Sunday, September 12, 2010
Summer in January
When I was about 12 years old, I read a novel written by Irene Hunt, entitled, “Up a Road Slowly”. It was a story about a young girl’s coming of age and her complicated relationship with her aunt, with whom she lived after her mother’s death. I remember very few details about the story except for one late summer scenario when the main character, Julie, helps make fresh peach ice cream. They used an antique wooden ice cream maker and slowly turned the crank by hand to freeze the thick cream and peaches over ice. The peaches were at their peak, fully ripe and dripping with juice. I just never forgot how incredibly luscious making that ice cream sounded and although I had never had homemade peach ice cream, I could imagine vividly how incredible that creamy, rich, peach ice cream would taste.
I still love fresh peaches and all the delicious ways they can be enjoyed. Sometimes the best way to enjoy a peach is the easiest; to stand over the kitchen sink and bite into one, letting whatever juice escapes fall into the sink. The sad thing about peaches is that they are only available for such a short time. To remedy this, I recently tried using an idea from “French Food at Home with Laura Calder” to freeze peaches in jars with syrup. (The specific recipe can be found in Laura Calder’s recipes at www.foodnetwork.ca.) The peaches are peeled and sliced but not cooked, so even though they are preserved in syrup, they should still taste like ripe, fresh peaches even in the middle of winter. So if you’re like me and would like to have fresh peaches available whenever you want them, even if your craving comes in the middle of a January blizzard, here’s one way to preserve them while they are still at their peak.
Although the recipe from foodnetwork.ca gives instructions to peel the peaches first, I found it easier to change the order of preparations.
Frozen Canned Peaches, adapted from Laura Calder
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon powdered ascorbic acid
8 – 10 peaches
2 cups of water
The Laura Calder recipe suggests that you can find ascorbic acid from a drug store, but I found that powdered ascorbic acid, suitable for preserving, is most readily available at larger natural food stores. Ascorbic acid is very expensive, but a little goes a long way.
First, fill a large stock pot or canning pot with enough water to cover the size of mason jars you are using (I like the 2 cup or medium size) and put on a burner over high heat. Wash your jars, lids and seals and rinse thoroughly. Submerge the jars, lids and seals into the large pot of water. When the water has come to a boil, boil the jars, etc. for 10 minutes to sterilize them. After they have boiled for at least 10 minutes, remove all the items to a large baking rack to cool slightly. (I found that a pair of tongs for lifting items in one hand and a fresh dish towel in the other to balance made this task much easier.)
Meanwhile, bring 2 cups of water to a boil with the sugar and ascorbic acid. Boil for two to five minutes, until the sugar and ascorbic acid are completely dissolved. Pour the syrup into a container that it will be easy to pour the syrup out from, such as a large measuring cup. Allow to cool.
In a medium to large pot, bring water to a boil. Fill a large bowl about half full with cold water and place it on the counter close to this second pot. Add about a dozen ice cubes to the cold bowl of water. Using a paring knife, make a small X mark on the bottom of each peach. Once the water in the second pot has reached the boiling point, slip in no more than 4 peaches at a time. Count slowly to 10, and then remove the peaches to the bowl of ice water. Give the peaches a few minutes to cool. Repeat with the remaining peaches. Remove the peaches from the ice water, pat dry with a paper towel and using the paring knife again, peel them, starting from the X point. This method of briefly blanching the peaches causes their skins to slip off much more easily.
Slice the peaches in about ½” slices, and fill the jars about ¾ full. Cover the peaches with the cooled syrup. (The peaches will float a bit in the syrup.) Leave at least an inch of air space at the top of each jar, to leave enough room for expansion when the peaches and syrup freeze. Top with the seals and lids and tighten somewhat. Once the jars have cooled completely, seal them tightly and freeze.
All that remains is to wait for that bitterly cold day in winter, when all you can think about is long, warm summer days and the glorious taste of fresh peaches. Yum!