No, you read the headline to this column correctly, but it's not what you're thinking. That's not my bag, baby.
What I am talking about is the beautiful bounty of summer stone fruits that should be hitting your local farmers' markets soon.
When I was a kid I LOVED summer. Long days, no school and all the great things in the world to eat. We had several fruit trees at our house where I grew up. The peach tree was my favorite. Peaches the size of softballs (really) and amazingly juicy and sweet.
My dad and I would wait with anticipation all year long for the peaches to grow. Then came the torture. Day after day of waiting until they were ripe. Really ripe. It was a game. We would go out there and I always thought they were ready, and my dad would always say, "Nope not yet. I think we need to give ‘em a few more days." It killed me. I wanted to eat that darn thing NOW.
Finally, I would walk out one day and gently squeeze one to see if it was just soft to the touch, and the peach would fall off into my hand. I freaked. I thought my dad was going to kill me for picking it early. I ran inside washed it off and waited for him to get home from work.
I explained what happened and he would give me that straight face. "Well, you can't put it back on that tree now, can you?" He'd cut it open, juice running everywhere and hand me half. HEAVEN. So sweet and juicy. It would drench the front of my shirt just trying to eat it.
That tree eventually died as did the others, sad days for me. But I did managed to get burned in my mind how good a real tree-ripened peach, nectarine and apricot could be.
Now I have a peach tree of my own that produces a lot of fruit. But the birds usually are not as patient as my father taught me to be. Neither is my dog. He likes to hit the tree with his paws to make them drop and eats them green.
So the few I get are great, almost as good as the old tree but not quite as big. I love sharing them with my kids (and I think they enjoy it, too).
So other than the obvious just eating them straight from the tree - I love picking them on a hot day, when the flesh is still warm from the midday sun - what can you do with stone fruits you haven't thought of before?
Well, there are many of you who have learned to grill them as a dessert, but there are many other applications. One is homemade preserves or just plain canning. There is something about a proper peach in the dead of winter that makes those bleak days seem more bearable. And let's face it, you can buy the stuff from the supermarket, laden with preservatives and stabilizers and such things, or you can just make your own. And parents, what would you rather feed your kids, something honest or something preserved and stabilized? Yeah, that's what I thought.
So for those of you who have never done canning, my suggestion is to get friends together and have a canning party. Great fun and a great way to tackle a big project and even share some of your excess. And who knows, your friends might have access to great fruits that you don't.
There are many recipes out there for canning. I will share some of the basics but I encourage you to do your own research as there is no one right way.
The initial outlay for equipment is maybe $50 including lids and jars (which are reusable, the lids aren't). The only catch is it's a lot of prep work and some hot steamy business invoving boiling water. Other than that it's easy and pretty fun. I did it back in my tiny apartment in college when I was dirt poor, so you should have no problem in your home. All of these recipes can be adapted to whatever stone fruits you have, just remember to check your flavor before finishing. Cheers.
Damon Burke and his wife Colby own the Salumiere Cesario gourmet grocery in Walla Walla. Email them at email@example.com.
Home canning essentials
What you will need:
1 large pot, paring knife, boiling water, ice bath, canning jars and lids, a large non-reactive bowl (glass is good), sugar, water, citric acid or lemon juice, peaches or other fruit. Grabbers for jars and lids.
With your paring knife, mark a small X on the bottom of each fruit. Place fruit into boiling water for 30 seconds and remove to ice bath. Repeat for all fruits. Remove skin (it should just slide off). Cut peaches into size you want. I like halves. Into your non-reactive bowl add peaches and liquid (see note below for liquid). Assuming that you need about five or so peaches to fill a quart jar, adjust your measurements to fit your needs. Set aside your fruit. Your jars will need to be sterilized as will your lids, you can do this in your dishwasher or you can process your equipment in rapidly boiling water - 10 minutes for jars, five minutes for lids - then remove to a clean kitchen towel to dry and cool, opening down. Fill jars with fruit - it's best to use a canning funnel here -and top with liquid. Wipe rim. Add lids, screw on tight but not over tight. Process full jars to seal them by immersing them for 15 to 30 minutes in boiling water.
For liquid: Combine water, citric acid and just a bit of sugar, usually 2 cups of sugar to 6 cups of water with cup citric. Set over low heat and once all solids are dissolved, remove liquid and cool. Make this one day ahead to save some time. This will make a bit over 7 cups of liquid.
So what IS the difference between jam, jelly, preserves and all that? That is a later episode. For now, here is what we are after: that summer goodness you can spread on toast, muffins, scones or even use as a pie filling in a pinch.
Peaches for however much you want to make, skins removed and cut into -inch pieces or smaller, depending on how chunky you want it. Into a large heavy bottom stock pot add your fruit and set over a medium to medium-low flame so as not to burn your fruit. Once the fruit begins to soften it will release its liquid. Once it boils add sugar, usually a half to 1 cup of sugar for every pound of fruit. I like mine less sweet. I usually add a bit of citric or lemon juice to the party to keep it lively. Reduce heat to low. Once sugar has dissolved remove from heat and cool slightly. Add to jars as above and process as before. Feel free to add cinnamon or cloves or whatever to your preserves. I like mine plain, but it's your party, go nuts.
Stone Fruit Chutney
- Peaches or other stone fruit with skin removed, cut to medium dice, about 3 cups.
- med. Walla Walla Sweet Onion, fine dice.
- 1 clove of garlic, mashed.
- 1 tsp. grated or finely chopped ginger.
- Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Optional items: coriander seed, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, Dijon mustard.
In a large, wide sauce or saut pan over medium flame add olive oil and onion. Saut until translucent, add garlic and ginger until soft. Add peaches. When peaches give off liquid and begin to simmer, add a few turns of pepper and salt to taste. If it is too thick add some stock, chicken or light veggie stock. At this point you can add the optional mustard and ground spices to your heart's desire. Even a little lime juice to brighten the flavor wouldn't hurt. Remove from heat, cool and store up to two weeks. I like to make it a day ahead so the flavors marry a bit better. When reheating make sure to taste before serving and adjust as necessary.
This is great with pork, lamb or chicken. Yes, you could do it with beef, but isn't that just kinda wrong?