Seven years ago I brought home a bunch of what could generously be called, well, sticks. It seemed as though it would take forever for them to emerge as anything but kindling. But year followed year, and the sticks turned into trees, which eventually began to take shape as an actual orchard. It isn’t huge; we only have 12 trees, but it’s a productive combination of peaches, apples, pears and plums.
This spring the trees were an absolutely breathtaking array of colorful, bee-infused blossoms that soon transformed into our first ever fruit harvest. The peaches ripened first. They came slowly for the first week until suddenly I found myself overwhelmed by a rather startling amount of peaches. I got out the jars and the canner and got to work, determined not to miss out on a single peach.
For the uninitiated, canning peaches is a multi-step process. First, the peaches
must be picked. As I did not get a dwarf tree but opted for a full-size that job entailed pulling out my apple picker and fighting the birds for the best peaches at the very top of the tree.
Next up is the hard part. The peaches must be peeled and pitted. I drop a dozen peach into a pot of simmering water and let them sit for just about a minute. Then I plunge the peaches into an ice-water bath. With this process the skins usually just slip right off. I drop the peaches into a big bowl of water and ascorbic acid to keep them bright and then drain them in a colander. Having a wide straining ladle helps with this.
Pitting is next. Fortunately, I had put in a free-stone peach variety so this was easier than it would have been with cling peaches. With the peaches cut into fourths I now need to can. I use a light syrup and can in wide-mouth quart jars. It takes 20 minutes in a water bath canner and the results are delicious, tasting like real peaches as opposed to the tinny, over-sweetened flavor of commercially canned peaches.
Somewhere around the fifth batch of peaches I was so sick of the whole process, sick even of peaches, that I could barely stand to look at the tree, covered as it still was in golden orbs needing to be picked THAT VERY DAY!!! I smelled like peaches. Bees followed me every step I took outside. I was sticky and tired and we had a hot spell that didn’t help at all. I had to change things up if I was going to finish.
That meant it was time to get creative. I made peach butter and peach pie filling. Peach jam was next, although I have a basement full of jam already. I even juiced some of the fruit in my steam juicer and canned that as well. I hoped that no one noticed the pulp being fed to the pigs and chickens. I could have run it through the Squeezo and made more jam but I refused to feel guilty, figuring that what we didn’t eat ourselves would come back to us as ham or eggs. Finally I began giving peaches away. In return I was finding myself with bags of plums and bushels of early apples. I didn’t care. At least it was a change.
Here’s my recipe for fast, east peach salsa. It is fabulous on grilled salmon!
- 2 cups of fresh, chopped peaches
- ¼ cup red or golden pepper, chopped fine
- 4 tablespoons orange or mango juice
- 1/3 cup Vidalia onion, minced
- handful of cilantro, chopped fine
- Add all ingredients to a medium mixing bowl.
- Stir well.
- Chill in refrigerator for a few hours before serving to allow flavors to meld.