Every July my mom, Momma Jo, and I would wake up early, fill our bottles with ice cold water, and head down the road to our favorite orchard. We would always argue with ourselves over how much fruit we would need and eventually settle on the biggest container, knowing that we would always find a use for it. Marching towards the hill to find the best tree we would reach up high and twist until the tree gave up it’s best prize. We filled our 1/2 bushel (pockets and bellies if we are being honest) with our plunder. The competition to find the BEST piece of fruit was lighthearted and recognition was well earned and long lasting.
I have vivid memories of driving home, windows down and sun shining, wondering if any place on Earth could match the beauty of Pennsylvania on a warm summer morning. July meant we were hunting peaches, and as always we picked more than could fill the basket. We would drive over hills and around twisted roads home, peaches rolling around in the back of our car, enjoying each other’s company.
We would, of course, make Momma Jo’s famous jam with our bounty, but we can’t forget to make crisp for our neighbors, peach bread for Benny and Woody…and perhaps this time there will be enough peaches to try a peach and raspberry tart.
Before we reached home, all of the peaches had been accounted for in the plans. Now in the kitchen, we would boil a large pot of water, set up an ice bath, and begin the slippery job of blanching the peaches. Not long after we would have a mountain of sliced fruit ready and the kitchen would linger with the smell of sunshine and sweet peaches.
Making Momma Jo’s Jam would take most of the day, and by nightfall there would be a mountain of jars filled with thick golden jam. We would be covered in the sweet sticky mess, but our hearts were full and proud. We would have a taste of summer long into the winter. These jars of Momma Jo’s jam made their way to family members, hold their place as favors in family reunions, and add just a touch of sweetness in a last minute gift basket.
Sweet Momma Jo passed last July, and so for the first time I made the trek to gather the main ingredient solo. I rolled down the windows and listened to Janice Joplin, my mom’s favorite singer, on the way home. I still gather too many peaches, though not as many as we would have together. This year, my kitchen will be filled with sunshine, the scent of sweet peaches, and cherished memories of my mom. As I mix the boiling sticky peaches, and pour the jam into each container, I will still feel her love with me. I will send out the jars to the family members and remind them that even though she isn’t here, her memory is.
Visiting the Farmer’s Market can be a way to save money and support local businesses, but more importantly it can be a way to create lifelong memories and traditions. It is with great love that I share “Momma Jo’s Jam” recipe.
- 4 cups of blanched fresh peaches, crushed
7 1⁄2 cups sugar
- 1(3 ounce) envelope pectin
- 1⁄4 cup lemon juice (optional)
- 1 tsp. almond extract (optional)
- Prepare jam jars by placing jars, lids, and tops into boiling water for 5 minutes. remove from boiling water and set aside until jam is ready.
- Prepare a pot of boiling water and an ice bath. Place 2-3 peaches in the boiling water for no more than 2 minutes. Remove peaches and place directly into the ice bath. Once the peach is cooled, remove the skin by gently rubbing. Cut peaches into smaller pieces and crush. Measure out 4 cups of crushed peaches.
- Combine fruit, sugar and lemon juice (optional) in a large saucepan. Bring slowly to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves.
- Stir in pectin. Return to a rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly.
- Remove from heat.
- Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust two-piece caps.
- Process 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner.
- Allow jam to cool.
In loving memory of Momma Jo.