Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Waste Not, Want Not

During a Texas summer, everything struggles to survive. Not just the flowers, plants, and trees, but the bugs, the birds, the crawfish, everything. It is easy to sit and dream of bountiful gardens, fanciful flowers, and fruitful trees when the weather is damp and cool, but it doesn't take long for all those things to wilt under the big Texas sun.

However, despite the odds, some plants manage to produce a little something for all the trouble. In my gardening dreams, I have veggies and berries and herbs coming out of my ears, and I have more than enough to store up for friends, family, and fruitless winter months. Sadly, what my garden has managed to produce this year has been just enough to supplement the grocery list, not really enough to pack pantries and cupboards. It's been fun working garden veggies in to dinner menus, and watching Audrey pick a strawberry here and there while we explore the garden space, but alas, only the jalapeños have been plentiful enough to can.

That is, at my house, anyway (and this is my first year to have a garden... with a few tweaks over the dormant months, perhaps next year will be better). At my mom's place, however, her peach tree has exploded with fruit- an unpredictable phenomenon that the birds and bugs have not missed- and last week we picked every last tiny Texas peach that the wildlife hadn't already sampled. We sifted through all the (then) rock-hard clingstone peaches, picked out the biggest and best, and guess who got to take them all home? You bet... and happily!

22 pounds of Texas peaches, slightly under-ripe, made it to my house at the end of last week. The first step? Tricking the peaches in to ripening the rest of the way. The solution? A really big paper bag.

After taking the weekend to sit and mature, Monday rolled around, and they smelled like they were ready for business! I started reading up on ways to safely can peaches without a pressure-canner, and found two great recipes in a modern canning book. Batch number one: peach butter. Requirements: eight pounds of peaches. Roger that.

Now, here's a trick that- in theory- is supposed to make peeling peaches a breeze: if you dip a peach in boiling water for about 30 seconds, the peel is supposed to slip right off, easy-peasy. Ha. I sure tried that trick... with all 22 pounds of peaches. You know what? There's always an exception to the rule.

Boiling the little buggers

A dip in an ice bath

The whole operation

SO, after hand-peeling the 8 pounds of peaches called for in the peach butter recipe, I set the rest of the peaches aside (they will become brandied peaches today) and moved on with my operation. I swear, after the peeling is done, the rest of the process is really easy! That is, as long as your hand isn't cramped in the shape of a claw from holding a pairing knife in the same position for almost 2 hours... 

Eight pounds of hand-peeled Texas peaches

A little lemon, a little sugar, a pinch of cinnamon, and some time to simmer over low heat, and voilà! Summery peach love for those dreary Texas winters. That is, if I can resist cracking in to these beauties before then...

Eight pounds of peaches' yield: five 1-pint jars of peach preserves (aka peach butter)

Side Note: I processed these jars using the boiling-water method, and all of them did in fact properly seal, thank you very much. 

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