Today’s Project

Around the corner from my house is an abandoned property. It’s a little pre-fab ranch that was put up in violation of town ordinances probably about fifteen years ago by a lady who lived there for a few years, then sold it to two kids who went to school here from Florida. When they graduated, they basically never did anything with the property and not it is just an eyesore that various people around town take turns mowing the damned grass.

It’s a small lot, but in front of the house are two trees, one of which is a peach tree. It’s never been properly attended to, and it was never trimmed appropriately and the limbs can’t support all the fruit, and no one ever picks it and nurtures it the way it should be taken care of to grow properly.

At any rate, I drove a fertilizer stake in it last fall, and decided this year I was going to something with the fruit rather than let it rot off the tree. So I picked a bunch of them, and they were hard, but the problem was that I couldn’t wait for them to ripen on the vine because they would rot or the deer would get them. So I put them in paper backs, let them ripen, and then peeled and cleaned them and cut out the bad parts. It was pretty labor intensive to get a decent sum of fruit off them, because they are clingstone and small, but I got enough to make some peach jam. I had a bag of cherries in the fridge that Tammy bought but had lost interest in before she left, so I pitted them and threw them in:

It came out pretty ok, I think, but the proof will be in a couple weeks when I open one to test it:

The next mini project was to take all the peels and stuff left over from prepwork, throw it in a pot, and boil it (and no, I am not processing home made cyanide). Let it boil all the flavor out, the ran it through a chinois, and added a metric fuck ton sugar:

Currently the syrup is cooking down to the desired thickness, and then I will can it and have some peach syrup to use when I have company. Fun.

Every time I post something about the garden, or garden pictures, or some project I’ve done, or something I have cooked, etc., there are inevitably a couple people saying in the comments “I wish I could do that I don’t have a green thumb” or “I can’t cook” or some variant, and I chuckle. I don’t have a green thumb and I am not some master chef, either. I just am completely undeterred by the potential of failure. Gardening and cooking aren’t something you need to be afraid to try. It’s not like I am packing my own chute before jumping out of a plane. I made jam.

67 replies
  1. 1
    Yutsano says:

    Jam usually doesn’t taste that much different from initial batch to aged product. That’s kind of the point. Otherwise peach-cherry sounds kind of interesting.

  2. 2
    John Cole says:

    @Yutsano: It’s runny right now though because it is hot, I want to see if it set up right.

  3. 3
    Josie says:

    You have inspired me, John. Do you have any specialized equipment that you use for canning, or do you just use regular kitchen stuff? I’m a pretty decent cook and gardener, but I’ve never done any canning.

  4. 4
    donnah says:

    Good for you, John. It’s always easier to make excuses than it is to try something new.

    I hope your pickling and canning and gardening all have good results. Because of you, I bought a potted tomato plant a few months ago and now we’re getting our own lovely tomatoes.

    You are an inspiration! Thank you!

  5. 5
    kindness says:

    You are a good man John Cole.

  6. 6
    randy khan says:

    I just am completely undeterred by the potential of failure.

    First, this should be a tagline.

    Second, it’s a great attitude. I mean, if the plant dies, you can plant something else. If the jam doesn’t gel, you’ve got compote (or you can throw it on the compost). It’s not a big deal.

  7. 7
    John Cole says:

    @Josie: I just use one of those big canning pots you get from anywhere for most stuff:

    Get that and the norpro kit an you should be good, although I really like this jar lifter:

    You can find canning jars cheap at any dollar store or grocery store, but you may also discover you can pick up jars at flea markets and yard sales for like 5 cents a piece. Or friends and family have them. Then you just need the screws on and lid and those are like a buck a dozen.

    Don’t forget to boil your jars in water with a touch of vinegar to sanitize (vinegar keeps hard water stains from appearing), and you will be good to go. And don’t worry about the variances in recipes- some use a lot more sugar than others, etc. Just go with it. But don’t use too much pectin. I weigh mine on a digital scale.

    But again, I am still learning.

  8. 8
    TenguPhule says:

    (and no, I am not processing home made cyanide)

    Doesn’t that normally require almonds?

  9. 9
    KrakenJack says:

    That’s inspirational.

    I made a cherry pie when I was in college. I didn’t have a pitter, so I used the blunt end of a wooden chopstick to push the stone out through the bottom. Afterwards, the kitchen looked like CSI episode and I was literally red-handed.

  10. 10
    Van Buren says:

    I tried to make blackberry jam once and ended up with about a dozen jars of blackberry syrup.
    So not a waste of time at all.

  11. 11
    realbtl says:

    @randy khan: Hell this applies to life in general. At 70 I see too many of my friends afraid to try something new. h/t to the poster here who did the sky diving.

