Friday, August 10, 2012

Jamming With Lemon Basil

Peach Jam With Lemon Basil. Read on for recipe.
Anybody who has made jam with farmers market produce knows one dirty little secret: It can be an expensive proposition. The best farmers market fruit, at least at the markets where I tend to shop, can cost upward of $3 or more a pound, meaning that a batch of jam that starts with, say, 6 or 7 pounds of fruit to make, say, 8 or so half-pints results in a product that costs -- well, you can do the math.

Of course, I think it's worth it. There's nothing better than opening up a jar of peak-season produce in the winter and transporting yourself right back to those sunny days of August. But it is easy to be reminded of the fact that putting up is connected to growing your own. That is, it does make a little more economic sense to can produce that you have in abundance, a prospect that costs you little more than sweat equity. (Not that there's anything cheap about sweat equity, as I can attest.)

Anyway, when our Let's Lunch blogging crew tossed around the idea of focusing on a farmers market find for this month's post, I was immediately on board. This year, even though I'm living with my sister and brother-in-law on the Maine homestead, where we're trying to grow as much of our food as possible, I'm also hitting plenty of farmers markets to supplement here and there. For one thing, I've got recipes of my own to test for my next cookbook, and I don't want to use up more than my share of the garden's bounty. For another thing, my sister founded the North Berwick Farmers Market and manages it every week, I usually to help her with setup or breakdown, and I love supporting the farmers there.

Lemon basil from Moondance Gardens.
I've been cooking up plenty of farmers market finds over the months, but this week I found my favorite use for something I got there. We grow plenty of herbs on the homestead -- three kinds of basil, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, and more -- but there's one that we don't grow, and I couldn't resist it when I saw it, or rather smelled it, among the display of Rae Avery of Moondance Gardens in South Berwick. I was helping her load her truck after the market, caught a whiff of that lemon basil, pretty much gasped out loud, and she insisted I take it. She wouldn't take a penny, either. Then, after Peter and Rebekah came home with a bushel of peaches they picked from a friend's property, also gratis, and I was noodling ideas for making jam, the combination seemed like it a natural.

I consulted Rachel Saunders' stunning guide, "The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook," and, specifically, her late-summer peach jam recipe.  I took a couple of liberties. Out went the use of the peach pits and the peach branches. We didn't have the latter, and I was too lazy to deal with the former. In went the lemon basil. I dispensed with the step of mashing half the fruit, because I wanted to see as many whole peach slices as possible. My sister has made this jam before, and I've tasted and loved it, and figured that the lemon basil would be a nice addition. At the risk of overstating the connections, peaches go well with lemons, peaches go well with basil, lemons go well with basil, lemon basil tastes like lemon and basil, and ... what more do I need to say?

Saunders uses more sugar than I have in my own playing with peach jam, but I have to say, I've come around to her way of thinking, because the result is so jewel-like and perfect. In this case, the lemon basil provides a slightly sharp, herbal-tart counterpoint to the sweetness, and it gives layered complexity to the jam. Immediately, I knew I'd be as likely to pair this with goat cheese on crostini (and other savory applications) as I would to stir it into homemade yogurt.

The jam distinguishes itself from the yogurt and the goat cheese in one very important way, besides its outstanding flavor: It cost me nothing more than my time. 

Lemon basil steeping in the jam. 
Peach Jam With Lemon Basil

Makes 8 to 10 half-pints

6 1/2 pounds large ripe yellow freestone peaches
3 pounds sugar
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 large branches (12 sprigs) lemon basil


Bring a large pot of water to a boil, reduce to a high simmer, and drop the peaches into the water for a minute or two. Drain and let them cool, then carefully slip the peels off with your hands or, if the peaches aren't quite ripe, with a paring knife. Halve and pit the peaches and cut them into 1/2-inch slices.

Put the slices into a mixing bowl and stir in the sugar and lemon juice. Cover with plastic wrap or parchment, pushing it directly onto the surface of the peaches, and macerate for at least 8 hours or overnight, either in the refrigerator or at room temperature.

When you're ready to make the jam, preheat the oven to 250 degrees and put five metal teaspoons into the freezer for testing the jam later. Sterilize your canning jars, rings, and lids by washing them in hot soapy water and rinsing them. Transfer the jars and lids to a baking sheet and put them in the oven, baking them until you're ready to make the jam.

Transfer the peaches to a large, wide pot set over high heat. Stir well to incorporate any undissolved sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil and let it boil for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and skim off all the foam. 

