Lately, well for the last 3 weeks or so, I’ve been canning & jarring everything in sight. I even tried to jar up Jay & Indy but they resisted. I’m kidding, ASPCA. But it just so happens today is Ball® National Can-It-Forward Day, so I’m right in style. And you should be too…
I happened upon an interesting recipe in the August 2011 issue of Bon Appétit. There was an article all about canning & preserving, and there was a recipe called ‘Lord Grey’s Peach Preserves.’ It immediately caught my eye as it was preserves steeped with tea. Earl Grey tea, to be specific. Earl Grey tea is a delicious tea, traditionally black, with a flavor and aroma that comes from oil of bergamot, extracted from the bergamot orange, a citrus fruit which is quite fragrant and looks more like a lemon/lime than an orange.
Painting attributed to Thomas Phillips, circa 1820
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, KG, PC (13 March 1764 – 17 July 1845), known as Viscount Howick between 1806 and 1807, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 22 November 1830 to 16 July 1834. A member of the Whig Party, he backed significant reform of the British government and was among the primary architects of the Reform Act 1832. In addition to his political achievements, Earl Grey famously gives his name to an aromatic blend of tea.
I love tea. It’s a trait that’s inherited from my grandmother’s side- those crazy Irish & their tea! I miss her so much. And I even miss her tea obsession. She drank it in a big coffee cup I bought her from Anthropologie that had a big A on it. She drank her tea morning, noon & night. We made her stop drinking it after a certain hour (or tried to) because we were afraid the caffeine wasn’t good for her. But she insisted, and she continued drinking tons & tons of tea. I swear, she would’ve dove headfirst into the harbor if she had been around for the Boston Tea Party! My aunt loves tea too (I bet you could have already guessed that I gave a jar of this to her). My mother is more of a coffee person, but even so she loves her tea. I love coffee too, but I love all kinds of tea, & I go nuts in Teavana. It just so happens, though, that I’m a big fan of Earl Grey tea. I have a really good one that I love, it’s by Stash teas. It’s not expensive but it’s excellent quality. So I decided right then & there, as soon as I read the article, that I’d make this recipe. I didn’t have a lot of peaches, but I had a lot of nectarines, so I decided to just use them instead. Because of that, I’m just going to go with calling this version ‘Earl Grey’s Nectarine Tea Preserves.’
Nana reading something very important, 1937, Crugers Park, NY
It sucks hardcore my Nana isn’t here to try this. She’d go crazy over it, as she did everything I made. But preserves made with TEA!? Oh please. She’d be so excited. Last year for her 92nd birthday I made her Earl Grey tea with lemon frosted cupcakes, and she thought those were the best things ever. She loved to look at all the jars of stuff I made, and say “I don’t know whether to stare at them or eat them.” I hate that she’s gone. Yes, she was 93 years old. Yes, she had a good, long life. But there’s never, EVER a good age to lose someone… and you’re NEVER prepared for it, especially when they’re in excellent health & it’s unexpected. I miss her terribly, especially when I think of anything that has to do with tea. *insert long, wistful sigh here* I’m sorry if anyone is tired of hearing about this. But this blog is slowly morphing into a “more than just baking/cooking blog”, I chronicle my life here in a way, and this is how I’m feeling. So like it or lump it. Writing about it helps & I’ve never been one to shy away from writing about anything just because someone may not like it.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that for almost 3 weeks, this has been ALL that I had been doing- mourning, jarring, mourning, canning, crying, jarring and canning some more. It was so goddamn hot out I couldn’t bake… doing this was my only saving grace. Although I suppose there’s worse things I could be doing with my grief than making pickles & Earl Grey jams. And I am starting to see the light at the end of the grief tunnel. For sure. There are some rough patches but I can feel my heart getting a bit lighter, & I find myself smiling at her memory more than crying. This is a good thing.
And so are these preserves. The smell of it cooking was amazing. Between the tea scent & the nectarine scent, it was heavenly. And comforting. The tea makes the preserves have a darker, sort of caramelized look, which is so pretty. If you aren’t a fan of the tea leaves in the actual jam itself, just skip that step. Your tea flavor might not be as intense, but it should still have an aroma and taste of Earl Grey. Another option is to make canned sliced peaches or nectarines in an Earl Grey-infused syrup. Lady Grey tea would also work very well in this.
And yes, you could use a lemon-y herbal tea as well, I’m sure, for those of you who are anti-caffeine or can’t tolerate it.
EARL GREY’S NECTARINE TEA PRESERVES (adapted from Bon Appétit, August 2011)
- 5 lbs. ripe nectarines
- 4 cups granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 5 Earl Grey teabags, divided
- powdered pectin (optional, see note below*)
- Cut a small, shallow X in the bottom of each nectarine. Working in batches, blanch them in a large pot of boiling water until skin loosens, about 1 minute. Transfer to a large bowl of ice water; let cool. Peel, halve & pit. Cut into ⅓” slices. Combine with sugar & juice in large bowl and let stand for 30 minutes.
