Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It has dirt in it (Recipe: Spiced Peach Jam)

My first job in the food industry was in the bakery/pastry department at Central Market-Houston.  Central Market is a phenomenal grocery store concept which was inspired by fresh produce markets, Seattle's fish markets, French Boulangaries and pastry shops, quaint cheese shops and all things food.  It is an experience and should be a destination for any foodie visiting the great state of Texas.  If you don't take my word for it, maybe you'll take his.

I had the great opportunity to work there during its grand opening.  Houston was very receptive to us and it was such a grand event.  I mean its a building full of foodies-you would expect for us to throw a great party.  Our weekday customers were primarily area foodies, chefs, local TV personalities, pro athletes & coaches, white collar workers on their lunch break and the wealthy River Oaks residents who lived just blocks away.

On the weekends, however, it became a madhouse.  We were bombarded with non-foodies...sample seekers, if you will.  Folks who had never sliced through an artisan loaf, tasted an aged English Cheddar, or gazed upon a star fruit would treat our store like an amusement park.  They were the people who would call our Pain de Campagne, "Champagne Bread", say "Grand Mariner" instead of Grand Marnier and pronounce Boule as "Boo-lee".  Weekends obviously made us smile.

One day I was working behind the pastry counter when a very irritated woman slammed her empty creme brulee cup onto the counter.  "I have a problem with the 'Cream Brew-lee'!  It has dirt in it!"  As I looked into her cup I cracked a slight smile.  "Ma'am, you shouldn't worry, you didn't eat any dirt.  Those are vanilla beans."

Since then, every time I slice a plump, fragrant pod in half, or see tiny flecks of vanilla in my desserts, I crack a smile and think about that "dirt."  Just as I did making this Spiced Peach Jam.

Spiced Peach Jam (and yes, it has dirt in it)

4 pounds peaches
4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cinnamon sticks, each 3 inches long
1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
4 whole cloves
  1. Prepare an ice water bath for the peaches.  Etch an X at the bottom of each peach.  Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil.  Working in batches, add peaches and blanch for 30 seconds.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the peaches to the bowl of ice water.  Drain the peaches, then peel, halve and pit them.  Working over a large, saucepan, cut the peaches into chunks, allowing their juices and the chunks to fall into the pan.  Stir in sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.  Let stand for 1 hour.  (I macerated mine overnight)
  2. Place the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.  Raise the heat and bring to a slow boil.  cook uncovered to the jelling stage, stirring occasionally at first and then more frequently near the end of cooking, about 30 minutes.  Perform the gel test to check to see if jam has cooked long enough.
  3. Meanwhile, wash canning jars and lids in hot soapy water; rinse well.  Fill the jars with hot water.  Put the lids in a pan with water to cover and bring to a simmer.  Remove from the heat.
  4. Drain 1 jar.  Remove cinnamon sticks and clove if you'd prefer.  Spoon in the hot jam to within 1/4 inch of the top.  Using a hot, damp towel, wipe the rim clean.  Drain 1 lid and place on the jar; seal with the screw band.  Repeat with the remaining jam and jars.  Follow these directions, process the jars in a hot-water bath, check seals, label and store.  (If keeping no longer than 3 weeks, omit the water bath and store in the refrigerator.)

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