Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Peachapalooza, Part I: in marmalade with basil, St. Germain syrup, and cardamon butter

I adore peaches and make peach jam every year. Their cost, especially when the more-or-less local Sandhills crop is in abundance, usually stirs little heartburn, yet I've never bought them in the quantity needed to really get creative. This year, however, Whole Foods graciously made me an offer I could not refuse: a bulging case of Georgia peaches, not a spoiled one among nearly 30 pounds of fruit, for the pre-July 4th price of just $17.76.

Graham handled the transaction for me. Before he left for the house, he asked if perhaps I wanted two boxes since the price was so good. Once there, he called to make sure I really wanted a whole box - even texting me a photo to make certain. He said customers made way as he hauled the crate and a bag of sugar to checkout.

The sight of them on my kitchen table, and the perfume they were beginning to spill, was somewhat intoxicating, leading me to decide right off the bat to take a boozy approach to this bounty. After a quick run to the ABC store, I set aside a quantity for peach liqueur and, in what I think is an appealing deviation from brandied peaches, canned golden slivers in the special savor faire of St. Germain. I feel sure it will be a canning crime of the highest degree to spill out any "excess" syrup. Cocktails, anyone?

With the sole exception of Cardamon Peach Butter, all recipes require peeling these luscious orbs.Yes, peeling peaches takes time, but a quick blanch makes the job much simpler. Fill a medium stock pot about half way with water, cover and bring to a boil. Gather the fruit on a rimmed baking pan near the stove and, with a sharp knife, slash a shallow X into the bottom of each peach. Using a metal skimmer or spider, submerge 4-5 peaches at a time in the boiling water for about 45-60 seconds, or until the cut edges begin to loosen, then return the peaches to the sheet pan. Repeat until all fruit has been blanched, adding more water to the pot if needed.

When cool enough to handle, grab each flap of peel between the tip of a knife and a thumb and lightly pull back to denude each peach. Be sure to save all peelings and the peachy blanching water for the jelly and syrup, but discard the pits, which contain a trace amount of cyanide.

Recipes for Peach Liqueur and Lemony Peach Jelly and Syrup - seriously, save those peels and the blanching water - will follow soon. Tim thinks the results of the recipe below was the best of the bunch. I'm typically not keen on all that citrus peel in marmalade, but the food processor makes quick work of pulverizing a lemon, and the slow simmer leaves it mild and thick, a perfect base for the macerated peaches that follow.

Peach Lemon Marmalade with Basil
Adapted from The Blue Chair Cookbook by Rachel Saunders (@ Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2010)

1 pound thin-skinned organic lemons, seeded
3½  pounds peaches; peeled and pitted
3½  pounds white cane sugar
2-4 additional lemons to make 6 ounces freshly squeezed juice
½ to 1 cup small fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade just before use

Day 1
Scrub 1 pound lemons and trim ends. Cut into quarters (or sixths, if large) and remove seeds. Transfer seeded pieces to work bowl of food processor and whirr until well chopped but not fully pureed. Use your tolerance for citrus peel as a guide.

Pour into heavy bottom sauce pan and cover with about two cups of water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook uncovered 30-40 minutes until tender and thickened, stirring occasionally to ensure the mixture does not stick. Remove from heat to cool.

While lemons are cooking, score the bottom of each peach with an X and blanch as described above. Transfer to rimmed pan to catch juice and peel when peaches are cool enough to handle. Reserve peach peel and blanching water but discard the pits.

Cut peach flesh into chunks and transfer with any accumulated juice to a large hard plastic container. Using a hand-held chopper - since childhood, I've known it as a "chunka-chunka," my mother's device of choice for chunking canned tuna - chop until you like the texture, being sure to leave some big pieces. If, sadly, your kitchen is not equipped with a chunka-chunka, a potato masher will suffice.

Add the sugar, lemon juice and cooked lemons and stir well to combine. Press plastic wrap to surface of mixture to minimize browning from oxidation. Cover tightly with lid and refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours.

Day 2
Remove peach-lemon mixture from refrigerator and transfer to a non-reactive, heavy bottom canning pot or large dutch oven. Stir well to incorporate any undissolved sugar.