- Place a small appetizer or dessert plate in the freezer. Transfer fruit mixture & 4 tea bags to a large heavy pot. Open the remaining tea bag; crumble leaves slightly, add to pot. Bring to a boil, stirring gently, and cook 15-20 minutes.
- Test doneness by scooping a small spoonful onto frozen plate and tilting it. Mixture is ready if it does not run.
- Remove teabags. Skim foam from surface of jam. Ladle into sterilized, HOT jars. Wipe rims, seal and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath (remember- start timing when the water is at a rolling boil).
This recipe makes roughly 2 pints. I made four 8 oz. (half-pint) jars instead of two 16 oz. (pint) because I think the smaller ones are better for preserves, jellies & jams. I find that people you give them to always open the large jars, eat from them (maybe even a few times), then put them in the fridge & they get shoved to the back & forgotten, like most jams or jellies people buy. Did you ever notice how long most people have jars of jelly? It’s kinda crazy. Anyway, this way, if that happens, you aren’t wasting the majority of your hard work. My fourth jar was a little skimpier than the rest, so I guess I didn’t quite have 5 lb. or my nectarines were on the smaller side. About 3-4 medium sized peaches/nectarines equal a pound.
As preserves & jams go, this is relatively easy. *You might not need to add pectin to this. But if it’s not coming together, to avoid losing it all, I’d toss a bit in there and see if it helps. Also remember, as it cools it firms up more, and once it’s chilled it’ll be firmer still. So don’t go too crazy with the pectin. You don’t want nectarine cement. It just so happens nectarines are a low-pectin fruit, and mine needed a little boost. So I added a little pectin to give it a kick in the ass. But preserves have a slightly looser consistency than jam or jelly does, it’s more like a marmalade. Also, the word “ripe” is key here. Use ripe fruits only, and cut off any bruises or dark spots. Unripened fruits aren’t soft enough for making this, you’ll be standing there forever stirring it, hoping for the best, and end up with chunks of fruit in a sugar syrup. One or two of my nectarines weren’t ripe, and they didn’t cook down, but they left themselves in lovely, random little chunks throughout. This has started me on a tea-infused tirade. Raspberry Six-Summits Oolong jam? Perhaps. Kiwi jam with Frutto Bianco white tea? Maybe.
The number one question people ask me about canning is, “Why bother? Why not just go buy some at the store? Surely it’s cheaper & easier?” or “Why waste your time with this, aren’t pickles cheap enough?” And my answer is, “You’re an idiot.” No, I’m just kidding, it’s really not. My answer is usually a long diatribe about self-sufficiency, about the D.I.Y. movement I so believe in, about how I find that mentality of ‘why make it when I can buy it’ to be so sickening and also to be a large contributor to the downfall of society. But the short answer is really easy: like baking- it keeps me sane, it’s fun, and it’s useful. I mean, where can you buy nectarine preserves with Earl Grey tea? I know I’ve never seen them. It’s like baking for me- why buy a shitty bland-tasting sheet cake when I can make my own from scratch using Bourbon vanilla? Why buy soggy, over-moist supermarket bakery cupcakes with too-sweet frosting when I can make my own, that taste way better, from scratch and personalize them with things like crumbled bacon on top? Same thing with canning. I’ve been an artist & craftswoman my whole life- I do a lot of things myself. From cutting my own hair, to dying it, to piercing my own ears, to making my own pickles and growing my own vegetables. From painting garage doors myself and repurposing old tables to painting & replacing the knobs on an old chest to freshen it up and turning an old cashmere sweater that shrunk into a winter throw-pillow cover & a hot water bottle case. From making my own lemon olive oil body scrub to rolling out my own pasta & making my own ice cream. It’s a certain kind of ethic I learned from my mother. I’ll never stop doing that stuff, ever, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. D.I.Y. forever!
People also have this crazy idea that making this stuff from scratch is hard or really complicated. I swear it isn’t, really. I promise you. Anyone with a basic knowledge of chemistry/pH balances & acidity/the degree food has to be heated to kill bacteria/Harvard degree can do this. Haha. Joking. Anyone with a canning kit who can read directions can do this. And should. Ignore the people who make it seem like you need to have attended Oxford University to figure out how to seal a jar.
You’re either a leader or a follower, and I choose to be a leader. If you don’t get why I make my own jam, then maybe you’re the one missing out. And if you don’t understand my grief, then you’re also missing out. Grief means you loved someone so much, you can’t believe they’re no longer here & your heart hurts when it hits you. If you don’t feel that way about anyone… then you haven’t loved. Or lived. So as I find my way into a “new normal”, I at least know that I have feelings (which is more than I can say for a lot of people I know) & that I knew what it was to truly love. And in this day & age, I’m not sure a whole lot of people really know what that means.