Ladle into clean jars

I am my father’s daughter when it comes to breakfast. We both like the exceptions: a croissant, steaming porridge, full English, a bacon butty with brown sauce, two boiled eggs with Marmite soldiers, Birchermüesli in Switzerland, kippers, a southern Indian thali eaten from a banana leaf in the Nandi Hills, a cappuccino and cornetto leaning up against the bar in Rome, we’ll even tolerate cereal if we really must. But most of the time, most mornings, we’re happy with the rule: Toast with butter and either marmalade or jam.

Actually my Dad prefers marmalade to jam, preferably orange, spread thickly on hot buttered toast. Luckily for him, my mum boils up at least 52 pots of Seville orange marmalade every January, meaning Martin Roddy can, and does – with only modest assistance from my Mum – polish off a jar a week. When we all get together at my parents house, the Roddy progeny with husband, wife and Vincenzo, when we all pounce on the pot of marmalade at breakfast, my Dad’s forehead twitches involuntarily as he watches that weeks pot disappear before his eyes.

I, on the other hand, am a jam and marmalade egalitarian, there’s no real favouritism on my part when it come to conserves, preserves and jellies. If they’re well made with good ingredients, if there is good bread and nice butter, I’m content: orange, lemon, lime, strawberry – especially the tiny wild ones, raspberry, apricot, blackcurrant, blackberry, crabapple, gooseberry, fig, quince, apple, pear, peach, plum and cherry, I like them all.

Making my own jam and marmalade though: that’s a fairly recent habit. Even though I’d watched my Mum for years, even though I’d been the one to put the blob of marmalade or strawberry jam on the cold saucer to see if it had set, the one press to the waxy circle onto the jam before twisting on the lid, I was anxious about doing it all alone. My first proper attempt at orange marmalade didn’t do much for my confidence. I was living in east London at the time and carried 10 lb of Seville oranges home from west London on the bus during rush hour. I boiled the bloody stuff, my glorious deep, golden orange marmalade liquid, for hours and hours, it just wouldn’t set. We ate it like syrup, stoically pouring it over anything vaguely appropriate.

Then I moved to Italy! Oh dear, are you getting bored with me saying that yet? I imagine you very well might be, ‘Then I moved to Italy. When I moved to Italy‘ – to be honest, I bore myself sometimes! Anyway, during those first months in Rome, when I wasn’t working, living right next to a terrific market with the nicest produce I could hope for, inspired by everything and everyone around me, I began putting fruit in jars.

My learning curve has been steep, I’ve made lot’s of syrup and there are seven pots of 2008 marmalade on top of the cabinet that I’d rather ignore. But I’m getting better. This year particularly. Bolstered by my lemon curd, strawberry jam, lemon jelly and the fact we haven’t bought a single pot of jam since January, I’m really enjoying putting food in jars and hoping to make enough jam to see us through the winter. Just back from 10 days in London and still thinking about the peaches from my parents garden, my next project had to be peach jam. My chance to preserve some quintessential summer fruit for dark days in December.

I bought these peaches from the market at Sabaudia which is about 40 minutes south of Rome. As you can see, they’re handsome fruits, their downy skin flushed with pink, their flesh golden-yellow, firm, but tender and sweet. They’re more robust than the tiny white fleshed peaches I picked from my parents garden, meaty really. Bolder in flavour too, heady and exotic to my English taste buds, with a hint of vanilla and almond.

I was almost defeated at the first hurdle. I’ve never made peach jam before, so I consulted all my books and typed various combination of words into google. I found surprisingly few recipes, and those I did mostly appeared rather complicated, requiring pectin and thermometers, orange zest, lemon pips and eagle-eyed timings, there were almonds, Amaretto and other fussy additions. I wasn’t in the mood. I began thinking about other ways to use 2 kilo’s of peaches: straight, salad, tart, compote, facemask. Then, peach in hand, I remembered the tome of Italian cooking; Il cucchiaio dargento (The silver spoon) a well-loved book, but a somewhat neglected one since it’s been moonlighting as a paper weight on the shelf near the window. Sure enough, at the bottom of page 1118, there’s a recipe for Marmellata di pesche, peach jam. It’s fantastically straightforward – the recipes in classic Italian cookbooks usually are – peeled, sliced peaches and sugar cooked over a gentle flame for a couple of hours.

