PITTSBURGH — Summer is wonderful for all kinds of reasons, but especially because of all the different types of fruit available for the picking.
June ushers in plump, juicy local strawberries, followed by tangy-sweet blueberries around the Fourth of July. If you’re lucky, you can make it to a farm to pick them yourself, heightening the taste experience.
But for me, the king of summer fruits will always be the peach.
I’m not much for home preserving, but I’ve learned over the years how to make a pretty good refrigerator peach jam. My husband only half-kids that he’s addicted to it. I make jar after jar so there’s always a spoonful for his morning yogurt as summer stretches into fall and then winter. That requires not just a lot of time in the kitchen, but also a lot of peaches.
Some years, I wait until Pennsylvania’s Chambersburg peaches arrive in August, or load up at local farmers markets. This year I couldn’t wait, so I ordered a 25-pound box of yellow peaches from The Peach Truck, which delivers the stone fruits from farms in Fort Valley, Ga. — the Peach Capital of the World. They were trucked inside a refrigerated semi to a parking lot near my house on July 10. Apparently I’m not the only peach lover in Pittsburgh: The line of cars was so long that a cop was directing traffic.
“Perfect for baking, canning, grilling or eating straight from the box,” the company proclaims, and they’re spot on. Everything I’ve made with their sweet and juicy fruit has been terrific.
The last time I bought from The Peach Truck, my box of fruit took about a week to ripen, which gave me some time to ponder what to do with it besides make jam. This time, however, the fruit was giving off a sweet peach aroma just two days in, and almost every one had some “give” when I gently squeezed it. These peaches were ripe, and I needed to work fast.
My sister, Kathy, took a bagful to make a pie and I also unloaded some on my mother. Another dozen were quickly peeled, sliced and tossed in a little sugar and lemon so I could freeze them for later. And the rest?
Yes, I made some jam, but not with my usual recipe. This time I followed Leah Shenot of Shenot Family Farm’s recipe, and added diced jalapeno for a bit of a kick. I’m not sure my husband will love it at breakfast, but it will make an awesome glaze for pork or chicken wings, and I can’t wait to spoon it on a warm buttermilk biscuit.
Having made three batches of homemade “cellos” this spring — with lemons, oranges and cherries — I also decided to try my hand at peach brandy. My colleague, Bob Batz Jr., gave me his father’s old-school recipe and swore it was one of the best things he’d ever tasted. The only drawback was I’d have to wait a year or two to drink it.
Photocopied in Bob’s boyish hand, the recipe is incredibly simple. You mix diced peaches and their stones in a large container with yeast, brown sugar, cornmeal, raisins and water. Give it a good stir every day for nine days, let it rest for two more and then strain and bottle it. Then store it in a cool, dark place for as many months — or years — as you’re willing to wait.
“When I was growing up in the 1970s, my dad dabbled at making wine, mostly Concord grape,” Bob told me. “But at least once he made peach brandy, from this recipe that middle school me copied into the front of our slim, World War II wine book from England. They could turn anything into wine. Sealed into a former Canadian whiskey bottle with brown packing tape, a bottle of this brandy kept for 20-plus years until we cracked it open for a memorable Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh. It was wonderful.”
Finally, I mined The Peach Truck website for something that sounded easy but interesting. I settled on a slow cooker recipe for Asian peach beef stew. The mix of boneless chuck roast and fresh peaches in a spicy sauce made with soy, hoisin and chili-garlic sauces is a little bit sweet, a little bit hot and totally scrumptious. And so simple!
If you missed The Peach Truck or just prefer to buy local, the good news is that Chambersburg peaches should be available within a week or so, according to Cavan Patterson, who sells them through Wild Purveyors in East Liberty.
“Peaches are coming on strong out here,” he says via email. Early clingstone varieties — whose meat clings to the pit — are in peak season.
The crop this year is much better than it has been the last few because there were no significant late frosts or hail storms, which can damage the fruit.
The slightly smaller and sweeter clingstones arrive first (early May to mid-June) and are best for canning and preserving; the majority of all commercially sold canned peaches are clingstones. Freestone peaches, with flesh that easily pulls away from the pit, arrive around the end of July or early August, and are typically larger. They’re best for eating fresh or using in cooking, baking, canning and freezing.