  12. 12
    TenguPhule says:

    @John Cole:

    (vinegar keeps hard water stains from appearing)

    What is this hard water you speak of?

    /drinking island fresh spring water

  13. 13
    Pete Mack says:

    I don’t actually eat much jam, so that is not my thing. But chutney…mmmm. It is basically fruit preserves with cider vinegar added. Lots of cider vinegar, and some warm spice*. I try to make it at least once a year. Elderberry or chokecherry with “wild” apples (the tiny inedible ones that grow in hedgerows) make for phenomenal chutney. But peach would work well, too.

    * clove, cinammon, allspice, or mace.

  14. 14
    opiejeanne says:

    I love reading your posts about your garden and food projects, John. We didn’t know what we were doing the first time we stuck a radish seed in the ground, but we grew a radish. I think I was 4 or 5, and that feeling that growing stuff is attainable magic has never left me.

  15. 15
    Josie says:

    @John Cole:

    Great info. Thanks for this. I will report back at some point.

  16. 16
    Gin & Tonic says:

    in a couple weeks

    Man, now you’re just doing this to piss her off, aren’t you?

  17. 17
    opiejeanne says:

    @TenguPhule: Did you know that a peach is an almond with an edible outer skin? Peach pits and at least one other fruit that I’m not remembering right now can have cyanide in them.

  18. 18
    Yutsano says:

    @John Cole: It should. Peaches are pretty high in natural pectin.

    @opiejeanne: Appleseeds are toxic in high amounts.

  19. 19
    rikyrah says:

    Peach and cherry?😲😲
    Sweetened peaches are a divine gift, Cole.
    Gotta look sideways at you throwing the cherries into that divineness🙏🙏
    The peach syrup though😋😋😋😋

    I love your food posts😊😎

  20. 20
    Ellen says:

    This works great for peeling peaches

    I never had much luck blanching them

  21. 21
    Mo MacArbie says:

    I’m the type of person who will make plans as a substitute for action, so I deliberately went into gardening as blindly and spontaneously as possible. This is a backyard. This is a shovel. Shovel, back yard. Back yard, shovel. Figured I’d learn about weeds and pests the first year, and any fruit was a bonus. Over the next few years of digging, watering, and just watching the sun go by, I tried a couple different garden configurations until I hit upon what I felt was the best. The next spring, with no more heavy digging and most of the nut grass weeded, putting the garden in was the easiest ever. I had to move before harvest, but that was reward enough. No garden at the current place though.:(

  22. 22
    Gin & Tonic says:

    I just am completely undeterred by the potential of failure.

    Yeah, but boiling jam can hurt you.

    Yes, I make jams and chutneys and pickles and all that – but someday I’ll tell the boiled-cider story.

  23. 23
    Ohio Mom says:

    I’m stuck at the part about that woman who put up the prefab ranch in violation of town law. It’s not like Bethany is so big that there are hidden corners.

    I mean, half the town probably watched the house go up/be placed in its spot (I don’t know what is the right term for a prefab), and they went home and mentioned it over dinner to the other half of the town.

    Pretty lax code enforcement. I guess that is part of Bethany’s charm.

  24. 24
    sukabi says:

    @John Cole: John you can see if it “jells” by dipping a cold spoon in and seeing if it coats and sets on the spoon back. Or reaches 105° C


  25. 25
  26. 26
    sukabi says:

    @Gin & Tonic: always use a pot that is larger than you need, and is deep, as the fruit and sugar when it boils will fill the pot way more than you think it will. Keep an eye on it and stir constantly. That’s where a very long handled spoon comes in.

  27. 27
    Cermet says:

    We just got 2.62 inches of rain in under 45 minutes here just northeast of Baltimore city in a rural area of the country. Monday, DC got a months worth of rain in like 45 minutes (I was in that one too,) This is something I’ve never seen before two really massive thunderstorm downpours within days of each other so close. These cells are getting to be monsters – AGW strikes. We don’t need to see the effects starting – there here now.

  28. 28
    sukabi says:

    @Ellen: boiling water for a minute then plunge in ice water. Never had a problem with that. It may be that the peaches weren’t ripe enough.

  29. 29
    laura says:

    Hey Cole, peach cherry syrup would be awesome in Ice Tea, like an Arnold Palmer. You could call it a Lily.

  30. 30
    Miss Bianca says:

    I just am completely undeterred by the potential of failure. Gardening and cooking aren’t something you need to be afraid to try. It’s not like I am packing my own chute before jumping out of a plane. I made jam.

    LOL! I love it when you deliver a Moment of Truth, JC!

  31. 31
    trollhattan says:

    We once seeded perhaps half a bushel of pomegranates and my hands were freakishly red for at least a week. Some of the clothes never did come around.

