Self-Reliance

Classic Peach Jam

Peach jam is one of the best preserves of the summer.  It’s easy to make this classic peach preserve as either a freezer jam or canning recipe.

 

Every summer we pick up a case (or three) of Amish peaches and spend the day canning peaches to bring a bit of brightness into our long winter days.  

Our local food coop gets a few truckloads shipped up from Pennsylvania each year, and all the home canners descend on them quickly.  This year, I came late in the day and missed out…but I found something even better…

Incredibly fresh local Vermont peaches!

Fresh Vermont Peaches

Northern peaches are a bit of a unicorn, difficult to find, and sometimes impossible to grow, but the flavor is amazing.  There are a number of zone 4 peach varieties, but no one’s really tried to grow them commercially until recently.

They were so fresh they still had leaves attached!

When you stumble into fresh tree-ripened local peaches, it’s time to make something really special…

Peach Jam! 

Fresh peach jam

Choosing Peaches for Peach Jam

When selecting peaches for jam, you’ll often have a few choices.  Freestone or clingstone, and yellow or white.  Believe it or not, it does matter.

Freestone or Clingstone

Most grocery store peaches are the bright yellow freestone peaches, full of juice and easy to separate from the pit.

Backyard growers have access to clingstone peaches, which as the name suggests, clings to the pit.  These can only really be separated by cutting the flesh off with a knife, and it’s a messy proposition. 

Clingstone peaches are often intensely sweet and flavorful, so they’re worth the extra effort.  They aren’t great for canning peach halves, since they don’t pit cleanly, but they’re perfect for making peach jam where the fruit is cooked down anyway. 

(They also make an excellent peach wine…)

For simplicity’s sake, freestone is a lot easier to work with, and I’d choose those given the option.  Both make an excellent peach jam though.

Chopped Peaches for Jam

Chopped freestone peaches prepared for making homemade peach jam

Yellow or White Peaches

Believe it or not, the color of the peaches actually matters for canning.  If you hope to water bath can peach jam (instead of making refrigerator jam), choose yellow peaches.

White peaches are less acidic than yellow peaches, and may not be quite acidic enough for safe canning.  They’re also less flavorful in general when cooked since they tend to be mild and sweet.

This peach jam recipe uses added lemon juice for flavor, which may actually make it acidic enough for canning white peaches…but I wouldn’t count on it.

Stick with yellow peaches when canning peach jam, and use white peaches for freezer jams.

How to Make Peach Jam

Making peach jam starts with peeling the peaches. 

If I’m making a big batch, as I do when I’m canning peach pie filling, I’ll dip each peach into boiling water for about a minute before plunging them into an ice-water bath.  This flash cooks the outside, and you can slip the peach skin off with your fingers.

This small-batch peach jam recipe only requires 4 cups chopped peaches, which is only 6 to 8 large peaches.  On this scale, I think it’s easier to just peel them quickly with a sharp paring knife.

Take your pick, either method is perfectly fine. 

Once peeled, chop the peaches into 1/2 inch to 1-inch pieces.

Peaches tend to brown quickly once cut, and if you want a stunning orange color to your peach jam you’ll need to treat the cut fruit with lemon juice.  This peach jam recipe includes 1/4 cup of lemon juice, and I’ll add it to the bowl of chopped peaches now to ensure good color in the finished peach jam.

Homemade peach jam has a beautiful orange color because the peaches were treated with lemon juice as they were cut to prevent browning.

Homemade peach jam has a beautiful orange color because the peaches were treated with lemon juice as they were cut to prevent browning.

Place the peaches and lemon juice into a jam pot, and stir in a packet of pectin.  I’m using Sure-Jell pectin because it’s really readily available at just about any grocery store.  You can also use other brands, such as Ball Pectin.

Don’t use liquid pectin, as it requires a lot more sugar to gel properly.  Stick with powdered pectin if you can. 

(If liquid pectin is all you have, add a full 7 cups of sugar to 4 cups of fruit.  It’s going to be unbelievably sweet, but liquid pectin won’t gel at lower sugar levels.)

