Jam-making is a calming process for me. When fruit begins to become overwhelming on the counter, spilling out of bowls and taking up too much space, I have no problem turning it into a simple jam. Cutting the fruit into small pieces and tossing it in a saucepan to bubble and boil, each batch is as unique as the others—some sweeter, some more tart—with a mix of flavors that comes from the extra ingredients in the cupboards.
Jam may be simple to make, but the scents that infuse the house as the fruit cooks down is why homemade jam is worth the time.
My grandmother is well known in my family for creating vibrant strawberry jam. Every few months, she will simmer another batch over the stove, dividing it into small plastic containers, and freezing it until we pay her a visit. She makes certain the strawberry jam fountain never runs dry. My grandmother has faithfully made her strawberry jam for as long as I've known her. In those twenty-four years, I've created so many simple, strawberry-filled moments with sticky knives and happy faces.
Her jam is perfect on a freshly baked bun, warm and inviting—a treat I get to enjoy whenever the holidays come around.
Despite the love for my grandmother's jam, I truly believe different moments call for different flavors. The classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich just wouldn't be the same without a thick spread of grape jelly that oozes out from the crust of the bread as a bite-sized piece disappears. My mother's go-to barbecue sauce recipe uses grape jelly to bring in a depth of flavor (which I have been known to shamelessly eat with a spoon when my mother's back is turned). A spoonful of fig or strawberry balsamic jam blends seamlessly into a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
At a holiday craft fair in Montreal, I stumbled upon the most unique jam I've ever had the fortune of tasting. It was a cedar jam, derived precisely from cedar trees in a nearby forest. The sample I tried was electric, the taste reminding me strongly of the tree-scented scratch-and-sniff sticker in my childhood book, The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear. The instant memory and surprising flavor led me to buy a small jar of my own. I'm still waiting for the perfect occasion to open it.
The right moment to savor this Bourbon Peach & Thyme Jam found me. In a way, the jam seemed to form of its own accord, as I found myself tossing a little of this and that from the cupboards into the saucepan. Still warm from simmering, I spread a thick layer onto a slice of fresh bread and enjoyed it as the summer sun set, turning the sky into a spell of pink and orange hues.
Bourbon Peach & Thyme Jam contains a myriad of flavors that come together in an unexpected, but lovely marriage. Fresh peaches are peeled and sliced into small pieces, joining freshly minced thyme and a splash of bourbon. The jam simmers on the stove, infusing the room with bright scents and swirling steam. I love to sneak a taste with a spoon while the jam bubbles on the stove top (and I suggest you do the same).
Bourbon Peach & Thyme Jam
Yields about 1 1/2 cups
3 large fresh peaches, peeled
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Juice from 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons bourbon
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme, lightly packed
Using a sharp knife, cut peaches into 1/2-inch segments.
In a large saucepan, place peaches, sugar, lemon juice, bourbon, and thyme. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and reduce the heat to bring the jam to a simmer. Continue simmering, stirring occasionally, until jam thickens to desired consistency (about 20-30 minutes). If the peaches are too large for your tastes, mash them a bit with a fork to smooth out the jam.
Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Serve on bread, scones, biscuits, or as an ice cream topping.