Don’t be fooled by its fuzzy exterior. The golden-pinkish peach has earned the reputation as one of the most beloved fruits of the South, finding its way into fresh salads, side dishes, chutneys and a plethora of desserts. Sink your teeth into a succulent sun-warmed peach, and you’ll understand why the fruit also describes a downright pleasant person.
Arriving in mid-summer, peaches are versatile, softball-sized gems that soon disappear from farmers’ market stands. Peach lovers will flock to farm stands to feel, smell and claim their batch of fresh peaches. Because they’re only perfectly ripe for a short moment in time, using up a bushel or shopping bag full of peaches becomes the cook’s challenge. Of course, a peach pie and a slow-cooked peach butter are always delicious options for using up peaches, but here are a few resourceful ways to let your peaches shine.
1. Can Them
Can your peaches so you can enjoy summer’s goodness on a cold day. Skin the peaches by blanching and peeling, discard the pit, and cut them in halves. Cook the halved peaches in a saucepan of homemade simple syrup on medium heat for a few minutes before tightly packing and processing in a water-bath canner of boiling water for 15 minutes. Use the leftover syrup to sweeten a tea for a delicious southern peach tea.
2. Freeze Them
Freezing peaches is another way to save them for later. Before packaging them up, cook your peaches in a saucepan with about 1 inch water for 10-15 minutes, or until just tender. Drain, pat dry and store in freezer-safe plastic bags.
3. Peach Ice Cream
A fresh, soft peach covered in a heavy dose of cream is a simple, iconic indulgence. Peach ice cream is the ultimate frozen version of this pairing. To make your own, peel, chop and simmer 3 cups peaches in a shallow saucepan for about 20 minutes, adding a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg if you’d like. Chill these peaches overnight in a plastic container.
Meanwhile, cook a basic vanilla ice cream custard and process in an ice cream machine. In the final 5 minutes of processing, fold in the tender peaches and juices. Freeze for at least 3 hours before eating.
For a Peach Melba version of the ice cream, cook a cup of raspberries with 1/4 cup of sugar to make raspberry syrup. Top the ice cream with the raspberry syrup for a refreshing combination of seasonal fruits.
4. Sweet Peach Tea Jam
If you enjoy a little peach syrup in your tea, you’ll love the same flavors on a biscuit or piece of toast. To make Sweet Peach Tea Jam, adapted from Jam On: The Craft of Canning Fruit (Studio Publishing, 2012), by Laena McCarthy, skin and chop about 3 pounds of ripe peaches into bite-size pieces. Add 2 cups honey and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and cook the peaches in a saucepan at a simmer for 20 minutes, stirring often. Cover and allow the peaches to rest in a sealed container in the refrigerator overnight.
Drain the peaches through sieve, catching all their juices in a bowl beneath. Bring the reserved juices to a boil on high heat, using a candy thermometer to measure the temperature and stirring often. When the syrup reaches 221 degrees F, reduce to medium heat and add the chopped peaches to the saucepan. Add in 8 ounces of fresh-brewed decaffeinated tea or a black tea of your choosing. Bring to medium heat and stir often until the jam gels. (You can test with a chilled spoon—if the jam wrinkles and doesn’t drip, it’s ready).
Process your jam in half-pint jars in a boiling water bath, providing 1/2 inch headspace, for 15 minutes.
5. Grill Them
Peaches are fleshy, resilient and tender enough to be treated much like meat on the grill. Plus, a flame tends to bring out smoky peach barbecue flavor. After removing the pit (skin is optional), brush halved peaches with oil and place them on a high-heated grill cut side down until they turn golden brown. Remove and serve with herbs from your garden, such as thyme, mint or lavender, and a slab of butter. As an alternative, fill the divot with goat cheese or honey cream cheese.
6. Pickle Them
If you’ve been dabbling in food preservation for some time, you’ve probably figured out you can pickle just about anything from your garden. Peaches are no exception.
Make a brine by boiling 3 cups of sugar and 1½ cups of vinegar. Reduce the heat, then add in 12 to 14 peeled and halved peaches, and cook lightly for a few minutes. Remove peaches into a separate bowl, and then reheat your brine. Distribute pieces of ginger, cloves and cinnamon sticks in two quart-sized canning jars, then add the peaches, packing tightly. Cover with brine and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. (See a complete recipe from the Georgia Peach Council.
7. Peach Condiments
While peaches are stand-alone stars in many dishes, they can also provide a welcome boost of flavor in unexpected places. Consider replacing your traditional tomato ketchup with a tangy, spicy peach purée or peach ketchup. Use a food processor to purée five to six peaches, peeled and pitted. Add your purée to a saucepan, and cook with a small amount of vinegar, brown sugar, chili powder and chopped onion. There are many variations, but you can customize your flavoring based on how you plan to use your ketchup. (See this option on Two for the Moon.) If you make a homemade barbecue sauce, a peach purée can also give your concoction a hint of sweetness.
8. Peach Skillet Cake
Peaches are commonplace in summertime tarts and pies, but they’re also wonderful surprises in cake. To make a skillet cake, caramelize 1/2 cup of sugar and butter in the bottom of a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the syrup is thick, line the bottom of the skillet with sliced peaches. Cover with a vanilla cake batter, and bake in a 350-degree-F oven for 50 minutes. Allow to cool before flipping your upside down cake.