A Good Year for Peaches?
With a few shortcuts, you can make use of that golden surplus!
I got a little carried away at the orchard this past weekend and ended up with a large crate of peaches. They were labeled as “seconds” but I didn’t find a one that was not near perfect. It was actually cheaper for me to buy the half-bushel than two of the smaller baskets, so I went for the big one, knowing I’d figure out how to use them up.
After making my double batch of peach jam, it didn’t look like I’d made a dent in the box! Definitely no-peel options were needed here.
The simplest thing to do with that bounty? I scrubbed them well, and put a large amount through the food processor, unpeeled, mixed this purée with lemon juice, and tucked them in the freezer for smoothies this winter. This took just a few minutes with the help of my processor. My grandmother would have used a food mill, which would remove the peelings as well, but it takes considerably more time.
Still had a lot of peaches left.
There is a canning group on-line that I joined not long ago, and I posted my jam photos, mentioning my remaining surplus. One member kindly sent me a link to a technique for making peach butter. I remembered my mother often making apple butter, but I’d never attempted peach butter. See article here. I read through the article, a simple technique using just the peaches, unpeeled and puréed, and sugar or sweetener. It gave estimates on the ratio of fruit to sugar, as well as other sweeteners you can use. The best part? You didn’t have to peel all those peaches!
I made a small batch, using maple syrup to taste, and I liked it, but I thought it would be fun to experiment. I can never leave any recipe or technique alone.
It was quick work to cut up the peaches, even quicker to pulse in the processor.
First, I added lemon zest and juice to cut through the sweet and because I knew I was going to can the bulk of the batch in a hot-water bath. The addition of the lemon juice is insurance there is enough acid in the recipe when you process with the simple water bath method. I added a couple of vanilla bean pods as well because vanilla always makes any fruit taste better!
It is hard to determine how long it will take for the mixture to cook down to the jam consistency as it depends on your burner, the moisture content of the peaches, and probably the sign of the moon. This batch took close to two hours, with a stir every few minutes or so. You don’t want it to stick and burn, but you don’t have to hover either.
This mixture cooks down considerably. Toward the end, I tasted it and it was really good, but I felt it was missing something. I think it all depends on the peaches in any given year, and another time, I might have thought this was spot-on perfect.
I remembered that when my mom made her apple butter, she always added cider vinegar at the end to round out the flavor, we’re not making jam after all. So I let my mind wander in my pantry and decided on balsamic vinegar. The outcome of the final taste test was most successful! I loved it, and so did the family!
If you have a lot of peaches to use up, this is the recipe!
2 liters peach purée (use freestone peaches!)
2 cups brown sugar
2 vanilla bean pods, split
1 lemon, juice and zest
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Use peaches that are at their peak of freshness, not hard or overly soft. Choose a peach you would pick up and say “I want to eat this right the minute!”
Wash the peaches well, then split in half and remove the pit and stem end. Cut into quarters. This is fast work, as long as you get freestone peaches! Cling peaches adhere to the pit stubbornly, so always ask before you pick or buy.
Place the peaches in batches in the food processor and pulse until a purée. Do not over process or there will be no texture to your finished butter; a few little chunks is fine, just nothing too big.
Place purée in a large stockpot along with the sugar, lemon juice and zest. Split the vanilla beans and with the back of a knife, scrape out the seeds to the pot. Add the pod to the pot as well. You can also use white sugar or maple syrup, and the amount you need might need to be increased if your peaches are not sweet enough. Once the sugar is in, give it a taste. Add a pinch of salt just for good measure.
Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, uncovered, and let cook for about an hour and a half to two. You will need to stir this every few minutes, so this is a task that you should undertake when you are otherwise busy in the kitchen. This might take less time, or considerably more. Some peaches are simply juicier than others, so it is hard to follow a hard-and-fast timing. You want the mixture to have the consistency of applesauce. When it is just about there, add the vinegar.
You can also cook this in your slow cooker on low. Mom used to cook her apple butter in the oven, uncovered, on a low heat.
I processed mine in a hot water bath for 15 minutes, but you can also freeze it, or store in the refrigerator. Spread it on toast or muffins, serve it with a meat dish, even top ice cream with it. It tastes lovely spread on little toast rounds and topped with a bit of goat cheese, Vermont of course!
This also makes a wonderful gift!
Yield: 6 cups plus perhaps a little more leftover for the refrigerator.