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Spicy Cardamom Peach Jam

The minute I saw this recipe for Rock 'N' Rye Peach Jam, I knew I would make either this recipe or a variation of it as soon as we hit peach season. Once we brought back our delicious Niagara peaches, I kept thinking that the cardamom was screaming ARAK to me and not rye. Only a Canadian will remember using the purple, velvet Crown Royal bag as a pencil case in grade school, but suffice it to say, Rye is as Canadian as it gets. Cardamom, on the other hand, reminds me of the flavours of the Middle East while rye bellows East Coast Canada at 2am on a Saturday after gorging on smores made with a stale Aero bar and the marshmallows that I found in the back of a cupboard in my aunt's trailer.

Then I thought that cardamom required an alcohol that comes from the same part of the world and I just happen to have a bottle of Arak that I brought back from Jordan. This Levantine booze is an anise flavoured, colourless alcohol similar to Greece's Ouzo, France's Pastis and Turkish Raki but it's not nearly as syrupy and thick as some of these other beverages.

My arak is called Arak Al Zumot from the Zumot Distilleries - yes, they do make wine and spirits in the Middle East. You can't buy this outside of Jordan but you can find other brands, usually from Lebanon so do try to seek it out.

By the way, if you buy it and you want to drink arak, you mix about 1/3 arak to 2/3 water in a glass which causes the drink to become milky and opaque and at that point, you pour it over some ice in another glass. Don't just pour it over ice or it develop a greasy film on it - mix with water first. In Jordan, it is made from distilled grape juice mixed with anise seeds although other countries make it by fermenting dates, figs, plums or grains. Because this is a very potent bit of booze, it is served in tiny glasses and sipped in small quantities with mezzes and would make a terrible drink of choice for an evening out, so keep that in mind if you buy some.

Because I plan to use this spicy jam as a condiment on charcuterie and cheese plates as opposed to a sweet spread as well as cooking with it, most likely with some pork at some point over the winter, I threw in a little hot chili pepper from my garden.

Spicy Cardamom Peach Jam

adapted from Rock 'N' Rye Peach Jam

3 lbs (1.4kg)  peaches, *peeled and cut into bite sized chunks
3 cups sugar
3 tbls lime juice
1/2 tsp cardamom seeds
1 small, hot chili, seeded and minced
2 tbls arak (or any other anis flavoured alcohol like ouzo or pastis)
1 tsp butter

*To peel peaches, make an x on the bottom with a knife and plunge the peaches into a pot of boiling water for 1 minute. Remove and put in a bowl of ice water and then remove the peels.

You must prepare 4 250ml (1 cup) glass canning jars - put the clean jars in your canning pot, sitting on the rack and boil them for ten minutes and leave them in there until you need them. You must put hot jam into a hot glass mason jar and cold products into a cold jar or you will risk an exploding jar. You must use brand new lids (not the part you screw on, just the round lid) but Ball says you no longer need to boil them. If you want to be safe, throw your lids in with your jars for the last minute. When it's time to fill them, remove the jars with canning tongs, pour out all of the water and sit them on a clean tea towel on the counter, wiping the rims and the lids with a clean towel as well.

Mix the peaches, sugar, lime juice, chili and cardamom seeds in a big bowl, cover with a tea towel and let sit out on the counter for two hours.

Put a fine strainer over a heavy 6 quart pot and fill it with the peaches. Let this strain for about 10 minutes so that the juices drain off into the pot. Give it a couple of stirs (don't mash it) to get out a bit more juice before removing the strainer to the bowl you had the peaches in and put aside.

Bring the strained juices to a boil over high heat and cook, stirring constantly until this syrup reaches 220F - it took me about 12 minutes but start checking the temperature after about 7 minutes.

At that point, add the peaches and any juices in the bowl into the pot and cook for another 10 minutes. Mix in the butter, remove from the heat and stir in the arak.

To fill the jars, use a canning funnel if you want to keep your sanity. Fill each jar, leaving 1/2" head room, wipe the rim clean if you didn't use a funnel, slap on a clean lid, tighten the screw on ring and lower into your pot of boiling water and process for ten minutes. Make sure the jars are covered by at least 2" of water in the pot.

Remove the jars from the water bath and sit in a cool, dark place with the jars not touching, and let them sit, undisturbed for 24 hours. Today's lids have a little bit in the centre that you can depress with your finger that should disappear if a proper seal is achieved so if you press on the centre of the lid the next day and it still pushes in a bit, keep that jar in the fridge because it didn't seal.

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