For a peach-lover, mid-August means three things:
1. It's the height of peach season.
2. Peach season is almost over.
3. It's time to put up peaches for the winter.
I developed this tripartite Theory of August just a year ago. It was my first summer in D.C., my first introduction to a city's robust farmers' market culture, and therefore my first experience with having regular access to ripe, local peaches. I'd always enjoyed peach-flavored foods, devouring everything from Haribo sweet and sour peach gummy candies to Snapple peach iced tea to the fuzzy-if-somewhat-hard grocery-store peaches I bought from time to time. And maybe once or twice a summer, I'd come upon a perfect peach—firm-skinned, juicy-fleshed, and sweet but not cloying. Beginning last June, though, I saw those once-a-summer peaches in piles, every week, at D.C.'s Foggy Bottom farmers' market, and I wondered where I'd been all my life.
I approached my new discovery with the zeal of a religious convert. I ate two peaches a day—at least. I made peach cobblers and peach pies. When a co-worker casually mentioned that he wasn't much of a peach fan, I marched right over to the market, bought one, left it on his desk, and would not rest until he consumed it and confessed that yes, it was delicious.
Then, sometime early last August, I woke up with a sinking feeling. As I knew well from my days as a schoolgirl, summer wasn't going to last forever. Peach season would be over soon. One day, I was going to show up at the farmers' market and find my beloved peaches replaced with Honeycrisp apples. I had to prepare.
I bought 40 peaches, and rather than can alone, I invited a group of friends to join me. The result was magnificent.
That's when I decided to make peach jam. I was inspired by a range of blog posts I'd read on the subject of jam-making and canning, including the Bitten Word's post on strawberry jam and Melina Shannon-DiPietro's piece on canned peaches here at the Food Channel.
A city girl with no family tradition of "putting up" food, I set about educating myself on safe canning techniques—I'd heard whispers of botulism in home canning endeavors, and I had no desire to flirt with death in my attempt to keep the flame of my peach passion alive. I found a recipe on Epicurious that seemed sufficiently attentive to safety without requiring me to buy any new equipment (pressure cookers, wire racks, and the like), so I bookmarked it and spent my next free Saturday preserving peaches.
It was a slow process. The Wednesday before canning day, I bought about 15 peaches from the farmers' market and left them out on my kitchen counter in a bowl so they'd ripen by the weekend. I put off buying the jars until Saturday, and it turned out to be harder than I'd expected—I visited my neighborhood hardware and dollar stores, then the local Bed Bath & Beyond, and came out empty-handed. Finally, I called a True Value hardware store a mile or so from my house and learned that they stocked Ball jars. Following my recipe's instructions, I pitted the peaches, chopped them into quarter-inch pieces, mixed them with sugar and lemon juice, and left them to marinate while I dashed downtown to buy the jars.
When I returned, I began canning in earnest. Feeling a bit like a priest preparing the elements for communion, I washed the jars and screw bands with warm, soapy water, and heated the lids in boiling water to activate their sealant. I filled the jars with hot water so they wouldn't burst when I later filled them with scalding jam and plunged them into a stock pot of boiling water.
Then I prepared the jam itself. I poured the peach-sugar-lemon juice mixture into a large pot and brought it to boil. I went after the peaches with a potato-masher until the mix was a chunky puree. I lowered the heat and cooked the fruit for another 20 minutes or so, stirring frequently and impatiently—I couldn't wait to get to the next step, the canning part, when I would actually be preserving the peaches for a chilly, far-off month when Haribo would be my only other source of peach flavor.