My joy at finding something so simple was almost immediately dampened by  doubt, my enthusiasm fizzing out like a dodgy sparkler on Bonfire Night. The cooking time was two or three times longer than any other recipe I’d found! Having been exasperated by their presence before, I now found myself wondering anxiously about the lack of pectin, thermometers or cryptic testing times. It was just too simple I thought! There had to be something more complicated!

In such situations, I generally find a cup of tea is helpful. As I sat at the kitchen table, mug in hand, I realised it could well be that simple, that the nicest things often are! My jam sparkler reignited, I poured myself another cup of tea before rolling up my sleeves and following the recipe.

I think this might be the best jam I’ve ever made. You don’t need to fret about setting times or thermometers beacause the jam is cooked for so long, so gently, that it reduces into a wonderfully thick, dense consistency in the pan. It’s darker, stickier, more intense than todays bright, barely cooked jams, and all the nicer for it. That said, if I’d been more confident and a little more experienced, I probably could have pulled it of the flame twenty minutes earlier, so it was a little less dense. I will next time, because there will be a next time.

For a first attempt It’s pretty damn delicious though, and Vincenzo – whose coterie of Sicilian aunties were formidable jam makers – thinks its admirable jam. Even though it’s not orange marmalade, my wonderful Dad would thoroughly approve too. I’m making another batch tomorrow.

Excellent on slice of freshly cut, generously buttered  white bread.

This is the recipe (pretty much verbatim) from Il cucchiaio dargento. The only adjustments I made were to peel the peaches and make a smaller quality. If you are an experienced jam maker I’m sure you’ll make more adjustments. If, on the other hand. you’re a novice I suggest trying this recipe as written. Don’t panic about the lack of great detail, procure some beautiful peaches, keep the flame low, stir intermittently and trust in all the Italian mothers and grandmothers who evolved – Il cucchiaio dargento is a rigorously tested compendium of Italian home cooking – this very simple technique.

Peach jam (Marmellata di pesche)

Adapted from Il cucchiaio dargento (The silver spoon)

Smaller quantity : yield 3 – 4 jars.

  • 1.2kg/ 2 lb 10 oz ripe peaches
  • 500g / 1 lb 2 oz sugar

Larger quantity : yield 5 – 7 jars I imagine

  • 2kg / 4 1/2 Ib Ripe peaches
  • 8oog / 1 3/4 Ib sugar

Peel the peaches (as you would tomatoes) by putting them in a large bowl and covering them with boiling water. After a minute, using a slotted spoon. scoop the peaches out of the boiling water and lower them into another bowl of cold water. After 30 seconds scoop the peaches out of the cold water and working quickly with your hands or a sharp knife, skin the peaches.

Cut the skinned peaches in half, pull away the stone and then slice each half thinly and place in a large, heavy based saucepan. If the peaches are very ripe and juicy, it is not necessary to add extra water, otherwise add 5 tablespoons. Cook the peaches over a low flame until they start to become mushy, the add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved. Bring the jam to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook the jam over a low flame, stirring occasionally for about 2 1/2 hours. The jam will reduce significantly, darken and caramelize, it should be dense, coating the back of your wooden spoon.

Ladle the jam into warm, clean (sterilized) jars and then seal tightly while they are still hot, label once they are cool and store in a cool dry place.

Eat for breakfast on hot buttered toast or at about 4 o clock spread thickly on a slice of freshly cut, generously buttered, white bread.

This Sunday, the 15th, is Ferragosto, a national holiday in Italy. Originally Ferragosto or Feriae Augusti (Festivals Holidays of the Emperor Augustus) was a celebration to honor the gods—in particular Diana—and the cycle of fertility and ripening. Ferragosto was related to the celebration of the middle of the summer and the end of the hard labour in the fields. I like this. We will be celebrating the middle of summer and our moderate labour in the city by lying on the beach, eating local mozzarella di bufala and then – if all goes to plan, which things often don’t – making jam and bottling tomatoes at Vincenzo’s parents house by the sea. I hope you are having a good summer wherever you are.


Filed under food, fruit, preserves and conserves, rachel eats Italy

66 responses to “Ladle into clean jars

  1. I haven’t made jam since Guides but want to start with blackberries this year (once this move is finally over – ‘and then I moved to Edinburgh’ might become my catchphrase) so keep your fingers crossed for me! Now though I just want a loaf of good bread, butter and homemade jam…

  2. elp

    PLEASE save a jar for us! :)
    Happy ferragosto

  3. christina K

    What a coincidence! I made some peach jam this morning exactly the same way- just the fruit and sugar. I was tempted to put in some vanilla extract (where did I get that idea from?) but forunately I didn’t! And it came out the same colour as I can see in the beautiful photo with the jars!
    Happy Ferragosto!

