The lawnmower stops its roar, then the line trimmer ceases, and finally the leaf blower. In the relative silence, as the crew moves toward their truck, I walk toward their boss with a jar in my hand. “Thanks so much – I want to give you this marmalade I made.” “Mmm, orange?” he says. “Thank you!” Then, after a pause he smiles shyly, “I like peach jam a lot, too.”
They hop in the truck, wave, drive about ten feet, and park again.
My next-door neighbor has a landscaping business, and during the summer he stops by once a month or so with his crew on their way home from work. They do my lawn in the gathering dusk before moving on to do his own yard. I’m sure that it is abundantly obvious to him that I could not keep up with the lawn on my own. He has always refused to accept money for this service, so I try to repay him in some measure with cookies, muffins, or fresh tomatoes.
In the decade or so that we have been neighbors, I have seen his children grow up and have children of their own. His wife and I exchange waves and hellos as we pull out of our parallel driveways. But it is Tomás who has come over to investigate, with his dog at his side and a shovel over his shoulder, when he has heard my security alarm go off. And it is Tomás that I see regularly, as his guys whip around my yard with professional speed, leaving order in their wake.
I live in a neighborhood of good neighbors – the kind who chat in front yards and exchange pet-sitting duties and cross the street with a snow shovel to lend a hand with clearing the driveway or even shoo the occasional bird out of the house while I cover my head with my hands in panic. But there is something special about this steadfast, consistent kindness, this willingness to take a few extra minutes at the end of a hard day’s work to do one more lawn, to keep an eye out for a chance to help.
So, of course, I had been keeping an eye out for the first peaches of the summer at the Farmer’s Market. And finally they arrived, big, golden piles of them from farms in Eastern Washington, and it was time to make peach jam for Tomás.
This is just about the most straightforward peach jam recipe there is. Four ingredients, a couple hours of your time, and you’ll have jars of pure sunshine. I made a second batch using some Earl Grey tea, boiled in a muslin bag with the fruit, for a little bergamot flavor that adds complexity to the sweetness of the peaches. But you can’t go wrong with this basic version.
Adapted from 175 Best Jams, Jellies, Marmalades & Other Soft Spreads, by Linda J. Amendt
Makes about seven 8-oz jars
4 cups ripe peaches, pitted, peeled, and crushed (about 4 lbs peaches)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 box (1.75 oz) powdered fruit pectin
5-1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
To remove skins from peaches: bring large pot of water to a boil. Fill large bowl with ice water. Cut a shallow X through the skin on the bottom of each peach with a paring knife. Working with 3-4 peaches at a time, place peaches in the boiling water, cover, and cook for 1 minute. With slotted spoon, remove peaches to ice bath for about 2 minutes. Remove from ice bath and skin should peel easily from peaches.
Remove pits from peaches, then crush with a potato masher.
Prepare canning jars and lids and bring water in water bath canner to a boil
Pour peaches into an 8-quart stainless steel stockpot.
In a small bowl, combine pectin and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Gradually stir into the fruit.
Bring fruit mixture to a full rolling boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Gradually stir in the remaining sugar. Return to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 1 minute.
Remove pot from heat and skim off any foam. Let jam cool in the pot for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe jar rims and threads with a clean, damp paper towel. Center hot lids on jars and screw on bands until finger-tip tight.
Place jars in canner, making sure they are covered by at least 1 inch of water. Cover and bring to a gentle boil. Process 4-oz jars and 8-oz jars for 10 minutes; process 1-pint jars for 15 minutes.
Remove jars from canner and place on a wire rack or cloth towel. Let cool for 24 hours, then check seals. Wash and dry jars, label, and store in a cool, dry, dark location.
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