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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Last Call for Peaches

Posted By on Thu, Sep 23, 2010 at 4:54 PM

click to enlarge Summer's last gasp: Hamada Farms peaches at Ferry Plaza. - SEAN TIMBERLAKE
  • Sean Timberlake
  • Summer's last gasp: Hamada Farms peaches at Ferry Plaza.
We're barreling toward the final week or two of peaches, but what's been coming in has been pretty remarkable. Anecdotally, the early season peaches were a little lackluster. Now, many of the varieties that are in now, such as the Autumn Flames pictured here, live up to the peach ideal, gushingly juicy and full of bright acidity. If you can manage not to eat them all straightaway, peaches are excellent for preserving in a wide variety of applications.

Prices currently vary pretty wildly, generally from $2 to $3.50 a pound, but as usual, it pays to buy in bulk. At Rodin Farms, who appear at several Bay Area farmers' markets, all varieties sell for $2 a pound, but a 25-pound box will cost you $35, bringing the per-pound cost down to $1.40.

Look for fruit that is plump and unblemished, firm but not hard. The skin should not wrinkle. Be sure to taste samples; each variety is different. For preserving, we prefer peaches that run on the tart side, since you'll be adding a fair amount of sugar. In general, yellow peaches are more acidic than white, so keep the white peaches for eating out of hand, or combine them with other ingredients to balance the sweetness.

Even if you have a box of perfect fruit, you're going to need to work fast. Ripe peaches can go from the peak of perfection to shriveled and moldy in a day or two. Peeling is a bit labor-intensive: Most recipes have you blanch the fruit to remove the fuzzy skin, and of course there's the matter of removing the stones. Still, a nominal amount of extra labor will allow you to capture the fleeting flavor of late summer for the cold months to come.

Preserves and fruit butters

Jams are the most obvious application. Anita at Married ...with Dinner celebrates the flavor of perfect peaches with a straight up and simple preserves, and Shae at Hitchhiking to Heaven mixes yellow and white peaches in hers. If you want to jazz it up a bit, Rachel at Coconut and Lime spices things up with ginger, and Elle mixes up a riotous concoction of stone fruits, citrus, spices, and green tea in her Imperial Stone Fruit Preserves.

Peaches play well with booze. Rosy at Nestingproject pairs her slightly overripe peaches with some Cointreau, and Anna at Blondie's Cakes applies bourbon to her glowingly orange peach preserves. Joe Vargo takes it one step further and adds sweet corn to his bourbon-laced jam.

Thicker than jam, peach butter has a pleasingly crude texture. Whether you're mixing in warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg, as Jen at My Kitchen Addiction does, or brightening it with lavender like the ladies at InnBrooklyn, it's as good on toast as it is a condiment for pork.

Salsas and chutneys

Peaches' sweet-tart flesh adapts well to more savory applications. They pair beautifully with the heat of chile peppers. Meg at Grow and Resist cans up some spicy peach salsa, as does Paige at Canning with Kids. Our favorite goats Doris and Jilly have a lovely peach chutney, excellent for picnics during this Indian summer. Local girl Leena canned some spicy peach pickles. Yes, you read that right, peach pickles.

Alison McQuade of McQuade's Celtic Chutneys shares this recipe with us:

Peach and Lemon Chutney

1 cinnamon stick

4 cloves

4 red chiles

5 medium peaches, peeled and chopped

2 large onions, chopped fine

2 cups brown sugar

2 cups malt vinegar

1 cup raisins

4 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/4 cup lemon juice

Grated lemon rind, approximately 1 tablespoon

A handful of peppercorns

Place cinnamon, cloves, and chiles in a muslin bag or cheesecloth sachet. Put all ingredients (including the sachet) in a large, nonreactive pot. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring to avoid sticking, for one hour or until thick. Discard sachet and can in the ordinary way.

Other resources

The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking focused on stone fruit for this month's installment of Tigress' Can Jam, so stay tuned for the big roundup. And plenty more peachy keen recipes keep coming in at Punk Domestics.

Sean Timberlake is a professional writer, amateur foodie, avid traveler, and all-around bon vivant. He is the founder of Punk Domestics, a content and community site for DIY food enthusiasts, and has penned the blog Hedonia since 2006. He lives in San Francisco with his husband, DPaul Brown, and their hyperactive terrier, Reese.

Follow SFoodie at @sfoodie.

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