Before tossing a jar of name-brand preserves into your shopping cart, read its label. Made from fruit concentrate? High-fructose corn syrup a main ingredient? Canned in Alaska? “These days, people don’t generally make their own preserves,” says Lynette Gold, the co-owner of Stonewall-based Gold Orchards, which was established in 1940. “But once they realize how easy it is and how much better they taste than ones from the store, they change their minds.” You can support local farmers by trekking out to their orchards—maybe to one in Gillespie County, home to 40 percent of Texas peaches—and make your grandma proud by putting up some hand-picked fruit.
<brMaterials: 6 cups peaches 6 cups sugar 4 tablespoons margarine 1 tablespoon lemon juice 2 stockpots 5 pint-size mason jars with sealable lids and screw-on bands funnel jar lifter ($5) boiling-water canner ($20)
Texas peaches begin to ripen in mid-May and make great preserves, says Gold. When picking, look for yellow skin and firm flesh. You can manually peel each one, like Gold does, but blanching will loosen the fuzzy skin quickly. To blanch, score an x on the peach’s underside, drop it into boiling water for 45 seconds, and then plunge it into an ice bath. The skin should come off easily. Halve the fruit, remove the pit, and dice into 1/2-inch chunks.
You Jar What You Eat
Channel your inner food-safety inspector—need I say “peanut”?—and sterilize your jars. Fill a large stockpot with hot water, fully immerse the jars, and boil for 10 minutes. Remove and set aside to dry. (Jars should be filled while hot.)
Fill ’Er Up!
Using another large stockpot, mix the peaches with 3 cups of sugar. Add the margarine and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat and sprinkle in the remaining sugar. Boil for 4 minutes, stirring well. “Perfect consistency is like honey,” says Gold. “Preserves should stay on your biscuit.” Remove the pot from the stove, skim off the foam, and pour the preserves into pristine jars, leaving half an inch of space below the top. Clean the rim before putting on the lid.
Seal the Deal
Gold seals the filled jars by inverting them for 10 minutes. Old-timers, however, revere the boiling-water canner. Fill the canner halfway up with water and heat to 180 degrees. Load the canner rack using a jar lifter. Cover and boil the submerged jars for 20 minutes, transfer them to a cooling rack, and let them sit for at least 12 hours. Test the seal by pressing on the lid. If it doesn’t pop, your preserves have a shelf life of several months. With this recipe, though, they may disappear in several minutes.