, he seized the potentially fruitful challenge and retrieved our first bounty of well-pecked, cydia molesta (oriental fruit moth) infected peaches. As it turns out, looks can be deceiving. Whilst stoney by nature, this wonderful addition to our neighbourhood nature strip has seen many a jar of jam or chutney gratefully received as a birthday present or in return for that much needed bag of hand-me-down autumn apparel.

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Our families recipes for Peachy Keen Date Chutney and Gingerly Stoned Jam…for your nectarous delight!

Peachy Keen Chutney

12 peaches (or nectarines), diced into small cubes

1 ½ tsp grnd cardamom

1 c pitted dated, chopped into small cubes

1 c raisins

4 onions, diced

3 c brown sugar

2 tbs mustard seeds

4 tbs ginger root, finely diced

4 tsp salt

2 ½ c apple cider vinegar

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Place all ingredients in a heavy duty pot. Stir to dissolve the sugar. On a medium heat, bring the mixture to boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 45 – 60 minutes or until thick and syrupy. Spoon the mixture into sterilised jars (see below).

Gingerly Stoned Jam

1 – 2 kg Peaches (or nectarines)

sugar

1 – 1 ½ inch piece ginger, finely diced

Place a side dish into the freezer (used to test the setting point of the jam). Peel the ginger and peel and pit the fruit. Place the peels and pits into a muslin bag and tie tightly with a string. Chop up the flesh of the fruit, discarding any blemished or bird pecked pieces. Weigh the fruit. In the middle of a large, heavy based pot place the muslin bag. Pile the fruit around the bag. Add ½ cup water. Place the lid on the pot and on low heat, bring the contents to boil. Simmer for 10 – 20 mins or until the fruit is tender. Take off the heat and leave to cool for atleast 2 hours.

Remove the muslin bag and squeeze any liquid from the bag into the pot. This will add extra pectin (chemical that assists in setting the jam) to the mix. For every 500g of fruit (as measured previously) add 400 g sugar. Stir in the sugar and slowly bring the jam to a rolling boil. Boil for 10 mins and then test, using the frozen side dish, whether the jam is set (it should wrinkle slightly when pushed with your finger). Spoon into sterilised jars (see below) if ready, otherwise repeat the above step after another 3 minutes of boiling.

Sterilising jars: I have been making preserves for years now and after trying many cumbersome methods of jar sterilisation, I have settled on the following (that…to the best of my knowledge…has not botulised any recipient yet): wash jars and lids in hot soapy water ensuring that a bottle brush is used to clean the inside. Dip jars and lids into a sink of hot water (to wash off soap suds) and then drain upside down on a tea towel. Place jars and lids (open side facing up) onto trays and leave to dry completely in an oven set at 100 – 120 degrees celcius.

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