Red Haven is one of the first freestone peaches to ripen each year, Patterson said. A beautiful red-over-yellow fruit with juicy, sweet meat and tender skin, it provides just the right amount of tartness.
Patterson credits the terrior in the Cumberland Valley for Chambersburg peaches’ remarkable flavor and flesh.
“The valley is filled with limestone and spring water, which make up countless ice-cold, spring-fed springs. The ground is lush and the valley has a consistent flow of migratory avian life. The available nutrients here are outstanding.”
Easy Peach-Jalapeno Jam
Makes 4 pint containers. Leah Shenot, Shenot Farm & Market
“You really can’t mess it up, honestly,” Leah Shenot of Shenot Farm & Market in Marshall, PA., says of this recipe. Just be sure to measure the fruit and sugar exactly. She skips the lemon juice and pat of butter many other recipes call for, and adds the pectin after the sugar. Diced jalapeno gives the jam a spicy-sweet kick.
Delicious on biscuits and toast, this jam also works as a glaze on pork or chicken, or as a topping for cheese and crackers.
4 cups peeled and sliced peaches
7 cups sugar
1 or 2 thumb-sized jalapenos, thinly sliced
1 packet Sure-Jell fruit pectin
Peel, pit and finely chop peaches. Measure exactly 4 cups prepared fruit into 6- or 8-quart saucepot. Add sugar, stir to combine and bring to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly.
Depending on how hot you want it, add 1 or 2 thumb-sized jalapeños, thinly sliced. You can take the seeds out; I leave some in for a little more heat.
Cook until it’s as thick and syrupy as you like. Stir in Sure-Jell and return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.
Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of the tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two-piece lids. Screw bands tightly.
Put it in jars and refrigerate/freeze or do the traditional boil canner for use all year.
Slow Cooker Asian Peach Chuck Roast
Serves 6-8. Adapted from thepeachtruck.com
The original recipe says to make this dish with beef short ribs, but have you seen the price? I used trimmed boneless chuck roast instead.
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
21/2 pounds boneless chuck roast, cut into cubes
4 tablespoons olive oil
4-inch section fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
5 fresh peaches, pitted and roughly chopped, divided (about 5 cups)
1 bunch scallions, divided
1 cup miso garlic or beef broth
1 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
Cooked rice or noodles, for serving
Mix together flour, salt and pepper in a large zip-close plastic bag. Add beef cubes, a handful at a time, and toss to coat, brushing off any excess. (Do this in batches.)
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Working with a few at a time with a little olive oil, brown beef cubes on all sides and transfer to a slow cooker.
In the same pan over medium heat, add garlic, ginger and 4 cups chopped peaches. (Reserve remaining 1 cup for later.) Stir to combine.
Roughly chop half of the scallions, add to the pan with the peaches and stir to combine. Roughly chop the green parts of the other half and reserve in a bowl for garnish.
Add miso ginger or beef broth, hoisin sauce, soy sauce and chili garlic sauce to the pan. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and pour over the meat in the slow cooker.
Place cover on cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Serve on top of rice or noodles, garnished with reserved chopped scallions and chopped fresh peaches.
Bob Batz Jr., Post-Gazette
This recipe for homemade peach brandy from Bob Batz Jr.’s family came with instructions to “put everything in a large stone crock.” I made it in a food-grade plastic 6.5-gallon fermenter bucket I bought at South Hills Brewing Supply in Green Tree.
I made the mistake of starting just as I was going out of town for the weekend, and had to haul the bucket to my sister’s house so she could do the required daily stirring until I returned. The mixture should quickly bubble up and smell yeasty, a sign it’s fermenting. Bob advises closely following the instructions to bottle it loosely for the first 40 days, or the bottle could explode under pressure.
This makes quite a bit of brandy — I filled three 750 ml bottles along with a small growler. A bit of sediment settled on the bottom in each bottle, but I’ll filter it out when I rebottle the brandy after 40 days.
2 quarts peaches, washed, scrubbed and diced, with stones
1 pound corn meal
5 pounds light brown sugar
1 cake Fleischmann’s yeast
1 pound raisins
1 gallon water
Put everything in a large stone crock (5 gallon) and mix well. Keep in warm temperature for nine days, stirring every day.
Do not stir for two additional days.
Strain and bottle, sealing loosely. Store for 40 days at room temperature. Then seal tightly and keep in a cool place.