Monday, July 12, 2010

Peaches Coming Out of Our Ears (Recipes for the Inundated)

When we bought our house in 2002, one of its selling features was a 30 year old peach tree in the backyard that gave off hundreds of fruits each summer. Thirty years, though, is about as long as a peach tree lives, so within three years or so, we had to take it down.

In the meantime, baby peach trees kept sprouting all over the yard, growing from the thousands of pits that fell from the tree. We root them up as religiously as the Little Prince does his baobabs (our yard is about the size of his planet), but Peter left one offspring to grow along the fence, with idea of espaliering it as a decorative tree. We understood that it would not bear fruit; only grafted trees did that.

Well, four years later that tree is yielding us more fruit than its mother ever did. This year we harvested a thousand peaches, and I’m not being hyperbolic. See that picture above? That’s our dining room table covered with over 300 peaches, which have been left to ripen before we process them (unlike other fruit, peaches ripen off the tree). We’ve done this three times now – and there are still peaches on the tree.

It’s been too hot to do much baking or preserving, so I’ve mostly been cutting the peaches up and freezing them for cooking/processing when the temperature goes down. (Turner Classic Movies, Wimbledon,  the World Cup were very helpful to me as I cleaned and sliced my way through a millenium of fruit.) But I have done some baking and preserving – my two stalwart peach recipes that I can make in my sleep. I share them here with you.

The most important thing about cooking with peaches is to start with really good fruit. Mealy peaches make mealy desserts and preserves. Obviously, most of you don’t have peach trees in your backyards, so the best advice I can give you is the buy local peaches in season. And remember – peaches ripen OFF the tree, so don’t worry if they are hard when you buy them (in fact, if they’re soft, you probably won’t even be able to cook with them). If the peaches are local, that means they were picked just a day or two prior to your buying them. Lay them out – not touching each other – for another day or two until the peach flesh gives when you gently press your thumb against the area around the stem and at the base of the fruit. It should also smell like a peach. Now it’s ready to be eaten or processed.

One other piece of advice: I do not peel my peaches. That’s partly a self-preservation strategy: I have over a thousand to deal with, remember. But peach skins have all the pectin, so if you are baking or preserving, the skin is a critical ingredient for thickening and texture. I, however, really don’t like peach fuzz (it actually makes my skin crawl), so what I do is take a damp, tight-weave cotton cloth and gently wipe the fuzz off the peaches (this will also clean them of dirt and residue pesticides if those were used in the farming).

OK, enough preamble. Here are my two stand-by, stand-up peach recipes.

Curried Peach Chutney
(Note that these ingredients are to taste, which is why I give ranges; there is no science to this recipe)
  • 4-5 cups chopped peaches, with skin (I generously fill up my quart-size Pyrex measuring cup) 
  • 1 small to medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 - 1 cup raisins (golden, Thompson, whatever your favorite; you can also use currants or dried cranberries)
  • 1/2- 2/3 cup white wine or apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 – 1 cup chopped red pepper
  • 1/2 – 1 chopped jalapeno or other hot pepper
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh ginger (you can substitute a heaping teaspoon of ground ginger if you don’t have fresh)
  • 1 TBSP mustard seed
  • 1 to 2 TBSP curry
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 – 1 cup brown sugar (you can also use white; note that I use WAY less sugar than most chutney recipes, which I think are egregiously over-sugared)
Throw everything but the dried spices and sugar in a large pan and stir over high heat until it comes to a boil. Add the spices and sugar and boil hard for 5 minutes, constantly stirring. Turn down the heat and cook for another 5 minutes or so.

This recipe yields about 3 pints of chutney. If you want to preserve, pour it into cleaned and sterilized jars (fill to a 1/4 inch from the top) and process in a water bath for 10 minutes. You can also make half this recipe just eat it right away. Definitely keeps in your fridge for a couple of weeks. Great with pork, chicken, and lamb.

Peach Cobbler
  • 3 lbs. of peaches, in slices or chunks, tossed in a tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, depending on sweetness of peaches and your taste
  • 2 TBSP of tapioca flour (my thickener of choice; you can buy in Chinese markets) or corn starch. Or grind instant tapioca in a spice grinder and use that.
Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 9x9 baking pan. Toss the peaches with the sugar and tapioca flour and spoon into the pan.

  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar (or a bit less if you don’t like too sweet)
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk, sour milk, or yogurt (all work perfectly well)
  • 6 TBSP melted butter, cooled.
Combine the dry ingredients. Then beat the egg with the buttermilk and butter. Fold the wet mixture into the dry mixture until combined. Do not over mix.

Drop the topping onto the peach filling in large spoonfuls to cover the surface. IMPORTANT NOTE: Do NOT heap the filling on too high. You may have more topping than you need and if you just heap it on, the batter closest to the peaches will not bake. If you have too much batter, make a personal-sized cobbler in a ramekin.

Place the pan on a cookie sheet. Bake for 40 minutes or so until it is golden brown on top and the filling is bubbling. Best served warm with vanilla ice cream.

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