In which I get a bushel of peaches.

A few of you who sat in my early canning classes this season were so knocked out by the sample of my pickled peaches that you had to go home, make them and blog about it.  Which I think is actually way cool, but everyone along the way has mentioned how much work peaches are.

Yes they are.  I think I mention this in my classes, but my early season classes didn’t actually get to witness this work in action.  The last few classes and demos I’ve done have featured my pickled peaches, so participants have gotten a better feel of what’s involved, some of the challenges that can arise and why it’s all worth it in the end.

Under ripe peaches are a bitch to peel.  The only way around it is to break out the vegetable peeler.  Get a half a bushel of those suckers and you’ll be busy for some time.  Further more, the description of peaches as free stone & cling stone?  That refers to how easily the peach gives up the big seed in the middle.  I’ve already done two classes this season with under ripe cling stones and smiled through it, even though they probably behaved somewhat similar to Patience’s description of her run-in with them over the weekend – like assholes.

When I work on them here at home, I have a few tricks I like to employ to make it easier.  It’s taken me a good dozen years to come up with these and every year I figure something new out.  Peaches are a family favorite – every summer I put up a minimum of a bushel.  This year I branched out and tried a few new ways of putting them up – we’ll see how that goes over. Certain people get upset when I take peaches away from their favorite presentation – pickled and pies.

To start with, if you’re going to put up peaches 5 different ways, you might want to break that task down over the summer.  I say this having spent the better part of the last two days straight putting up a bushel of peaches 5 different ways.  Edie’s at camp,  Pat’s working, the restaurant is closed for vacation this week – this town is in the dead zone of summer.  There were NO cars on Preston when I ran to IY at 5 pm Monday afternoon.  Really, I’ve got nothing better to do but sit & read because the house is still actually in pretty good shape following the dining room clean up project. And I did that last week.  I can only sit around so much.

DSCN3663A bushel of peaches seems like a good idea at the time, but it’s a commitment.  Start smaller.  I hadn’t done a full bushel at once in a few years and I remembered why about 11:00 Monday night when I crawled into bed after a long day of peaches and was only halfway there.  Part of it might have been because I did the box of seconds that day, three different recipes of which two were brand new, all required cooking of some sort, so there was some stovetop management going on (and two canners at once) and I realized I was completely and totally out of cinnamon, requiring me to run out to IY in the middle of it all.  D’oh.

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Those are fermenting projects in the background. More on those later.

My set-up.  I have this large cutting board my Uncle Peter gave me as a wedding gift, along with a set of knives.  He was what Edie would call a meat-a-tarian, a carnivore through & through and he gave me the set so that I could cook my groom nice big hunks of meat.  It has a channel around the edge that catches juice – perfect for chopping mass quantities of peaches and tomatoes.  It’s large enough that it covers most of my two working square feet of counterspace, because this is what the other side looks like:

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Part staging area, part recipe stand.

Meanwhile, at the stove, I have this.

DSCN3685I put my stool on one side with the peaches, I partially fill a cooler with ice & cold water, sitting it at the foot of the stove.  I can do about a quarter a bushel at a time with that cooler. As they come out of the pot of boiling water, I drop them in the cooler to keep as I peel & chop them.  Following that, the peaches go into a bowl of cold water & either lemon juice or crushed vitamin C to keep them from turning brown until the next step.

DSCN3682I run my knife through the cleft of the peach, all the way around.  Most will nicely split in half, with the stone on one side, some might need a gentle twist to help them along.  If the stone doesn’t pop out easily with my fingers, I carve it out with my paring knife.   There are some peaches that will not cooperate in the least, so with those, I chop them like you would a mango, around the stone.

Under ripe peaches are a bit green in tone.  Like this.

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(the paint is from the desk I’m rehabbing for Edie’s room.)

I do find that sitting in the cold water until they are ready to be peeled helps even the under ripe ones.  But peaches are a wet, slippery mess.  There’s no way around it.  Tomatoes are the same way.  It’s always good to put them up with someone -which is how I’ve taught so many friends over the years and why I tell people I will come help you can – it’s good to split the work.

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Thrift shop punch bowls are my favorite spare large bowls in the kitchen.

