I love nectarines. I like them much better than peaches, for eating out of hand: I prefer the smooth skin to a peach’s fuzz; I like them firm, almost under-ripe, so that they crunch like an apple rather than smoosh like a peach; I love the gradations in color, of both the skin and the pinky-maroon flecks around the pit. Most of all, I love the taste: bright & tart, where the peach can sometimes be unctuously sweet, and with a depth and complexity that lends itself to savory applications as well as sweet.
Since one of the things that I love most about nectarines is the texture, I don’t tend to make a lot of preserves with them, rather I eat them fresh as often as possible in season. I love dried nectarines and always make a big batch for snacking (and for Tai’s granola), and there has been a spicy pear & chile jam, as well as last year’s nectarine ginger pie filling, but there don’t seem to be nearly as many nectarine offerings as there are for peach: I keep eating them, I guess.
For this preserve, I specifically picked up extra nectarines from my farmer’s market to get at least one batch of nectarines put up this summer. I found some watermelon juice, leftover from last summer, in my chest freezer audit, and it seemed a perfect match for the tart sweetness of nectarine. And I had some fresh mint on the counter: I’ve been having a love affair with mint lately, and keep adding it to nearly everything I make. There doesn’t seem to be much that can’t be improved with a little touch of mint.
The final preserve has a very loose set, suitable for draping over yogurt, ice cream or pancakes; that tart-sweet nectarine flavor comes through brilliantly with a bright thread of mint throughout. The watermelon, however, was a bit muted: there is an overall sweetness there from the melon, but I felt that the watermelon flavor was more prevalent, and the overall combination more balanced, in the slices I kept nicking from the bowl of fruit macerating in the fridge than it was in the finished product. I wonder if not macerating the nectarines at all, but essentially making a loose watermelon-mint jelly, then suspending nectarine slices in it, would yield a more balanced preserve. I may try that next year, but regardless, this preserve is quite good as it is and I’ll be happy to have it on the shelf once nectarine season passes us by.
- zest & juice of 2 medium lemons
- 3 lbs nectarines, rinsed, pitted and sliced to 1/8-inch
- 3 cups watermelon juice (from about 1/2 of a personal-sized watermelon)
- 3 cups (1 and 1/2 lbs) sugar (organic evaporated cane juice)
- 4 to 5 sprigs fresh mint
- Day 1. In a large bowl, combine lemon zest & juice, sliced nectarines, watermelon juice, sugar and mint. Toss to mix and dissolve sugar. Bury mint and nectarine slices under the juice; keep submerged with a small plate or other weight. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight, or for up to 5 days.
- Day 2. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
- Strain fruit juice into a large, wide preserving pan or Dutch oven, reserving fruit. Bring juice to a boil over high heat, without stirring. Retrieve mint from the strained fruit; discard mint stems. Continue to cook nectarine-watermelon juice until it reaches the set point, 220 degrees F on an accurate thermometer (or passes the wrinkle-test after a 2-minute stint on a frozen plate), about 20 – 30 minutes. When juice has reached the set point, add strained nectarine slices, along with any additional, drained juice. Bring back to the set point while cooking over high heat, about 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat and ladle hot preserves into hot jars to 1/4-inch head space. Wipe rims, affix lids and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Yields about 5 and 1/2 cups.
- I had some watermelon juice from last summer in the freezer, but to juice a watermelon, see the recipe for watermelon jelly with balsamic & mint.
- While quite tasty, I feel like the watermelon in this preserve was very subtle: the watermelon flavor came through more strongly in the macerating nectarines than in the final preserve. I wonder if making a separate watermelon jelly, then adding fresh nectarine slices at the end stage, would result in a more balanced preserve.
- While I felt confident that the relatively small amount of watermelon (pH of 5. 2 – 5.6) was offset, acidity-wise, by the nectarines and lemon juice, I tested the pH of the final preserve anyway: a quite safe 3.3.
Canned, store in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year.