Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring,
and because it has fresh peaches in it.
Ripe peaches are among my top reasons for living. Soft, sweet, lightly floral, and full of juice. They are a testament to the fact that perfection can be found in the simplest things. First cultivated in ancient China, peaches were believed to have magical properties like immortality. Emperors loved them. Thousands of years later, so did western royalty. Plantagenet King John is said to have perished after consuming a surfeit of peaches. In T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, the main character asks himself, “Do I dare to eat a peach?” Perhaps it’s a metaphor for taking a bite out of life. Perhaps it’s a metaphor for having the woman he desires. No matter the interpretation, Prufrock’s peach definitely represents what my husband refers to as the English danger of having too much fun. For Roald Dahl, a peach was the vehicle that whisked James away from his two cruel aunts, Spiker and Sponge.
No matter how you cut it, a ripe peach is magical. Though perfect on its own, I like to try to capture its fragrance and keep its magic a little longer than just the summer season. That’s why I have been making buckets of ginger peach jam. As peaches can be so sweet, I find the ginger adds a bit of fire and also refinement. It provides structure for what could otherwise be a cloying mess. Also, I like the idea of adding Chinese ginger to my peaches, even if my fruit happens to come from Kent or Spain. Below is my recipe.
peaches (I use about 2 kg)
preserving sugar (as peaches have a really low pectin content)
the juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Peel and slice the peaches. Weigh them. Set aside in a large jam pan.
Add 60% of the peaches’ weight in sugar. I use a mix of caster and preserving sugar–only about 200g of the latter. Be sure to taste your mixture. You don’t want it too sweet but it won’t set if it doesn’t have at least 60% sugar.
Next stir in the lemon juice and ginger.
Mash everything lightly. Warm over a low heat. Once the sugars have dissolved, turn up the heat and stir constantly.
Never let the temperature pass 104F which is the setting point for jam. Test for a set with the cold plate method. When the jam has achieved your desired set, stir in the butter (it’ll help keep your jam from looking scummy), and let cool for a few minute before putting in sterilized jars.
Serve on toast, pancakes or over vanilla ice cream for a real treat. I must say if you want this as an ice cream topping, it’s best to not have a really thick set. Runnier is better in this case. Also, this jam is delicious if used in the middle of shortbread thumb print cookies.