• Peach Lavender Jam

    Peach Lavender Jam.

    A bit of a “peachy” hue on the blog these days. But when you have a few hundred peaches with a limited shelf life, you work with the peaches (we are also giving them away to friends, whether they want them or not 😉 ). The only thing at the farm we have more of than peaches is lavender. It’s everywhere, and mostly for the bees. But since we have peaches and lavender, we are making Peach Lavender jam.

    We have lots of these…

    …and tons of this. Let’s make jam.

    This recipe comes from the excellent canning and pickling book “Tart and Sweet” from Kelly Geary and Jessie Knadler. We are by no means experts on canning and pickling, so this book is a great tool with both recipes and very clear guidelines for safe canning. But the key for any home canning / pickling is to use the base recipe and then follow your standard, safe processing instructions. Most setups will be similar, but some equip will vary. Just remember, sterilization is always a good thing.

    As for the actual jam, this is really a peach jam with a touch of floral, herbal and tannic notes from the lavender. The lavender keeps the sweetness of the peaches from overwhelming the flavor of the jam. But the key is just a hint of lavender. Too much lavender and your jam will taste like soap. In fact, you don’t actually put lavender in the jam at all, just steep some lavender in water, strain it out and the add the water to the fruit. Again, go easy with the lavender- less is more.

    The peeling and pitting dis-assembly line.

    This took a while.

    The process of making jam isn’t complex, but it is time-consuming. Making jam is a good activity to do with friends and/or a great way to put your kids to work. First you must sterilize and prepare your equipment. Make sure everything is good order before you start. As for the jam, you need to skin and pit 6 pounds of peaches. This involves cutting an X in the base of the peach, briefly blanching it in boiling water, plunging it in an ice bath and then skinning and pitting the peach. We take an assembly (dis-assembly?) line approach, but even with help, this takes a while. But we don’t do this every day either, so it was (kinda) fun.

    Steep the dried lavender and strain it out.

    Cook the fruit, lemon juice and sugar.

    Blend until smooth.

    Add calcium water, sugar and pectin.

    Once you have the peaches peeled and pitted the work is easier, but still requires time. You need to bring the peaches, some sugar and lemon juice to a boil in a large pot and cook the fruit for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile you need to steep some dried lavender flowers in 1 cup of boiling water for about 20 minutes. Strain the lavender from the water and add the water to the peaches. Then blend the peaches with an immersion blender, or in batches on a stand-up blender. Then add calcium water, pectin and sugar to the fruit and cook until you get a jammy consistency. To finish the jam, put it in hot jars and process for 10 minutes. Then cool and eat. Continue reading

  • Green In Winter, Brown In Summer

    Mowing the pasture. Summer is here.

    For those who move to California, particularly from the east coast, one of the biggest adjustments is that winter is the “green” season and summer is the “brown” season. When summer comes, the grasses in the open spaces of the chaparral areas of the state turn into the “golden” color that gives the state its nickname “the golden state”. And the rolling hills, scattered with oaks, are quite beautiful.

    Lavender. This flower comes with a soundtrack.

    On a more practical note, when the hills turn gold it means that summer is here and we need to mow the pasture. Fire is a real danger, especially near populated areas. The Oakland hills, just across the bay from us, burnt in 1991 with the cost of 25 lives and $1.5 billion in damage. When the grass gets dry, the big tractor mowers come out (we hire the guys, too big a job for us). And if you don’t get your mowing done, your neighbors will let you hear about it.

    Lettuce at its peak.

    Red leaf lettuce doing well this year.

    But while the pastures are brown, our gardens are overflowing with green..and purple. Let’s start with the purple. Our lavender, once just on the cusp, is in full bloom. It will last for months and the honeybees will work it, almost exclusively, for the rest of the summer. Here at the “farm” summer comes with a soundtrack, the constant humming of bees in the lavender. Both the honeybees and the native bees enjoy the lavender and completely ignore us, and everything else, while they work the flowers. Happily, the native bees will work / pollinate some of the other plants, while the honeybees seem to focus on the “highest and best” sources of nectar. That focus is what gives us “varietal” honey like clover or orange-blossom. I guess we basically get lavender honey.

    The peas are just coming in.

    The nasturtiums are very, very happy this season.

    As for the green, it is all around us in the garden. Our peas are just forming pods, lettuces are at their peak and the tomatoes show their frist fruit. The tomatoes have us very excited, lots of blossoms and growth foreshadow a good crop in the late summer. And the basil runs in parallel to the tomatoes. We see Caprese salads in our future. Oddly, our zucchini plant seems more interested in growing huge leaves than in producing zucchini. We still get zucchini, but yields are lower than expected. Our arugula is also low-yield (part of a bed that seems unhappy this year). As zucchini and arugula are “easy” crops, this is a bit humbling, but such is the nature of the garden and orchard. We get a bumper crop of cherries and can barely grow zucchini. Go figure. Continue reading