Some people have bucket lists filled with exotic places they want to travel to. Others have bucket lists filled with death-defying feats that they’d like to try.
My latest bucket list is filled with outdoor activities and culinary experiences I want to have:
Fishing for salmon off the Oregon Coast. Check. Jetty fishing for rockfish. Check. Digging for razor clams. Check. Surf fishing for surf perch. Check. Gathering cockles. Check. Crabbing for Dungeness crab. Check. Fishing for rainbow trout. Check. Fishing for albacore off the Oregon Coast. Hmm. Fishing from a kayak. Not yet.
Roasting goose for Christmas. Check. Smoking seafood. Check. Truffle hunting. Check. Mastering paté. Check. Nurturing a sourdough culture and baking bread from it. Check. Homemade ice cream. Check. Making home-cured Thai sausage. Check. Learning all of Mom’s favorite recipes. Check. Mastering pie crust. No way. Mastering jams and preserves.
Well, let’s talk about that one.
Last year, I made myself a promise to make a jam or preserve from every Mid-Valley fruit that came into season. Strawberry season came and went, and my attempt at strawberry-orange marmalade couldn’t be called a success. It was too watery. Cherry season came, and I attempted cherry preserves. The same thing happened. So I got discouraged and set the idea aside, like setting aside newly purchased shoes that I could never quite break in, and nursing my aching feet.
And then a few weeks ago, one of my new neighbors, Matt Russell, showed up at the front door with an offering: A jar of homemade apricot-pineapple jam was in his outstretched hand, glistening in the sunlight. The contents were golden, like the sun. My mouth watered. My heart was grateful. My spouse and I were overjoyed at the simple gesture and gift, and within a couple of weeks, the contents of that jar had been consumed.
I walk by Matt’s house nearly every day as I make the rounds with my dog, Jamie. Sometimes Matt would be sitting on his porch or working on his immaculate front yard. Sometimes his wife, Brenda, would be there too. Every time, I’d stop and chat. Matt is spoiling Jamie by keeping a box of doggie treats in his garage. Sometimes Matt’s already got several treats in his pockets. Other times, he has to go to the garage to retrieve some. Always Jamie is whining, pawing, and otherwise becoming a complete nuisance, begging for a morsel. It’s a sad sight. But Matt loves Jamie. Anyway, I digress. During one of our visits, I told him about my failed jam-making experience, and Matt told me that the next time he and Brenda made jam, they’d call me over so that I could watch them.
Last week, at the height of peach season, we set a date, and I came over. At the sink, Matt was busy washing and quartering peaches they’d purchased from a farm. Brenda was hovering over pots atop low flames filled with water, covering jars and lids. Rings lay on the counter in a neat stack on top of a kitchen towel.
And the lesson began. As I watched them make the first batch, I was amazed at how simple the process was. I wondered to myself how I could have gotten so far off the mark. A couple of secrets that Matt and Brenda imparted: 1. Use a tad of butter to keep the foaming down when cooking the fruit, sugar, and pectin mixture. 2. Don’t start timing until everything comes back to a rolling boil.
As the jars were filled, lids fastened with rings, and the jam cooled on the counter, the sunlight streaming in from the kitchen window made the jewel-cut jars sparkle. The little bit of jam left over in the pot was poured into a Tupperware as a test to make sure that the jam would thicken. And in no time, it did.
It was my turn to make a batch. Matt handed me bowls of sliced peaches. I put them into the blender. Brenda added cinnamon and lemon juice. And we pulsed the blender a few times until the peaches were all chopped and blended. Into the pot went the mixture. The flame was turned on high and the pectin dumped in. I stirred until it came to a rolling boil and the pectin was dissolved. In went the sugar, and the stirring continued. When it came back to a rolling boil, Matt added some butter and started timing 4 minutes. As I stirred the mixture, it slowly thickened and boiled and popped occasionally. A bit would land on my hand or arm, and it would sting. I just ignored it. I kept stirring until 4 minutes passed and Matt told me to stop.
Then the jars were filled and sealed. Two rows of beautiful-looking peach jam stood on the counter in the streaming sunlight. We headed to the living room to visit while the jam cooled and the lids popped as they sealed. When it was time to head home, Matt and Brenda filled the cardboard container that the empty jars came in with the jars of peach jam and handed them to me. I was dumbfounded by their generosity. Not only had they given me a lesson on making jam, they were sending me home with the jam we made! If my hands weren’t full, I think I would have hugged them both.
Heading across the street and back home, I thought to myself: How lucky we are to have them as neighbors. And I mentally checked off an item on my bucket list.
Thanks, Matt and Brenda.
Oregon Cinnamon Peach Jam
Recipe courtesy of Brenda Russell
- 3½-4 pounds of ripe Oregon peaches (when sliced with peel on and chopped in blender should yield 4 cups)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 1 box (2 ounces) MCP pectin
- 6 cups sugar
- ¼ teaspoon butter
Disinfect jars, lids, and rings by thoroughly washing, then place jars and lids in separate pots and fill with water to cover jars and lids. Bring water to a boil, and then turn flame down to low. Keep lids and jars in hot water on stovetop over a low flame until ready to use.
Slice peaches (leave peel on), and remove stone.
Place peaches, cinnamon, and lemon juice in blender, and blend until fruit is finely chopped. It should measure 4 cups. If you’re short, add more peach slices.
Empty contents from blender into a pot, and add pectin. Heat over high heat, stirring continuously until mixture comes to a boil.
Add sugar, and continue stirring. Once mixture comes to a rolling boil, add butter, start timing and cook for 4 minutes, stirring continuously. Turn off flame and begin filling jars, one at a time. Place lids atop jars and seal with rings tightly. Repeat until all jars are filled. As jars cool, you should hear the lids pop. After jars have cooled, check the dimple on the lids to make sure that they’ve all sealed before storing your jam. If you find any jars that have not sealed, place them in refrigerator and use that jam first.