    • rachel

      A happy coincidence. Yes, lots of recipes I found had vanilla – I’m sure it’s good, but I wanted something really simple to start – next time maybe.

    • rachel

      It is – even though I have just made another rather large batch and I fear we will be screaming for peach jam mercy by January.

  4. rebekkaseale

    Oh, Rachel! I am so excited to see this…I just got home from the market with the most BEAUTIFUL peaches…here in the American South, I have to say…we have some absolute gems, my favorite being from northern Alabama…they are amazing. Look, we even have this:

    You would get such a kick out of Alabama. ANYWAY… I am absolutely going to make this jam immediately, I hadn’t even thought of making peach jam this summer, you are a genius.


  5. rebekkaseale

    That’s the “peach tower” by the way. I have no idea what it’s function is.

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  7. Wow! What a ladle! Now that looks like you’ve been doing it for ages! :))

    I don’t think I’ve ever tried a home-made peach jam. Not surprising, considering I come from (kinda..) far north where peaches are way too expensive to be reduced to (however lovely) jams. But if I come across some friendly fruit seller who would be willing to give me a bag of peaches for a ridiculously low price (like they used to in Leicester!), I surely will be trying this recipe.

    Thanks for sharing. I love your style of writing.

  8. I love the way you call your jars of jam pots. I think I might start doing that at market. I love adding Cognac and pie spices as well as making spiced, or pickled peaches in large mason jars. It’s summer and I love it!

    • I’m also trying out a new (easy) peach jam recipe that uses the kernel of peach for a nutty flavor. I’m quite excited to see how it turns out.

    • rachel

      pickled peaches sound wonderful – Did you post a recipe ? – I am coming over to see.

      • The idea actually very similar to your poached apricot recipe. The only difference is that the syrup is a combination of sugar, vinegar, and water. Then you add which ever spices strike your fancy. Last year peaches and plums I infused the syrup with fresh ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. I’ll search for the exact ratio of the syrup and will send it your way because it is quite wonderful.

      • I don’t know the metric equivalent of this recipe but here is the basic brine and then you can add whatever sounds good to you.

        7 lbs ripe but firm peaches
        3 cups sugar
        2 1/2 cups water
        3 1/2 cups white wine or distilled white vinegar

        Makes approx 4 quarts

        1)Peel the peaches
        2) Put above ingredients and spices in a non reactive pot and bring to a boil until sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 min. Add the peaches and gently simmer for a a few minutes until they are heated through but just tender.
        3) Pack peaches into jars and simmer the remaining liquid until it thickens a bit, about 8 minutes. Pour over peaches and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

      • rachel

        Thank you thank you nice Kirsten – this is great !

  9. i’m so close to being comfortable enough to actually preserve things, but for now am still making refrigerator jams. i understand your father. i just made a tomato jam which i’ll write about soon, and have no doubt it will vanish by tomorrow afternoon, my couple hours of work nothing more than a dirty jar and spoon… :)

    • rachel

      Tomato jam, great, We had a kind of tomato jam in Puglia, it was wonderful with cheese and bread. I’ve always wanted to try so I look forward to your post!

  10. I just love it when a recipe is basically 2 things.
    fruit and sugar. I, too, have resisted believing that this is sufficient, but it is true. slow cooking lets the real peachiness speak.

    great image of your dad twitching as one of “his” jampots gets devoured

  11. I didn’t know Cucchiaio d’Argento had jelly & preserve recipes! So exciting! I have the English version and have been looking all over for a cookbook on jams, jellies, preserves before I leave the land of English speakers… I guess the search is over since I had it all along! Gorg post btw.

  12. How wonderful to have a piece of summer’s bounty to pull out in the dark of winter. Whenever I hear you say, “Then I moved to Italy” it makes me think that you were, in a way, reborn there. It sounds as if you found your way to Italy under somewhat chaotic circumstances but eventually found your bliss.

  13. jenifer

    Excellent piece Rachel. I’ll look forward to tasting too love mumx

  14. rachel, your blog is amazing and so inspiring! i just found it and i’ll surely come back soon. thanks for sharing such good recipes :)

  15. Thank you! I will try this! Btw, what is the difference between jam, marmalade and jelly?

    • rachel

      I think I’m right in saying that marmalade is a preserve made from Citrus fruit (orange, lime, lemon, grapefruit) whereas jam is made from other fruits. Jelly in the Uk generally means a clear perserve, so jam or marmalade which has been passed through a fine sieve. In Italy the title marmellata is used for most preserves, as is the word confettura.
      Is this clear or confusing. I am confused? anyone else got a better definition?

