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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Stone Fruit Jam Part 2: Nectarine Mint Jam

Nectarine Mint Jam
Jam isn't something you normally think of when you come across a pile of nectarines.  And I have never, that I recall, seen a nectarine jam for sale.  It's usually the peaches and apricots that get all the glory when it comes to jams and desserts, while nectarines are typically left for eating directly out of hand. 

But making nectarine jam is something you really ought to make time for.  I mean, I love a good, juicy peach - especially if the skin isn't the fuzzy kind that pokes the tender skin above your lip as you bite into it; this is a challenge unique to peaches, and usually means you need to rub the outside of the skin vigorously on a paper towel or the thigh of your jeans to remove the fuzz. A perfect peach has minimal fuzz, and is so big that it overflows the palm of your hand when you hold it, and so sweet and juicy that you need to bend forward at the waist, chin forward as you bite into it, so that the juice that will inevitably spill over with every delicious bite runs down onto the ground rather than covering the front of your shirt.  That's a good peach.

And then there's the slightly tart, slightly sweet curious combination that comes with a perfectly ripe apricot - the kind that breaks open neatly beneath your thumbs so you can remove the pit, with just the right amount of softness and give between your teeth and that makes one of the best types of jams I can imagine.  Apricots are easy.

Nectarines aren't something people get as excited about. The reason for this, I think, is that nectarines are picked, shipped, and arrive at a store or market near you, raw and crunchy and just not tasting that great.  Biting into a underripe nectarine is like sinking your teeth into an apple, except that you aren't hoping for an apple at that point, you are hoping for the lovely juiciness that a peach brings, but you get something else entirely and it feels disappointing.  It doesn't have to be this way.  Nectarines, (as long as they are ripe) because of their thin, smooth skin, don't need to be peeled or undergo any laborious preparation before you use them.  Just take out the pit, slice them up, and they are ready to go.

Fresh Nectarines over oatmeal with Plum Licorice Jam, Basil and Sprouted Almonds
So try this:  Next time you buy a batch of rock-hard nectarines, let them hang out undisturbed in your warm kitchen for 2 or 3 days.  They'll be perfect.  Eat a few.  Cut some over your oatmeal.  Layer them beautiful over the top of a vanilla or lemon tart.  And then, make jam.

I paired this jam with mint and it worked beautifully.  Usually when working with peaches and apricots, I've used rosemary, but somehow, with a garden full of mint and some perfectly ripe nectarines, this combination felt right.  The mint adds just the right, bright note against what would otherwise be a very sweet jam.

This jam is good on everything I've tried so far, including as the sweetener for a salad dressing in replacement of honey.  It's especially good on toast spread with ricotta and topped with this jam.

The jam is nearly ready...
Nectarine Mint Jam

2 kg / 4,5 pounds of nectarines, pit removed and fruit cut into 1/2" / 1.5 cm chunks
660 g / 3 cups of granulated sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 large mint stems (10-15 leaves per stem, leaves left attached - use peppermint or another strong mint)

In a large stockpot, combine the plums, sugar, lemon juice.  Stir well to combine; cover; and allow the fruit to macerate for 1 hour.

Set the pot over high heat and bring to a rolling boil.  Reduce the temperature to medium-high, stir; and set the timer for 15 minutes, allowing the fruit to bubble undisturbed.  Meanwhile, place five teaspoons on a plate in the freezer.  You'll use these later for testing whether or not the jam is ready.

While the jam cooks, prepare your jars:  Wash in hot, soapy water and then fill with hot water and set aside.  Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil.  Add your one piece lid, or the cap part (with rubber seal) of your two piece lid and boil for 5 minutes.  Turn off heat and leave the lids in the hot water until you are ready to use them.  This sterilizes the lid and softens the rubber which helps the seal.

After 15 minutes, add the mint to the jam.  Continue to cook the jam, stirring regularly, for another 15 minutes.  At this point, turn off the heat, remove the mint, and discard.  Take one of the spoons you have in the freezer.  Fill it with jam and return it to the freezer for five minutes.  If the jam wrinkles slightly when you push it with your finger, it is ready.  If not, cook it for an additional 5 minutes and test again; repeating as necessary.

Once the jam has gelled to your liking, remove from heat.

Using a wide mouth funnel placed in the jar and a ladle, spoon the jam into the jars, leaving a 1/2" / 1.5 cm space at the top.  Repeat until all of the jars are full.  Using a damp paper towel, wipe the rim of the jar so there is no jam residue left.  Place the hot lid on the jar, and, using a towel to hold the hot jar so you don't burn your hand, tighten the lid finger-tight (don't over tighten; the best way to ensure that you don't is to use your thumb and first to fingers to tighten the lid, which means you won't have enough finger strength to push it too far.)

Wash the big jam pot.  Put a dish towel in the bottom and place the jars on top.  Fill with water to cover the jar by at least 1"/ 2,5 cm.  Put the lid on and bring the pot to a boil.  Once boiling, set the timer for 15 minutes.  When the timer stops, turn off the heat and let the jars rest for 5 minutes.  Remove the jars from hot water and set on a dish cloth on the countertop, right side up, to cool completely.  Check to make sure the lids have sealed:  the top dome of the lid should be pulled in tightly and shouldn't move when you press it with your finger.  Sometimes you'll hear a ping as the jars cool and the lid seals, but not always.  If the lids are sealed, label the jars and store them in a cool, dark place for up to one year.  If your jar doesn't seal, put it in the fridge and use it within one month. 

Makes 1 liter / 1 quart of jam

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