Tuesday, August 04, 2015

A Peach of an Offer

A text message from my friend Ann was all it took:

"Need peaches? A friend invited me to come pick peaches from her three overloaded trees. I thought I'd go this afternoon. Want to come?"

How could I refuse to help unburden those three trees? It verged on turning away from a lost puppy or refusing to help a poor lost soul.

In other words, I was so in!

With our boxes stacked in the back of Chili, we arrived at the aforementioned friend's home in the Cully neighborhood to find that, indeed, the trees were so loaded with fruit that several large branches had torn off under their weight. A few ripe peaches had fallen of their own accord and were lying in the grass gently decomposing in the warm shade, but few bees were buzzing around, making our job ever so much more pleasant.

A slight press with a finger into the flesh near the stem gave a good indication of ripeness—a bit of "give" is all you're looking for—and, since there was so much that was ready, it took us only about a half hour to get twenty pounds apiece. Even better, since it was obligatory that we taste test a couple, they turned out to be not only richly sweet and juicy, but a freestone variety that peeled with a simple tug at the skin near the stem. What a treasure trove!

When I got home it was incumbent upon me to make a dessert with them, and with peach cobbler near the top of my nigh-perfect dessert list, I whipped one up and stuck it in the oven. While it baked, I sliced up and froze a gallon-and-a-half or so on parchment-lined cookie sheets to be dumped into zip-lock bags for a surprise dessert in the dead of winter. The rest were made into peach jam in two batches over the next couple of days as the not-so-ripe peaches matured, more goodness to open up in the coming fall and winter, reminding me of that hot, sunny day under the peach trees with my friend.

Peach Jam

The first fruit of the season, whether berries, stone fruits, zucchinis or cucumbers, have naturally high levels of pectin, so you can make preserves without resorting to adding pectin, which some people feel changes the flavor of the fresh fruit.

15-16 ripe, medium-sized peaches
3 1/2 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt

Pit, peel and cut the peaches into 1/2" or so chunks. Put in large saucepan or Dutch oven and add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat and simmer until the jam is thickened and sticks to back of a spoon. (You can also do the frozen plate test.)

I like my jam a little runny and it took about 2 hrs. or so to get to that point. I also don't like excessively sweet preserves, so judge the amount of sugar based on the sweetness of the fruit and your own tastes. If the jam is too chunky for you after it cooks, take a potato masher and squish it until it's the right consistency.

As far as canning, I simply take washed jars and fill them within a quarter inch of the top, put on the canning lids and rings and cool them to room temperature, then freeze them. If you have a hot water-bath canner, follow the directions for shelf-stable storage.

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