Peach season in metro Phoenix has come to a close, the leafy green trees now bare of their hued orange baubles. To be honest, the crowds, lines, and number of things to do at Schnepf was a little overwhelming. While visions of peach jam, pie, and ice cream danced around my brain, children loaded onto a train circling the farm, lines swirled in and out of each other for BBQ or peach cinnamon rolls, and carnival rides raged in the background. As more U-Pick fruits loom on the horizon, I have learned a few things from my most recent peach-picking experience that I would like to share with you.
A few dos and don'ts to enhance your peach- (or any fruit-)picking pleasure:
Don't get peach-greedy, because you will have to haul these beautiful baubles all the way back to your car, all 40 pounds of them.
Do bring your fiancé to haul them for you.
Don't hide under a peach tree and eat a bunch of peaches. This is only acceptable if you are 5 years old. Yes, 45-year-old lady, I did see you.
Do eat a peach directly after paying for it.
Don't bribe small children to stand on your shoulders and reach that perfect peach at the top of the tree, unless of course they are your own children.
After peach-picking at Schnepf a couple of years ago with a friend, we both retreated to our homes to craft up some peach jam. I made jam and canned it all. Later my friend confessed that she had done the same, but ended up throwing out her jam because she was unsure whether she had canned it properly.
Canning is a process to be taken seriously, but if you are new to making jam, don't panic. You can make jam, and not can it. It can be stored in the fridge in lieu of processing it in jars. I make small batches of jam in this manner all the time in the restaurants I work in, to use in cookies, in milkshakes, in tarts, or on something simple like my morning toast.
Throw a pot of water on the stove and bring it to a rolling boil. Place a few of your freshly picked peaches in the water for a couple of seconds. Remove the peaches and place them directly in a bowl of ice water. The skin of the peaches should peel off or slip off easily. Repeat. Cut your peaches into chunks and discard the pits.
Place the peach chunks, sugar (use a half-pound of sugar for every pound of peaches) and lemon juice (use the juice of one lemon for every pound of peaches) into a pot. Turn on the heat to medium.
Stir your jam often so that it doesn't burn on the bottom. Place a plate with three or four spoons in the freezer.
As the jam cooks, skim the foam off the top with a spoon and discard. When your jam becomes thicker and glossier in color, take a spoon from the freezer, scoop up a bit of jam and place it on the plate back in the freezer for one minute. When the jam is to your desired consistency (ideally, a thickness with which you can run your finger through it and it does not meld back together), remove from heat. Allow to cool a bit. Spoon into a container, place plastic wrap directly on touching the jam, and store in refrigerator.
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Use this delicious jam on your favorite local artisan bread, over ice cream, or my favorite way, in a little crostada.
Make or buy your favorite pie dough. Roll it out to about a 16th to an eighth of inch thick. Use a bowl placed on the rolled dough to cut a perfect circle (any size you like!). Smear the jam in there (or a ton fresh peaches tossed with sugar and some lemon juice), and fold the crust around the edges. This doesn't have to be neat, it's a gorgeous peasant crostada. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake in a 375-degree oven till the crust is golden on top and bottom and the jam or fresh peaches are bubbling and thick. Top with toasted almonds and some vanilla ice cream. It doesn't get much better than that.
Rachel Miller is a pastry chef and food writer in Phoenix, where she bakes, eats, and single-handedly keeps her local cheese shop in business. You can get more information about her pastry at www.pistolwhippedpastry.com, or on her blog at www.croissantinthecity.com.