  32. 32
    ZeeLizzee says:

    It’s not like I am packing my own chute before jumping out of a plane. I made jam.

    I haven’t laughed so hard in weeks. Thanks John!

  33. 33
    trollhattan says:

    I want to drizzle it over vanilla bean gelato. Like right now.

  34. 34
    Hungry Joe says:

    This fall, prune it. Open things up by eliminating branches that clog up the middle, and don’t be afraid of taking too much: The old (from the ’40s) tree-pruning book I use concludes its pages on peaches with the line, “When you are finished more than half the tree should be on the ground.”

  35. 35
    thalarctosMaritimus says:

    This is great, John! I love that you’re encouraging people to go for it.

    High-sugar (high-acidity) food like fruits are a perfect place to start preserving. Although you always want to pay attention to food safety and microbiology, high-sugar fruits are very forgiving that way–they’re naturally a very unwelcoming place for bad bacteria and fungi. You can have successful preservation easily and quickly that way.

    The University of Georgia has some excellent resources to help you do just that:

    Ensuring Safe Canned Foods:

    National Center for Home Food Preservation:

  36. 36
    Mary G says:

    When I was little a Japanese family rented a valley on Camp Pendleton and grew strawberries. When they’d picked the commercial crop you could come in and pick the rejects for free. They made delicious jam.

  37. 37
    James E Powell says:

    I’ve been living in southern California for 20 years and I have yet to find a decent peach here. Sometimes I dream about the taste.

  38. 38
    Shana says:

    @sukabi: True, use a bigger pot than you think you’ll need because it will foam up when it boils. I have found in most cases however that using a wooden spoon, and leaving it in the pot as things boil up helps control the amount of volume increase.

  39. 39
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    h/t to the poster here who did the sky diving.

    Oh hai.

  40. 40
    laura says:

    I’ve got 5lbs. of farmer’s market cherries sitting in the fridge waiting for the time/energy to pit and jar with booze to make cherry bounce.
    Hopefully ready before the holiday gifting.

  41. 41

    I have canned a total of twice. That was twice too many. I hate it. So more power to you. Instead, I do the freezer method. Most items can remain in the freezer (in the glass jars) for a year. So not as long, but not as much effort, either.

  42. 42
    Neldob says:

    Nice. You are an inspiration and I appreciate that. Maybe I will plant another plum in the fall.

  43. 43
    NCSteve says:

    Those last two sentences need to be added to the tagline rotation.

  44. 44
    raven says:

    @thalarctosMaritimus: Of course we do! How bout them Dawgs!

  45. 45
    Cermet says:

    we just reached 4.00 inches of rain in under two hours. Amazing. More cells appear to still be forming and moving east. Though New Orleans was getting the super storm. Well, at least I’m not below sea level so, no real complaints.

  46. 46
    J R in WV says:

    For high acid foods, like tart fruit jam and such, pickles, kraut and chow-chow and home grown tomatoes, all you need to can is a big pot, tall enough for your canning jars. For other vegge stuff, like less tart tomatoes and green beans, which is the other big thing for gardeners here in WV [specifically white half-runner beans] you need a pressure canner to get the temps higher than 212 degrees F.

    We had the best sauerkraut I’ve had in years last Friday at the July 5th party. Wow, that was some good stuff, cold out of the jar… can’t imagine how good it would have been braised with pork meats.

  47. 47

    @John Cole:

    Don’t forget to boil your jars in water with a touch of vinegar to sanitize (vinegar keeps hard water stains from appearing), and you will be good to go.

    You can also sanitize jars by heating them in the oven at 250°F for at least 15 minutes. If you’re going to be water bath canning anyway that doesn’t make much sense, but it saves you the need to have a bot of boiling water on the stove if you’re canning something like jam that’s already boiling hot when you can it.

  48. 48
    Aleta says:

    Peach syrup with bubbly water and ice
    A spoonful of it topping off a cold glass of ice tea
    Peach syrup on shaved ice
    On watermelon juice granita w a little lime
    Vanilla ice cream float made with sparkling water or with black tea or soda, with a bit of peach syrup on top and fresh mint leaves

    West Virgina dreamin’
    on such a weary day

  49. 49
    chopper says:

    added a metric fuck ton sugar

    you’re just trying to give eemom a stroke with the lack of “of”s, aren’t you.

  50. 50
    Aleta says:

    @Gin & Tonic:
    boiled cider, cider jelly
    love that stuff
    People here used to mix water into the first one to make juice in the winter.

  51. 51
    soga98 says:


  52. 52

    @James E Powell: I feel the same way about mangoes.

  53. 53
    Olivia says:

    You have done such a great job rehabbing your property, you should buy that little house, fix it up and sell it or rent it out.