Bring mixture to a boil over high heat and maintain a rolling boil for about 30-40 minutes or until setting point is reached. This should not require frequent stirring, but do stir lightly every few minutes, especially toward the end, when it will may pop with great volcanic bubbles. The mixture will darken slightly as it nears completion. At this point, add a handful of basil leaves freshly chopped in a chiffonade; stir through. Basil should look like tiny green threads suspended in jelly. If you want more, add it now and stir again to combine.

Test for doneness by placing a half-spoonful of marmalade in the freezer for 2-3 minutes. If the  marmalade does not slosh when the spoon is tilted, it's done. If not, let the mixture bubble a few more minutes and test again.

Following USDA directions, process in water bath for 10 minutes then carefully transfer to heatproof surface. Leave undisturbed until jars are fully cooled and set.

* * *

In August 2009, Amanda Hesser wrote about a classic 1951 New York Times recipe for brandied peaches that truly stood the test of time. If you poke around online, you'll find in cited in other blogs and food sites, too, because it's so darn awesome.

I planned to follow its simple directions precisely before landing on the idea to use St. Germain instead. The elderflower liqueur is fabulously floral and oh so French. The mere mention of this has led several people to volunteer as testers.

I am happy to report that it is indeed quite tasty. Save any leftover syrup for cocktails, to drizzle on pound cake, or dab behind your ears. 

Peaches in St. Germain Syrup
Adapted from The New York Times.
6 pounds ripe, unblemished peaches
5 cups sugar
1 to 1½ cups St. Germain

Blanch peaches as described above. Transfer to rimmed pan to catch juice and peel when peaches are cool enough to handle. 

If peaches are a free-stone variety, cut in half; if not, cut into large slices. Reserve peach peels and blanching water (ideally, use the same blanching water as above) but discard the pits.

In another pot, combine 5 cups sugar and 5 cups water and bring to a boil. When sugar is dissolved, add peaches and accumulated juices. Reduce heat and simmer about 3 minutes.

Have 6 pint jars (or comparable variety), lids and bands ready for canning. Gently pack peaches into jars. Boil remaining syrup 5 minutes to thicken slightly. Use a small ladle to pour over fruit, filling jars ¾ full. Reserve excess syrup.

Add 3-4 tablespoons St. Germain to each pint (or about two tablespoons to each half-pint). Leave about ½ inch headroom; apply lids and bands.

Following USDA directions, process in water bath for 20 minutes then carefully transfer to heatproof surface. Leave undisturbed until jars are fully cooled. 

* * *

A lifetime ago, I won a red ribbon at the Indiana State Fair for peach butter. I wish I'd kept track of that recipe, but this one definitely is a keeper.

Peach Cardamon Butter
8 pounds peaches, pitted
Reserved St. Germain syrup (see above)
12-16 green cardamon pods, crushed
½ cinnamon stick
1-3 cups white cane sugar, as needed
½ teaspoon cardamon powder, optional
Small piece of cheesecloth, string

Cut unpeeled peaches into chunks, discarding pits, and place fruit in bowl of a large slow cooker set on low heat. Pour in reserved St. Germain syrup. Place crushed caradmon pods and  ½  stick of cinnamon on cheesecloth; gather edges together, tie tightly into a bundle and push down into fruit mixture. Cover, stirring occasionally, and simmer overnight or at least 8-10 hours.

Fish out the bundle of spices and puree contents with an immersion blender. Add 1 cup sugar and stir to incorporate. Transfer mixture to a heavy-bottom pot or dutch oven and bubble over medium heat, stirring now and then to ensure the mixture is not sticking or burning. 

During this time the butter will change in color from golden peach to reddish brown. Taste as it thickens to ensure balance of spices and adequate sweetness; if needed, add more sugar and up to a half teaspoon of dried cardamon. It should be done at or close to the point when the mixture has reduced by nearly half. This will take an hour or more, so be patient and keep stirring.

Assume that the recipe will yield at least a dozen half-pint jars, but it likely will fill more. Prepare a few extras, including some 4-ounce jars, just in case, or pour remainder into a sealable container and refrigerate.

Following USDA directions, process jars in water bath for 10 minutes then carefully transfer to heatproof surface. Leave undisturbed until jars are fully cooled and set.

1 comment:

  1. Hey there - did you use to live in Indiana? I am currently in Indianapolis! You wouldn't believe what the fair food is this year - deep fried Girl Scout Simoas. Anyway, I'm inspired to try this peach butter out, thanks for sharing the recipe.