Tuesday, October 13, 2009


It's the end of peach season here in central Italy. We've been getting them from all over, Africa, Spain, Calabria, but all good things must give way to other good things (the carciofi are back in the shops, Yay!) and the peaches in the shops are looking kind of peaked lately. So it is time for

Peach preserves!

Yep, spent the best part of the day yesterday blanching, peeling, chopping and simmering. Honey and whisky peach preserves, to be exact. 13 jam-size jars. Distribution to friends will be on a how-nice-have-you-been-to-me-in-the-last-year basis.


8 pounds of peaches (you don't have to worry about the quality, just 8 pounds)
1 pound of white sugar
two cups honey
three cups whiskey
three teaspoons ground nutmeg
ten cloves
four lemons
tsp salt

a large heavy bottomed enamel or stainless steel pot.

Another large pot.

Jars with seal-able metal lids (always save jam jars, mayonnaise jars, pickle jars, etc. The ones with the plastic lids, however are not so good).

Blanch the peaches in boiling water. Which means boiling them for about ten minutes or until their flesh has become soft and slightly goopy to the touch. I did them in batches of about six to eight in the pot. When they've softened, plunge them into cold water. Peel the skin off (this should be easy, and was when my grandma did it, but each peach is different. Sometimes the skin came off easily, sometimes I had to use the potato peeler. Grandma would have known how to do it better. Alas.) and chop the peaches into 8ths.

Place in a saucepan with sugar, about 1/2 cup to a cup of peach pieces, honey, lemon juice, whiskey, cloves and nutmeg. Don't add water, since the heat and sugar will draw out the peach juice sufficiently to create a lovely (ie: heavenly) syrup. There are really no quantities given here, since it is all a matter of personal taste. Just work it out.

Allow to simmer over a low heat until the fruit is soft and the syrup is golden. This is about 1/2 an hour to 45 mins. Stir regularly, but carefully. Keep a lid on the pot until the mixture comes to a boil, but then uncovered and over a very low heat.

DO NOT allow the syrup to boil over. This means, don't put the peaches on to boil and then go watch TV or surf the net while you're waiting. Don't move away from the stove. Stand over it and watch it carefully. Trust me on this one.

If you have allowed the syrup to boil over, clean it up with a damp sponge and cloths IMMEDIATELY. Sugar syrup is easy to clean with wet cloths because unburnt sugar dissolves very quickly. But leaving it till later will mean the heat from the stove will burn the spills and create a burnt sugar disaster on your stove that will not come up without the aid of a blowtorch and industrial solvents. If you have spilled cooked sugar, you know this. If this is your first time using cooked sugar, there is probably nothing I can say that will sufficiently convey the horror of trying to get burnt sugar off the stove top and/or your favourite heavy-bottomed pot before your mother/wife/husband/mother-in-law sees the mess.

Be careful, also, with the boiling sugar mixture. Sugar boils at a much higher temperature than water and can seriously hurt you if you get it on yourself. My instructor in pastry chef school called boiling syrup "dessert napalm".

As a rule, keep the work area as clean as you can as you're working in it. Keep lots of wet cloths and sponges around, and keep the sink full of warm water. Wash the knife you use to cut the peaches regularly. Place the wooden spoon you use to stir the syrup in the same spot every time.

Without precautions, working with sugar syrup will mean that you, your hair, your clothes, the furniture, the floor, the walls and probably the cat, are liable to get very sticky, with little sticky spots being found for days. Wipe up spills the instant you make them, esp. off the floor where they can get tracked all over the house leaving annoying little sticky-patch landmines everywhere. Possibly the most annoying thing is to get sticky in your socks. Walking across the kitchen tiles: "stick-slap, stick-slap, stick-slap..." Ugh!

When the peaches are close to ready, prepare the jars.

I usually just wash them and the lids in warm soapy water, dry them very thoroughly with a paper towel and place the lids in a roasting pan and the jars on a cookie sheet. Preheat the oven to about 200 C. Pour a quantity of boiling water over the lids. Place the jars and the lids, with the water, in the oven for 15 minutes.

Allow the jars to cool enough so that you can touch the outsides without hurting yourself (if the jars are too hot, even the very hot sugar syrup will be too cold and they will crack...lost two of my best ones yesterday, and am v. annoyed). Do not touch the inside of the jars or the lids with your fingers.

Distribute the peach pieces, without syrup, into the jars with a spoon, leaving a little room at the top. With a clean ladle, pour in syrup to fill the jars to the very top.

Seal, and when they have cooled enough, wash the outsides of the jars carefully.

Label them and store in a cool dark place. As the mixture cools, the jars should automatically create a vacuum seal. This should keep everything inside from molding until the jar is unsealed. After that, the preserves have to be kept in the fridge.

If they last that long.


V. good with plain white yoghurt.

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