Bring the fruit, lemon juice and pectin to a boil on the stove (but don’t add sugar yet).  Cook the mixture for 2-3 minutes, mashing the peaches to break them up a bit (or leaving them big for a chunky peach jam).

After a few minutes, add the sugar and stir until fully incorporated.  Bring the mixture back to a hard boil for 1 minute, and then remove from heat.

Ladle the peach jam into jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace and seal with 2 part lids.  A canning funnel with headspace measurements really helps keep this process clean (and ensures a good headspace measurement).

Ladling peach jam into canning jars.

Ladling peach jam into canning jars.

Peach Jam without Pectin

This peach jam recipe has added pectin, and I’d strongly recommend using commercial pectin when working with peaches.  That said, sometimes it’s nice to have other options.

Normally I’m all about making jam without adding commercial pectin.  I’ll stretch any little bit of natural pectin within the fruit by adding lemon juice or adding a removable sachet of high pectin citrus seeds to the jam pot.  The problem is, peaches have almost no natural pectin, and it’s really difficult (if not impossible) to get a firm setting peach jam unless you add commercial pectin.

Pectin helps is a natural fiber in the tissues of the fruit that helps them retain their structure.  Bite into a fully ripe peach and you’ll see it fall apart as the juice runs down your chin. 

Toss fresh sliced peaches in sugar and they’ll basically liquify.  That’s actually how I “juice” them when I’m making homemade peach wine.

I’d strongly suggest using commercial pectin when you’re making peach jam.

If you’re dead set against using pectin (or just don’t have any on hand), try making peach marmalade (with plenty of high pectin citrus) or slow cooker peach butter instead.  In marmalade, the citrus fruit and peel is a natural pectin source.  With fruit butters, an extended (sometimes multi-day) slow cook naturally thickens the fruit into a smooth spread. 

You can also make peach preserves, which aren’t quite the same as peach jam, but close.  Peaches and sugar are cooked together for a few hours until the syrup thickens.  It’s like a very loose jam, with a sugar-rich peach syrup surrounding chunks of peach flesh.  It won’t gel like a jam, since there’s no pectin, but it’s still tasty on toast.

Serving homemade peach jam on toast

Low Sugar Peach Jam Options

Just because peach jam needs added pectin to set doesn’t mean you’re stuck with a conventional high sugar recipe. 

I’ve written this peach jam recipe as a classic old fashioned peach jam made with standard Sure-Jell pectin.  The recipe card inside the box suggests adding 5 1/2 cups of sugar to 4 cups of chopped peaches.  The National Center for Food Preservation suggests slightly less and adds 5 cups sugar.

If you’re using a standard pectin instead of a low sugar pectin variety, you’ll need to add at least 50% sugar for the pectin to activate.  When I make dandelion jelly, for example, there’s no natural pectin in the flowers (since they’re not fruit).  I add 4 cups of sugar to 4 cups of dandelion blossom tea and it gels beautifully.

There is a tiny bit of wiggle room even with regular pectin, and you can use as little as 4 cups of sugar to 4 cups of fruit with Sure-Jell pectin.  Don’t go below 50% by volume.

If you’d like to use less sugar, I’d suggest switching to a low sugar pectin such as Pomona’s universal pectin.  You can even make a no sugar peach jam with it, or substitute honey or alternative sweeteners. 

I happen to have a low sugar peach jam recipe using Pomona’s pectin as well.  (It’ll work with honey and other natural sweeteners too!)

Serving homemade peach jam

Creative Peach Jam Variations

Peach jam is a simple old fashioned classic, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spice it up and make it your own.  Add in vanilla or cinnamon for a warm flavor, or switch out some/all of the sugar for brown sugar or honey.

