Frustrating Peach Jam - help!
Have you ever made peach jam? I keep ending up with a jam that is deeply caramel, which obscures the peach flavour and color. Any hints, insights, advice or better recipes?
Speaking as a total jam-rookie (planning on making 4th batch ever tonight)...it sounds like you are seriously overcooking the jam.
I'm sure the experts can give you much more detailed advice if they had more info...what recipe are you using, what is your procedure like, etc.
Are you following a recipe? Are you cooking the jam over too high heat?? I really really like the simple recipes that come in the boxes of pectin. They are simple and have never steered me wrong - but you need to stir stir stir - the sugar content is so high, just a few seconds of sticking will start to caramelize the sugar.
The only thing I hated about making peach jam was peeling the peaches and pitting them - slippery slippery work.
I know! My hands were killing me from clenching the knife to peel it. I'm posting a picture here - what do you all think about the color? Once it cooled the flavor was pretty peachy. The first one was definitely overcooked.
I'm finding that even when I use the wrinkle test it, the jam is overcooked.
When I make peach jam, I use powdered "light" pectin (lower sugar) and cook it exactly according to the instructions. You only boil the mixture for one minute, which really isn't enough time to get dark and caramelized. It stays light and the flavour is very fresh. When the cooking time is up it may not look done but it is. So don't over cook and don't worry. It should work perfectly every time. (I've tried the freezer jam method also, but don't like it with peaches. Strawberries, yes. Peaches, no.)
I realize that purists will avoid using packaged pectin because it seems like a newfangled shortcut and, therefore, somehow wrong. I also realize that if you are looking for the taste of a traditional, long-cooked jam - it's a sort of deeply caramelized flavour in most fruits - you will not be happy with quickly cooked jams made with added pectin. However, I mostly prefer jam to have a bright, fresh fruit taste - and I appreciate the ease of making jam quickly.
Fresh fruit, being a product of the whims of nature, is not all equal in pectin content. Not even within the same type of fruit - they will differ with freshness, time of picking, ripeness level, and species of tree. So it's more an art than a science. Adding pectin - which, incidentally, is a natural product mostly made from citrus peels (correct me if I'm wrong, please) - allows you to boil a jam to spreadable thickness without any guesswork. Sometimes I admit it gets too thick (which I don't like) and occasionally refuses to thicken at all despite the pectin. But that's the way it goes. If it's too thick, I use it in baking; too thin and I spoon it into yogurt or over ice cream. Whatever.
I just discovered Pomona's Universal Pectin, which allows for using less (or even no) sugar and doesn't require long cooking. I made some lovely low-sugar preserves from Santa Rosa plums that actually tastes like plum, and not just sugar. I'm done with canning peaches for the year, but I'm definitely going to try it with peaches next year.
I make peach preserves every year and have never used pectin.
The keys to my preserves are using a candy thermometer. I slowly (at least 35 minutes) bring it up to 220 degrees. This takes a little work to control your heat.
I always use very fresh peaches since fresher fruit is higher in pectin than riper fruit.
Finally I add a bit of fresh lemon juice at the end when I reach temperature. Acid will help the pectin set but should not be added until the end or overcooking will ruin its potential as solidifying agent. The acid also brings out the peach flavor without noticably changing the flavor.
These are the basic techniques I use for almost all my jams, preserves, and jellies and I never have problems or the need for added pectin.
The peach is one fresh fruit that I don't think translates well in the context of jams and preserves which necessitate intense heat and much sugar for jelling.
I made a standard fruit/pectin/sugar batch with homegrown fresh ripe peaches and concluded that they would have been better preserved by freezing for later use. The delicate flowery flavor just can't take the prolonged heat.
Save your peaches for other uses.