  54. 54
    satby says:

    @Josie: @John Cole: I made jelly and jam for years by hand, then I bought this as a treat to myself. If you’re going to make a lot of jelly, jam, even salsa for canning this is totally worth it. It’s pretty fool-proof, and you don’t have to stand over a boiling pot of fruit syrup waiting for it to get to jell stage.
    Peach vanilla jam is also quite good, if you decide to make more John 😉

  55. 55


    Peach pits and at least one other fruit that I’m not remembering right now can have cyanide in them.

    Many members of the rose family (which includes stone fruit and also pomme fruit like apples and pears) have some level of cyanide in their seeds. The cyanide is actually stored in an inactive form (as a cyanohydrin) so it doesn’t cause problems for the seed, but there are enzymes that will release the cyanide if the seed is damaged.

    This works for the plant as an evolutionary defense against having animals try to eat the seeds for their nutrients. If animals spit the seeds out, they have a chance of germinating. If they swallow them whole, their coat is tough enough to protect them through the digestive system, so they’ll get deposited elsewhere and likewise have a chance of germinating in a pile of fertilizer. But if the animal tries to chew the seeds, they’ll get sick from the cyanide and (hopefully) be discouraged from trying that again.

  56. 56
    smintheus says:

    @Hungry Joe: I often prune my peach trees twice – heavily in late winter, leaving only a bare minimum of new (year old) wood with only as many blossom buds as I want peaches to ripen; and then in mid summer a heavy thinning of the jungle of new wood that the tree invariably produces, so as to improve air flow and allow more light around the ripening peaches. A peach will come back more vigorously the more you prune it. Typically you want to remove about 2/3 of the branches before the start of the new season.

  57. 57

    I just am completely undeterred by the potential of failure.

    Excellent philosophy applicable to many life experiences. Well done, sir.

  58. 58
    rattlemullet says:

    Every combination of ingredients produces a final product, good or bad it is never a failure just an experiment in creativity. The truth is that’s part of mans evolution. A combination of food gathering. Enjoy the process!!

  59. 59
    terben says:

    @opiejeanne: I heard that a peach is just an almond with delusions of grandeur.

  60. 60
    J R in WV says:

    Many, many years ago I worked for an “educational TV” station as a production assistant, setting lights, erecting sets, running a big camera, etc. One of the many shows we did was home food preservation, hosted by a platoon of home extension service ladies who had been canning and freezing stuff, and teaching others how to do it for years. They would go to work with starting 4 or 5 batches of whatever the day’s program was about, and bring each batch to a different place in the recipe/formula.

    At the end of the day’s shoot, we got to take jars of good stuff home, or frozen meats, or… well — you name it. What a work benefit !

  61. 61
    James E Powell says:

    How many pounds in a metric fuck ton?

  62. 62
    NotMax says:

    Landlady has a tree on the property which puts out very small peaches. She makes batches of pickled peaches from them.

  63. 63
    opiejeanne says:

    @James E Powell: Grow your own or visit your local farmers’ market. The ones they grow commercially for grocery stores are picked green. We grew excellent peaches in both NorCal (Castro Valley) and Anaheim and Riverside in SoCal.

  64. 64
    Steeplejack says:


    It’s a fine-mesh strainer that some people say does about the same thing as cheesecloth and a regular strainer or sieve.

  65. 65
    Mart says:

    @Ellen: Thanks for the fruit peeler link. Cooked a ton at a buddy’s house over the 4th for 40 year friends from wife’s college. Blanched tomatoes for pizza sauce; and peeled five cups of questionable backyard peaches for what turned out to be an awesome peach pie. (Who needs jam?) Looks like that peeler would have saved a ton of time.

  66. 66
    Steeplejack says:

    I don’t have a green thumb and I am not some master chef, either. I just am completely undeterred by the potential of failure.

    Good advice, Cole.

    I think people particularly fear failure in cooking because they’re usually doing it when it counts, i.e., they have to have a result that is edible. Huge pressure. How often do people think, “I’d like to make this for Thanksgiving, so I’ll make it a few times ahead and maybe throw away the results”? That struck me when I was watching Cook’s Country or America’s Test Kitchen and realized that’s exactly what they do—times 10 or times 100. Look at it as an experiment, not as some make-or-break event.

    I have been thinking about doing something like this to get really comfortable cooking on a gas grill. Bro’ Man’s husband and the kids have decamped to Rehoboth Beach, and Bro’ Man has a day job, so I could have the run of the kitchen and the patio grill at Sighthound Hall during the day (with permission, of course). Go into it explicitly as an experiment or lab course and not sweat the results so much. Cook stuff; maybe eat it, maybe not.

  67. 67
    soga98 says:

    Aha! Thank you.

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