Return the mixture to medium-high heat and cook until thickened, stirring with a heat-proof spatula and scraping the bottom of the pot to prevent sticking or scorching, 25 to 40 minutes. (Lower the heat as the mixture thickens to also prevent scorching.) Test for doneness by turning off the heat and placing a small amount of jam onto one of the teaspoons in your freezer. Return to the freezer for 3 to 4 minutes and check the consistency. If it’s too runny, continue cooking for a few more minutes and test again. While you're testing the consistency and the jam is off the heat, skim off any remaining foam. When the jam is as thick as you'd like, add the lemon basil sprigs or branches, pushing them under the surface of the jam. 

Remove the jars and lids from the oven.

Allow the lemon basil to steep for about 5 minutes, then taste the jam to make sure enough of the herbal flavor has come through, leaving it for longer if desired. Remove the lemon basil with tongs, shaking off excess jam, and discard.

Pour the jam into the sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head room. Run a chopstick around the inside edge of the jars to break up any air bubbles, wipe the rims clean with a paper towel, and add the lids and screw on the rings until they are just barely tightened. Process by returning the jars to the 250-degree oven for 15 minutes. Transfer the jars to a cooling rack to sit overnight undisturbed. They will seal as they cool. The next day, transfer any jars that didn't seal to the refrigerator, where they can be stored for up to 3 months. The sealed jars can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 year.


This post is part of Let's Lunch, a virtual lunch date of food bloggers who coordinate our topics and posts once a month. Here are some of the other posts on the topic today. To join Let's Lunch, post a message on Twitter with the hashtag #LetsLunch.

Cheryl's Summery Mexican Chicken Stew at A Tiger in the Kitchen

Annabelle's Mixed Berry Shortcakes at Glass of Fancy

Charissa's Curried Roasted Cheddar Cheese Cauliflower Soup, Gluten-Free at Zest Bakery
Juliana's View from Les Halles Farmers Market at Chicken Scrawlings
Linda's Farmers’ Market Fruit Galette at Spicebox Travels
Linda's Zucchini or Cucumber Quick Pickles at Free Range Cookies
Lisa's Eveleigh Farmers’ Market Winter Salad at Monday Morning Cooking Club


  1. What a lovely idea to try! ( And I love the "Blue Chair Jam Cookbook," it's a beauty.)

    1. Thanks, Lucy! Let me know if you try it and how it goes. Indeed, BC Jam is really the best.

  2. Beautiful!!! I've recently been eating/cooking with/eating this fabulous Syrian apricot jam which is chock-full of jewel-like whole apricot halves...and your peaches look just as fabulous. The lemon basil is a great addition, I will put this on my summer list for sure.

    1. My sister asked me yesterday, "What is your favorite jam?" And I said, "The best I have ever tasted?" She said, "Yes." I replied without a thought, "Apricot." We don't get very good ones up here, but that's the pinnacle, indeed. Plum is a close second, then cherry, then peach and nectarine. They're all pretty high on the list, those stone fruits!

  3. Gorgeous looking jam! Love the basil twist...I've been meaning to try jamming and making preserves for years now. I may have to buy that book!

    1. I can't think of a better, more inspirational introduction to jamming than the Blue Chair book, really. Maybe September's LL should be something "put up"! (Although I've already done that, haven't I?)

  4. I've never used lemon basil but I must admit I've been curious. Sounds like a great combination for the peaches!

  5. You just reminded me to try and snag some cinnamon basil from a local farm. Your jam rocks!

    1. Ooh, cinnamon basil. Now that presents some interesting possibilities, doesn't it? I immediately think applesauce!

  6. Lovely! I am a big fan of throwing herbs into unexpected places. I (shamefully) have a bunch of different just-past-prime local berries in the fridge-- making a quick jam seems in order.

    1. Jam making would be the perfect thing to do to overcome your (undeserved) shame!

  7. I love my local farmer's markets but I am also lucky enough to be a very short drive from the orchards of Adams County PA. I buy direct from the orchards and am able to get seconds. Plus I have established relationships with the farmers. And sometimes they will give me really good deals when they are overflowing with items like tomatoes or peaches. utter tonight.

    And I am cooking down some peaches for peach butter this evening. Now I am looking at adding some thyme to it since I can clip some from the garden. Ideas!

  8. Yes, it's true: The more you know your farmers, the better the deals get! Of course, this can also happen in the context of a market; if you go at the end of the day you can get deals on things farmers don't want to truck back. Thyme sounds great for peach butter!