Opening a bottle of peach preserves in the dreary winter days will put a smile on your face. The bright, summery sweetness is great used as a jam for toast or bagels, but also makes a wonderful glaze for fish or chicken.
And making peach preserves is easy! You'll need a large flat bottomed pot to cook the preserves in. You'll also need a tall pot with a lid to use as a water bath canner. If you already have a pressure canner, you can use that as a water bath canner - just don't lock the lid down tightly. A candy thermometer comes in very handy when making jams and jellies, but is not strictly necessary.
You'll need 2 boxes of low sugar pectin, 6 large peaches (or 8 medium peaches, or possibly 10 medium peaches because let's be honest you'll want to eat some while you're working) chopped into small bits, a half gallon box of peach juice, sugar and flavorings to taste.
Begin by pouring your juice into a large, flat bottomed pot and setting the heat on medium. Start chopping your peaches and toss the peachy bits into the juice. I do not skin my peaches but you certainly can if you desire. Once you've got all your peach pieces in the juice, bring the heat up to high. Put a small plate in your freezer for the plate test later on, and if you have a candy thermometer put it in the pot now.
Let the juice and peach pieces come to a low boil and cook until the peach bits soften and begin to break up. This took about 30 minutes for me. I got impatient and used my immersion blender to break them up even more so they would cook faster. Once your pieces are incorporated into the juice, taste your jam and add sugar and spices as needed. I added about 3 cups of sugar to mine, as well as some vanilla extract. You could add rum, bourbon, vanilla extract, ginger, allspice, cinnamon, etc. I'm sure you can think of other things in your spice cabinet that would make a good addition - Make it yours!
Once your jam tastes "right", slowly add your boxes of pectin - stir the pectin in thoroughly - and check your candy thermometer. To set, we need the jam to get to the softball stage, or 230 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep stirring and heating until you reach this temperature, and then do the plate test. If you do not have a candy thermometer, stir your preserves while heating at a rolling boil until the preserves thicken slightly - they will drizzle off the spoon more slowly - and then do the plate test.
The plate test: Remove the small plate from the freezer and drizzle a puddle of preserves onto the plate - about the size of a quarter. Let it cool for a moment and then swipe your finger through the puddle. If the preserve puddle breaks cleanly and does not flow back together, you've cooked it enough and can begin canning it. If it does not break cleanly, keep cooking and put the plate back in the freezer to try again in a few minutes.
Once you're confident your jam will set, begin ladling jam into clean jelly jars and attaching your lids. Process jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes to seal. Remember that preserves may take up to 2 weeks to set in the jar, so don't panic if they seem a little liquid at first. Enjoy all winter long to give as a gift for the holidays. I put some in a jar a friend has brought me full of smoked gouda, so I labeled her jar "Never Return A Jar Empty Peach Jam".