I’m on my hands and knees on the concrete floor of my garage with 17 peach pits and a hammer.
I have already accidentally bludgeoned the whorled imprint of a peach pit into my favorite maple cutting board, which hacks me off and makes relocating this project from the kitchen a necessity. As I smash each pit in an effort to extract its kernel, peach pit shrapnel flies out from under my hammer and careens between car tires, the watering can, and empty flower pots. Peach pits skitter under my car, which I have to back out onto the driveway in order to retrieve. I start to wonder if I’ve been had. This recipe calls for 6 1/2 pounds of fresh, ripe peaches; the usual lemon juice and sugar, plus a tablespoon of chopped peach kernels, and (the kicker) four feet of leafy peach tree branches. Safety glasses should have been mentioned in the equipment list.
I have never gone to this much trouble for a recipe.
The tree branch element has me stumped until I remember with delight that my backyard neighbor has a peach tree. I call her to ask for a branch so that its sticks and leaves can steep in the cooked jam, as the recipe directs. Although we barely know each other, she cheerfully assures me that that’s not a weird request. She calls me back after tossing the branch over the fence to let me know it’s there. Now my husband is looking askance at me as I sweep up broken peach pits from the garage floor. “That’s going in my jam?” he asks dubiously. “We’re having crunchy jam?” No, I say. The kernels are already rinsed and dried and await a chop in the kitchen, but I understand his concern. Sometimes I do try to sneak foods he dislikes into a dish, and I don’t usually harvest ingredients on the garage floor.
The peeled, sliced peaches, bought on Saturday from a farmers’ market in Little Rock, have been macerating in sugar and lemon juice overnight. With the kernels chopped and secured in a tea ball and the peach tree branch soaking up water in a bucket, I’m ready to proceed. First born is home from work with a nasty cold, her throat sore and nose stuffy. I breathe in the aroma of the chopped peach kernels and marvel at their unusual scent. I ask her if she wants to smell them. She looks at me wearily and says no, she can’t smell anything. Well, they smell like a combination of armpit odor and almonds, I tell her, fascinated at the mix. She looks at me crossly. “Would you have told me that before I smelled them if I had said yes?” she retorts.
Probably not. Note to self: Describe the aroma as a combination of musk and almonds from now on.
A little boiling and a lot of simmering commences. I lose the tip of my so-called heatproof silicone spatula in the molten mass of fruit and sugar, but I’m pretty sure I managed to find all the pieces that disintegrated. The tea ball comes undone in the stirring, and pieces of chopped kernels suddenly appear on top of the peaches. Mindful that I’ve promised B a jam that’s not crunchy, I turn off the heat and fish out all of those particles and secure them back into the tea ball, which I then fasten to the side of the pan. The name of my jam is becoming less poetic by the minute, from
“End-of-Summer Yellow Peach Jam”
“Peach Jam That Might Have Some Silicone Spatula Pieces In It”
“Musky Peach Jam (Those Aren’t Almonds, By the Way)”
When it’s time to soak the foot-long trimmings from the leafy branches in the finished jam, I can see nothing but the finish line.
The branches soak. The jars are filled. The sterilizing process is done.
The lids begin to ping in that welcome music that indicates proper sealing has occurred. I let the jars sit for a day for the flavors to meld. Today is the unveiling, and I smear peach jam on a toasted English muffin. The taste is redolent of ripe fruit, with layers of almond and an indefinable spice. It’s delicious.
Now I remember why I make jam. But a certain amount of amnesia will have to occur before I try this particular recipe again.
(Note: I should have wrapped the peach pits in a towel before hammering them. Won’t be a next time.)