This was the first year I bought peaches at market – usually I will head out to the orchard and get seconds, half a bushel at a time.   Saturday morning I just happened to walk up to the Saunder’s stand and inquired about seconds, hoping to save myself a drive.  Before I knew it, I was walking away with a half bushel of seconds and a half bushel of firsts, for a great price.

Seconds are the fruit that have blemishes or are misshaped – they are not picture perfect.  You can get them for a reduced price and are perfect for canning – I get seconds for tomatoes & apples as well.   I always let my peaches sit a day or two to get fully ripe before doing anything with them.

A quick note about white peaches.  They are divine to eat, but it is not recommended you can them, as they are not acidic enough.  (I’ve never had a problem with them, but I never do straight up cans of white peaches either.)

DSCN3699Day one of peaching, I did two small batches, trying out two new recipes  – Food in Jar’s Oven Roasted Peach Butter (here’s a link to her oven roasted nectarine butter, which is the same technique, different fruit) as well as the Duck Sauce recipe from Put ’em Up! Fruit.  What was left of that half bushel got pickled.

Day two of peaching I didn’t break my camera out – I was planning on pickling and freezing them all anyway and how many pictures of chopping peaches do you need to see?  That half bushel were the ‘firsts’ and I have to say, they were hands down the most exquisitely beautifully perfect mess of fruit I have ever dealt with.  There was one with a blemish in the whole bunch.  They peeled beautifully.  They were just the right stage of ripeness.  I had them peeled and chopped in no time flat.

I did a few quart jars of the pickled, as I noticed last summer it took 4 pints to make a decent pie – I figured putting them up in quarts would save me some time as well as shelf space.  I got 3 quarts and 21 pints of pickled peaches, 4 small jars of oven roasted peach butter and three jars of duck sauce out of that bushel.   I also put two pies in the freezer, using a trick my friend Cynthia taught me.

While Edie loves pickled peach pie, her father loves just straight up peach pie.  I know I’ve babbled here (and elsewhere) about how his birthday is two days after hers in January – coming on the heels of the holiday baking season, I tend to run out of steam on that day between their two birthdays.  One year I remembered I had a peach pie in the freezer that I threw in the oven and he was so pleased with it that I take the time to put a peach pie in the freezer every August just for Pat’s January birthday.  It’s the only thing I ever plan ahead for like that and I cannot tell you how much I love myself for it every year come his birthday.

But sometimes when you are up to your elbow in peaches, you don’t want to stop to make a pie crust and roll it out.  Cynthia’s trick is to chop your fruit, throwing it in a pie tin to measure.  Add sugar & flour (to help thicken the juices), then plop it in a ziploc bag and put it in the freezer.  I did it with apples last year and loved the idea – it takes up less space than a whole pie and I don’t have to devote all my pie tins to the future pies in the freezer!  When it’s time to turn it into a pie, you can just pull the bag of frozen filling out, drop it between your two crusts and pop it in the oven.

While the skins of the first half bushel went straight to the chickens, I decided to try making peach honey, which is lovely in tea, with the second half bushel of skins.  Given that I pickle watermelon rinds, it makes sense that I would use as much of the peach as I can.

And that friends, is how I go about dealing with a bushel of peaches.  I make my game plan, I set up my kitchen and I go.   Any questions?

10 thoughts on “In which I get a bushel of peaches.

  1. meridith says:

    That is an amazing pie filling trick and I am so happy to know it. Also, I love this post because it exactly everything I wanted to know. Not being a canner, though I think I’d be a very good one, I am impressed by your mad skillz.

    • Becky says:

      Good, thank you. After reading a few posts by some of my students in which the sheer amount of work and mess involved in making my pickled peach recipe was talked about – not to mention one of my swap friends asking exactly how do I do everything in my tiny kitchen – I thought a long winded post on how to go about it might be helpful. The pie trick works well with apples too.

  2. Cassi says:

    I just ordered a 1/2 bushel of peaches from my Menonite store. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them, but I really like the pie-filling idea 🙂

  3. Patience says:

    Great tip about the vegetable peeler! And freezing pie filling! We love peach pie here too. I have a great recipe from an old issue of Bon Appetit.
    We waited three whole days and then cracked open a jar of our pickled peaches. Delicious!

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