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Joni Woolf: Peach preserves that anyone can make

The peaches are here, and though the exalted Elberta is still a few weeks away, those that are at market now make delicious preserves and are handled no differently. A peach is a peach, and cooking it with tons of sugar diminishes the difference in varieties for all except a real connoisseur, but not by most of us. I have been using a recipe from a cookbook entitled “My Mother’s Southern Kitchen” by James Villas, former food and wine editor of Town and Country magazine and a North Carolina native now living in New York. He and his mother, Martha Pearl Villas, collaborated on this delightful collection of the best of her Southern recipes; it is a book I have used over and over, and though I have adjusted the peach preserve recipe to suit my need for a few absolutes in this life, I use her method, which works perfectly.
Martha Pearl combines 3 pounds fresh, firm peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced 1-1/4 inch thick, with 6 cups of sugar. I still prefer my own mother’s method of equal amounts sugar and peaches. Then I return to Martha Pearl’s method.
In a large pot, combine the peaches and sugar, cover and let stand overnight to allow the peaches to leach out and moisten the sugar.
The next day, bring the mixture slowly to a boil, stirring frequently, then reduce the heat slightly and cook till the fruit is clear and the syrup is thick, about 40 minutes. Because I wanted to be absolutely sure the peaches were ready, I chose to use a timing method I read about in another cookbook, which called for cooking the peaches until they reached 220 degrees. This is what I do. I follow Martha Pearl’s directions until I get to this point, and then I use a candy thermometer to check the temperature. At 220 degrees F., I turn off the heat, put the peaches in sterilized jars, seal them, put the jars in a pot of boiling water to cover them and boil on low heat for 30 minutes. By then, most of the jars will have “popped,” telling you that they have sealed. Remove from heat, wipe dry and store in a cool, dry place. Eat a few, but put some away and give to friends and relatives at Christmastime. Peach preserves will be their favorite gift. They may even learn to make biscuits, to spread with this delicious treat.
Throughout this delightful cookbook, Martha Pearl writes as one might actually be speaking to the reader.
About peaches she says, “When shopping for peaches, make absolutely sure that they have plenty of fuzz-proof that they’ve not been commercially processed. I really prefer to peel my peaches by hand since dipping them in hot water can make them too soft. It takes more time and energy to hand-peel, but after you ve practiced a few times, there’s really nothing to it. Some things are just worth the extra time; so peel those peaches by hand, toss them with the sugar, and wake up tomorrow morning ready to cook.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net