Monday, August 5, 2013

A Napa Valley Peach Harvest

Biting into a ripe, juicy peach - the kind where the juice runs down your hand and drips off your elbow - means summer has officially arrived.

This year, that moment occurred for our family in early July when we arrived home from vacation to find our peach tree so laden with fruit that branches were laying on the ground. After four years, our tree had finally decided it was going to bear fruit. And bear fruit it did. Bushels and bushels of it.

It would be a conservative estimate to say we picked 100 peaches over the course of the next two weeks (nonwithstanding the countless number that fell to the ground). We ate peaches for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We gave them to friends. I think our 18-month old son lived on peaches alone for days on end (to his glee, I might add). And yet this barely made a dent in the pile of fresh fruit blanketing our patio table.

It was time to get to work.

As a child I spent a lot of time in Ohio, visiting my grandparents' farm. I always loved peeking into their root cellar to see canned fruits and vegetables neatly lined up along the shelves. The colorful rainbow that the jars made - red tomatoes, green beans, pink rhubarb, orange peaches - captured the essence of summer.

While our idea of preserving food is much different that my grandmother's - she canned/froze to feed a family of nine and we do so for three - when I'm in the kitchen in the heat of a summer afternoon with a big pot of water boiling on the stovetop, freshly sanitized jars on the counter and something delicious and bubbling ready to fill them (say, peach salsa), I like to think that she would be proud.

In preserving this year's peach harvest we canned, froze, dehydrated and baked. Have your own bushel of peaches? I hope you find some inspiration below.

Peach Salsa

Courtesy of the Ball Book of Complete Home Preserving

Note: If you haven't canned before, I highly recommend taking the Ball Book of Complete Home Preserving out from the library to read about the process, or visit their website for more information. When canning, it is extremely important for food safety to follow the recipe to a tee as you want an appropriate balance of acid, salt and sugar.

Makes about eight 8-ounce jars

1/2 cup white vinegar
6 cups chopped, pitted and peeled peaches 
1 1/4 cups chopped red onion
4 jalepeno peppers, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup loosely packed finely chopped cilantro
2 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
2. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine vinegar and peaches (to prevent the peaches from browning, put the vinegar into the pot first and as you cut the peaches, add them to the vinegar and stir). Add onion, jalapeno, red pepper, cilantro, honey, garlic, cumin and cayenne. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch (1 cm) headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot salsa. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.
4. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store.

Spiced Peach Jam

Courtesy of Preserving the Harvest, by Carol W. Costenbader

Makes five 1/2 pints

4 pounds (about 8 large) peaches, peeled, pitted and chopped
5 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Place all ingredients in a heavy 8-quart saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, to dissolve the sugar.
2. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and boil until the mixture reaches 220 F on a cooking thermometer.
3. Ladle into sterile jars, allowing 1/4 inch of headspace. Cap and seal.
4. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.

Fruit Leather

Pit your peaches and place them in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. If using a dehydrator, follow the manufacturer's instructions. If using your oven, pour the puree onto a rimmed cookie sheet lined with plastic wrap or freezer paper. The puree should be about 1/8 - 1/4 of an inch think (the thinner the fruit leather, the less time it will take to dry). Place in a 135 degree oven for 8-10 hours. Set the door ajar with a spoon handle to maintain the low temperature and allow for moisture to escape.

Peach Cobbler

This summer I discovered a recipe for the best, easiest, you-probably-already-have-the-ingredients-on-hand peach cobbler. Per the usual, it came from one of my favorite blogs: Dinner, a love story. I made this cobbler at least four times with our fresh peaches and every time it came out perfect.  

Frozen Peaches

Peaches should be wet packed, meaning they should be frozen in liquid. This year I froze our peaches in a 'honey pack,' a syrup made of 1 cup mild honey and 4 cups water. You can also use a 'sugar pack' - just substitute the sugar for the honey.

To make your syrup, heat the sweetener and water to a boil in a large stockpot. Let the syrup cool completely. Add 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice to your syrup to keep your peaches from darkening.

You can freeze peaches with or without the skins, either in slices or halves. As this was our first year freezing peaches I tried freezing them every which way so that next year I'll know what works best.

Add your sliced/halved peaches to your freezer container of choice (you can use plastic containers or glass canning jars). Use the syrup to cover the peaches, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace in pint size containers and 1 inch of headspace for quarts.

Place in the freezer and add to your freezer list.

You might also like...

1. Winter Squash-a-Paloooza
2. Eating Well on the Cheap: Keeping a stocked freezer
3. How my slow cooker got her groove back

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