  16. Rachel, your blog tortures me everyday when I peruse through your posts! I want to eat everything you make, and would have a month ago, but am now trying to lose 50lbs and must avoid all things delicious. I do, however, still love your blog and share your passion for food!!!

  17. johanna

    i am making this right now (it’s burbling on the stove) and my apt smells like a giant peach pie — divine. thanks for the inspiration! ( i often make apricot jam but hadn’t ever really considered peach for some reason.)

  18. G.

    i’m also my father’s daughter when it comes to breakfast and he sure would approve of this peach jam!

  19. Jim

    Rachel, local peaches are just about in season where I am, so I hope to try your recipe.

    I have made freezer jam before, but this would be my first attempt at bottling anything. Just to clarify, I only need the fill the bottle and seal the lid while the jam is still hot, right? Is there any additional method required to keep the jam preserved for several months?

    Thanks for your lovely blog!

    • rachel

      Hello Jim

      Yes it is, their is enough sugar. Make sure the jars are scrupulously clean and sterilized (I wash mine in hot water and then put them in a warm oven for half and hour). Then fill the jars to the top and seal them tightly while they are still warm to create a seal. My mum has been making jam and marmalade like this for years and it keeps for a year easily. Some people like to invert the jar so the jam sits on the lid and creates a further seal – I don’t.

      happy jam making – and let me know!

      • Jim

        One more concern: I will obviously stir frequently and keep the heat low (we have an electric, not a gas stove), but even then, without more liquid, I can easily imagine the jam sticking to the pan and burning. Was that not an issue with yours?

        Thanks again!

      • rachel

        Jim – I gave my jam a stir evey 10 minutes or so and then every couple of minues for the last half hour when it had started to stick a bit (but not much). I am not very familiar with electric stoves but imagine you might need to be a little more attentive than with gas, I suggest using a good, heavy based pan, keeping the flame low and stirring pretty regulary with a wooden spoon.

  20. Thanks for the recipe – my jam turned out wonderfully! I love your approach to food and have been inspired by your blog for several months now.

  21. All great things come out of your tiny kitchen. You cannot convince me otherwise.

    Love that ladle.

    • rachel

      I like the ladle too. It was pretty much neglected (too small for soup and sauce, the lip made it impractical for gravy) until I discovered it’s calling – the perfect jam ladle.

  22. SRM

    just followed your recipe exactly for the peach jam and it is amazing!!!!! thank you, as always!!!

  23. Do I see that you’re using recycled jars, not mason jars? I’m a little too inexperienced to know what to do differently with them. Is it just as simple? Do they keep as well?

    • rachel

      In my experience yes. I used mason jars for my second batch. But in both cases: I just wash the jars and lids in hot water and then put them in a warm oven for about 30 mins to steriize them and then I pour in the jam while it’s still hot and put the lid on immediately to create a seal. This has always worked for my mum. I am hardly the msot experienecd jam maker though, this is all new to me too!

  24. i have a ton of beautiful freestone peaches from our csa… michael isn’t much of a jam guy though. but maybe just maybe this would change his mind…

  25. Lydia

    I just made it last night & fresh bread this morning – the jam is amazing! I can’t believe how easy it was.
    Thank you for the post and beautiful blog.
    I’m a big fan.

  26. Delightful posts and amazing recipes as usual, Rachel.

    I hate to sound like a worry-wart, but what about hot water bath processing? It sounds like you just poured and sealed. Is it going to be shelf-stable that way?


    • Jim


      Yes, I had the very same concern about processing to improve shelf life. I am new to canning, did some research about this, and sent Rachel an e-mail with some of my findings.

      I believe the need for water-bath processing will best be determined by the storage conditions and intended length of storage. If the jam will be stored in the fridge and will be eaten fairly quickly, water-bath processing may not be needed. If the jam will be stored outside of the fridge to be eaten in several months, the research I did suggests water-bath processing to ensure that the contents will not become contaminated.

      I used water-bath processing with mine. The recipe was great. I would also note that the jam will not “set up” or gel after cooling like jams with added pectin, so be sure to cook the jam to the desired consistency that you want.

  27. I love your blog. Yup.

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