I can a lot of things. I teach other people to can things. But, I do not have what it takes to be a competitive canner.
Sure, I have the technical aspects down like having the right amount of head space in the jar and evenly diced pieces of fruit and vegetables. I have enough OCD to actually take a pair of chopsticks to a jar of bread and butter pickles and arrange them just so. I’ve even been known to strain grape juice through a flour sack towel and let it rest for three days in the fridge to ensure that my grape jelly sparkles like an amethyst.
But I lack the wherewithal to go for the purple rosette like Alison Rappleyea of Fisher who cleaned my clock on miscellaneous jam and apple butter at this year’s Champaign County Fair.
To earn the champion ribbon, you have score highest across the board on red raspberry, grape, blackberry, and miscellaneous jellies, as well as on strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, peach, and miscellaneous jams. You also need to win the fruit butter class.
Therein lies my problem. I hate strawberry jam. It never tastes like fresh strawberries, so I don’t make it. I make strawberry freezer jam instead. I also think that making jelly from raspberries and blackberries is a desecration of perfectly good fruit. And though Alison’s blueberry jam, which took first place in the miscellaneous jam category, looked beautiful, I can’t imagine cooking blueberries, much less making jam out of them.
My entry in the miscellaneous jam category was Campari peach jam. Unlike my competitors’ jams, mine had an Italian bitter liqueur in addition to fruit, sugar, pectin, and lemon juice. It took 4th place out of four competitors. It could have been worse, but thankfully increased interest in canning has not translated into increased interest in competitive canning.
The Campari was my undoing according to my SP colleague Sam Vandergrift who has judged a few competitions in his day. “Fair competitions are not about pushing boundaries or balance,” he explained. “They are about being classic and typical.”
According to Sam, my Campari blunder was only topped by adding clove to my apple butter. “Cinnamon only for competition,” he advised as we picked blueberries that I had no intention of cooking the day after my demise.
In looking at my placings, Sam’s theory holds up. The only first place I took was in bread and butter pickles, where I followed the recipe straight out of Better Homes & Gardens.
Does this mean that I will start making plain peach jam or cut back on the cayenne and smoked chipotle in my salsa? Not on your life. If I am going to the trouble to make a big batch of something to can, I’d better like it…a lot. And, it had better be something I can serve to my foodie friends and family.
So, I won’t be giving Alison Rappleyea a run for her money any time soon. But I will be making more of my Fourth Place Peach Jam.
4th Place Peach Jam
Makes 5 pints
Where most peach jam is cloyingly sweet, this one is a good balance of sweet, tart, and bitter. Drizzle it over a chunk of Parmesan and you can hit salty and Umami, as well. You just can’t win a blue ribbon with it at the Champaign County Fair.
- Approximately 8 very fragrant yellow peaches cut into 1/4 -inch dice to equal 5 cups. Note: You can use 2nds, but do not use white peaches as they are less flavorful. Very ripe peaches come away from the pit easily and are less firm when diced. Less ripe peaches may have to be sliced off the pit and are firmer when diced.
- 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 c. granulated sugar (if fruit is less ripe, use the higher amount)
- 8 to 10 oz. Campari Note: If you are a Campari fan and want the flavor to be high in the mix, use the higher amount. If you are not a big Campari fan and/or your peaches aren’t as fragrant, use the lesser amount.
- 1 T to 2 T lemon juice, use the higher amount if peaches are very ripe
- 1 1.75-oz. package no-sugar-needed powdered pectin
- 1/2 c. water or more depending upon chill test results
Place a dessert plate in your refrigerator to chill.
Prepare canning baths:
Fill a large pot with water. Pot needs to be large enough to hold 5, half-pint canning jars and allow them to be covered with 1 to 2 inches of water. Place a hand towel, cake rack, or canning rack in the bottom of the pot to protect the jars from thermal shock. Add jars to the unheated water to check displacement water level. Bring water to a boil with jars in the pot. In a smaller 2-quart pan, bring water to a simmer with jar lids and rings.
Removing peach skins:
Meanwhile, in yet another large pot of simmering water, dip peaches for 20-30 seconds until you can slip off skins. A metal collapsible fruit basket or colander can allow you to do several peaches at a time. Immediately plunge the peaches into a large bowl or clean sink of ice water to prevent them from cooking. Rinse out pan.
Dice peaches. In the rinsed out pan, combine peaches, Campari, and sugar. Let the ripeness and fragrance of the peaches be your guide for using the higher or lower amounts of Campari and sugar. Stir the mixture until peaches are well coated. Allow it to rest for 20 minutes so the sugar can draw juice out of the peaches. Add 1/2 cup of water and place mixture over medium heat. When sugar is dissolved, increase heat and bring to a rolling boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat, skim foam with a large spoon, then stir in pectin (a whisk is good for ensuring even distribution) and lemon juice based upon ripeness of peaches. Return mixture to heat, and bring to a rolling boil for 1 more minute. Remove from heat and skim off any additional foam.
Remove chilled plate from fridge. Place a teaspoon of jam on it and return it to the refrigerator for one minute. Continue to occasionally stir the jam while you wait to prevent skinning. Check the jam on the plate. If it is thicker than you want, stir in 1/4 cup additional water.
Stir jam to distribute fruit, then ladle into clean jars, wipe off rims, and apply lids and rings. Carefully place jars in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Start timing after last jar is added if water is already boiling. Remove from water and cool on a towel on your counter. Note: Due to the longer processing time for this jam, the jars sometimes seal in the water bath. Store jars in a cool, dark place to protect the seals and prevent discoloration, respectively.