Garden Diary - August 2012

Saturday, 11 August 2012
It's a Peachy Summer


Did you know that August is National Peach Month? Just so. Back thirty years ago, in 1982, Congress approved and Ronald Regan, President of the United States, proclaimed July National Peach Month. (I'm not sure how it morphed to August.) He called upon the people of the United States to incorporate this nutritious fruit into their diets, and furthermore called upon interested groups to celebrate this month with appropriate programs and activities.

I look forward to summer's peaches as eagerly as I do tomatoes. The fruit shipped up from South America in winter may soften, but it never truly ripens, that blissfully sweet and juicy goodness that dribbles down your chin with every bite.

While peaches are wonderful for eating out of hand they are also fantastic for desserts, jams, salsa, and more. Taking things one at a time, let's begin with dessert. (Life is short, we should begin with dessert.) Peach pie is good but I prefer this simple peach cobbler.

For the filling - from the July / August 1996 Cook's Illustrated
1 3/4 pounds peaches. Peel, pit, and slice thick,
Mix 2 teaspoons cornstarch, 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 Tablespoon brandy.
Toss with peaches to coat fruit.

This really easy biscuit topping comes from the July 1997 Gourmet magazine

5 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons yellow cornmeal
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
Cut the cold butter in pieces. In a bowl with a pastry blender or in a food processor blend or pulse
together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt, and butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
If using a food processor transfer to a bowl. Add milk and vanilla and stir until the mixture forms a dough.
Drop topping by rounded spoonfuls onto filling (do not completely cover it) and bake in the middle of the oven
for 40 minutes, or until topping is golden and cooked through. Serve with vanilla ice cream or softly whipped cream

Here's a hint: if you don't want to heat up the kitchen by turning on the oven just portion into individual serving size ramekins and bake in a toaster oven that you can even set outside on a deck or patio (provided you have an available electric outlet.)

And if you want to catch summer in a jar, there are all sorts of sweet preserves to liven up your toast on a snowy winter afternoon. Now I admit that making preserves might seem intimidating. Not for me, as my mother did, my sister does, and so does my daughter. I've even taught preserving classes, and written a book. If you still feel that making preserves sounds dangerous and scary, take heart. Just like bread machines and automatic rice cookers, there's now an automatic jam and jelly maker.

I may not own a do-it-for-you jam maker. I don't especially want one. Because, don't you agree, I'm doing quite well on my own. This week I made 5, 6, or 7 8-ounce jars each of

Peach Chutney - Very nice. Has craisins and pears, jaggery (a lumpy brown Indian sugar but ordinary dark brown sugar
would also work), pickling spices, and a little vinegar. Long slow cooking. It will be lovely with spareribs, roast chicken, or cheeses.
Ginger Peachy Jam - I chopped fine some ginger in syrup that I had preserved last year, but you can find it in stores. It has a
nicer, softer flavor that fresh ginger root which can be too harsh and hot, in my opinion, for something as sweet as peach preserved.
Peach Lavender Jam - this uses sugar infused with lavender and real lavender honey from beehives kept in a field of lavender.
If unavailable, make a lavender infused honey by gently warming a mild honey and steeping fresh lavender in it for 20 minutes.
Peach Cranberry Jam - I has some cranberries in the freezer from last year, around Thanksgiving time when the grocery stores
have masses of them. I always freeze some, for cranberry muffins and to use in preserves with fruit that's unavailable in November.
Hot Chile Peach Jam - The trick here is to balance sweet and heat. And that's a personal matter. I like it so first you taste the
sweet of peaches and then a warmth suffuses your mouth. Sweet, with a kick. Good with all sorts of rich fat meat, like duck and pork.

So get busy and start saving summer in a jar. Winter will return, and you'll be glad you did.


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