Here are a few options that work especially well in homemade peach jam:

  • Peach Jam with Vanilla Bean ~ Simply adding the scaped beans from a vanilla pot to the pot transforms this classic peach jam.
  • Peach Jalapeno Jam ~ Peaches actually go really well with a bit of spice, and adding hot peppers to peach jam is a common variation.  I honestly can’t say if it’s safe for canning, as the peppers themselves are a low acid vegetable.
  • Peach Cobbler Jam ~ This variation comes from the Ball Blue Book of Canning, and they suggest substituting some brown sugar in for white and adding a bit of cinnamon and almond extract.

If this spiced peach jam sounds good, I bet you’ll love my recipe for canning peach pie filling, which has just a bit of cinnamon and almond extract.  It’s perfect for filling a last-minute pie right out of the canning jar.

Canning Peach Jam

It’s totally fine to make this peach jam as a refrigerator or freezer jam.  Simply fill the jars, allow them to cool and store.  They should last a few weeks in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.

That said, if you want a shelf-stable preserve that you can enjoy year-round, try canning peach jam.

canning peach jam

Simply prepare a water bath canner before you begin making the jam.  Once it’s ladled into canning jars, leave 1/4 inch headspace and seal with 2 part canning lids.

Place the jars in the water bath canner and process for 10 minutes (for pints and half pints) before removing them to cool on a towel on the counter.

(Be sure to adjust for altitude.  If you’re over 1000 feet, add 1 minute to the processing time for every 1000 feet in elevation gain.)

Homemade Peach Jam

Yield: Makes 5 to 6 half pint (8 oz) jars

Prep Time:
10 minutes

Cook Time:
5 minutes

Canning Time (Optional)
:

10 minutes

Total Time:
25 minutes

Peach jam is a simple way to preserve peaches in a delicious homemade peach spread.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups peaches, chopped (From 3 lbs whole peaches)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 box (1.75 oz) Powdered Pectin (Sure Jell)
  • 5 cups sugar

Instructions

  1. Peel and chop peaches.
  2. The chopped peaches in lemon juice to prevent browning.
  3. Place the peaches and lemon juice in a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan.
  4. Add the pectin (but not the sugar) and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook 2-3 minutes, mashing the peaches for a smoother preserve or leaving them whole for a chunky peach jam.
  5. Add the sugar and stir to incorporate. Return the pot to a boil and cook for 1 minute, stirring to distribute heat.
  6. Turn off the heat and ladle the finished peach jam into jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Cap with 2 part lids.

Store in the refrigerator for immediate use, or freeze for up to 6 months, or water bath can for longer storage.

Canning Peach Jam (Optional): If canning, process jars in a water bath canner for 10 minutes if below 1000 feet in elevation (adjust for altitude by adding 1 minute for every 1000 feet in elevation rise). Remove jars to cool on a towel on the counter and check seals after 24 hours. Store any unsealed jars in the refrigerator for immediate use.

Properly canned peach jam should maintain quality on the pantry shelf for 12-18 months.

Notes

Low Sugar Peach Jam ~ Standard pectin requires at least 50% sugar to gel properly. You can reduce the sugar to 4 cups and the jam will still have a loose set. If you’d like to reduce the sugar further, use a low sugar pectin such as Pomona’s pectin and follow the instructions on the packet.

Peach Jam with Liquid Pectin ~ If using liquid pectin, you’ll need at least 7 cups of sugar to get the jam to gel properly. I’m not a fan of liquid pectin, and I don’t suggest using it, as that’s just too darn sweet.

A note on lemon juice ~ The lemon in this recipe is optional and helps to add a bit of tartness to balance the sugar. Omit it if you’d like, but I’d strongly suggest it for improved flavor. Feel free to use fresh lemon juice or bottled, since it’s not added for canning safety.

White Peaches ~ White peaches are less acidic than yellow peaches, and they’re not approved for canning. If you make peach jam with white peaches, preseve it as a refrigerator or freezer recipe (but don’t can it).

Recommended Products

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 Homemade peach jam is an easy way to preserve peaches with just a few ingredients. Make this old fashioned peach jam recipe as a canning recipe, or a freezer jam.

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