I’ve noticed a bizarre phenomenon with peaches this year: although my peaches were quite firm, some rock hard, when I picked them (as I mentioned in the last post), they began to brown and rot very quickly, many of them in less than 24 hours. Wondering if this could be specific to the peaches at Fishkill Farm, I tweeted about it and instantly heard back from several tweeps in the Northeast saying the same exact thing: rock to rot in a day. Unfortunately for me, this makes the 40 lbs of peaches I picked on Sunday even more crazy ridiculous ambitious. Because of this phenomenon, currently there are over 25 pounds of peaches, peeled, pitted and broken into chunks, languishing in six different bowls my refrigerator with a variety of let’s-keep-these-puppies-fresh-for-just-one-more-day additions: cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, sugar (raw, brown or otherwise), Forsythia syrup, booze.
You know how when you have over a bushel of peaches in the fridge, waiting to be turned into delicious preserves, yet somehow other tasks, that you simply must perform, keep crowding your brain? Like baking scones, or scrubbing the stovetop, or rearranging the Tupperware drawer? (Wait – what do you mean you don’t know? I refuse to believe this only happens to me. Where did I leave that Procrastinator’s Anonymous chip, anyway?). OK, I’ll admit it: I am the Queen of Procrastination (long may I reign). After all, why preserve peaches today when there’s re-alphabetizing of the bookshelves to be done? (True story: My Freshman year in college I had a huge term paper due, that we were supposed to have been working on all semester. The night before it was due, I literally chained myself to my desk in my dorm room, determined to get it done. When my roommate came in to go to bed, she found me trimming the fur on the stuffed Garfield that sat on my desk. I maintain to this day that he was looking very shaggy.) So, if you have ever found yourself scrubbing the bathroom grout with a toothbrush, alphabetizing the spice cabinet, or giving your stuffed animals new & daring fur styles when there are peaches to be preserved, have I got the recipe for you.
This recipe is broken up into manageable 30 to 60-minute steps (easily fit in between cleaning the cobwebs off the corners of the loft ceiling or organizing the sock drawer) that you can spread over three or more days. Not being the proud owner of a slow cooker Crock-Pot (I’m a child of the 70’s, y’all. It will always be a Crock-Pot to me.), I’m always looking for an easier way to make fruit butter; I think this is my favorite way yet, and not just because it allowed me to procrastinate the recipe over three days. Macertaing the fruit in advance means that you don’t have to add any water to the recipe (less time standing over a hot stove, boiling that same water off); separating the pulp from the juice, and boiling the juice down separately, means you can evaporate excess liquid off quickly, with little to no stirring (see previous point re: less time standing over hot stove); and breaking the recipe up into manageable chunks means you can find ways to fit it into your normal schedule, rather than waiting until you have a full day to devote to peach butter. Because, you know, you might need that full day to finally put together that photo album from the ’98 World Cup.
Adapted (heavily) from Peach Butter in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, J. Kingry & L. Devine, eds
- 4 and 1/2 lbs peaches (4 lbs net)
- citric acid or lemon juice (to prevent browning)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar (organic evaporated cane juice)
- zest & juice from 1 small lemon
- 1 cinnamon stick (or 1/2 tsp ground)
- 1 whole star anise (or 1/4 tsp ground)
- 3 green cardamom pods (or 1/4 tsp ground)
- 1/2 cup dark muscovado sugar, packed
- 1/2 cup raw sugar (organic turbinado)
- large pinch sea salt
- Day 1. Peel peaches by scoring an X into the blossom end of each peach, then dipping in boiling water for 1 – 2 minutes, followed by an ice-water bath. Slip the peels off once the peaches are cool enough to handle. Let peaches remain in the ice bath until fully cool, then transfer to a large bowl filled with cold water and 1 tsp citric acid (or 1/4 cup lemon juice). Pit and coarsley chop or break up peach halves; add to a medium bowl with 1/2 cup of sugar, tossing occasionally to cover the peaches. Once the last peach is added, mix well, cover tightly, and macerate, refrigerated, overnight.
- Day 2. Transfer peaches, with their juice, to a medium stockpot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until peaches are very soft, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and finely chop with an immersion blender, or allow to cool somewhat then transfer to a blender or food processor. (The goal is no large peach chunks, but not a totally smooth purée, as you will be straining out the juice.) Transfer the chopped peaches to a jelly bag or colander lined with several layers of cheesecloth; allow peach juice to drain for several hours (this can be done at room temperature or refrigerated). Store peach pulp and juice separately, refrigerated, overnight.
- Day 3. Add the zest of one lemon to the peach pulp, then juice of the lemon to the peach juice. Transfer the peach/lemon juice to a heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven. Add cinnamon, anise and cardamom; bring the juice to a boil over high heat. Continue to boil over high heat, reducing the juice until it is syrupy and bubbling thickly (it will read about 220 degrees F at this point), about 20 – 30 minutes. Scrape any foam off the sides of the pan with a rubber spatula.
- If canning, prepare canner, jars and lids.
- Remove the whole spices from your peach syrup. Add the peach pulp, zest, salt and remaining sugars to the syrup. Stir well to combine, reduce heat to low and cook, at barely a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the butter is done, approximately 30 – 45 minutes (it will thicken and mound on a spoon; a spoon dragged across the bottom of the pot will leave a visible stripe that will fill in slowly; when you pour some off of a spoon, it will fold like caramel, and/or a dollop will hold it’s shape and produce no watery ring on a chilled plate). At some point during this final stage of cooking, blend the butter one more time for a perfectly smooth texture (I try to do this as late as possible, as the smooth texture seems to spit more, but blending always releases some more water, so it will need further reducing).
- Fill hot, sterilized jars to 1/4-inch headspace; remove air bubbles, wipe rims, affix lids and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.
Yields about 3 and 1/2 cups.
- Peaches vary from year to year; this year’s peaches were more tart, less juicy, presumably due to the hot, dry weather this summer. Add the sugar slowly, tasting as you go; you can add as much or as little as you like; sugar has an impact on shelf-life of fruit preserves (acts as a preservative) but not on safety (does not affect pH or the development of botulism). The reason I did not macerate orginally in the full amount of sugar was two-fold: so I could adjust & taste as I made the butter, but also so the initial reduction of the peach juice did not turn to jam before I could add the peach pulp.
- Of course, you can do all these steps on a single day. In the first step, if not macerating overnight, then add 1/2 cup of water to your rough-chopped peaches before cooking, to prevent the peaches from sticking.
- I like the slightly exotic flavor of the muscovado sugar, especially with the spices, but if you cannot source it, you can replace with regular brown sugar. Or, for a lighter flavor and color, use white sugar (my ‘white’ sugar is organic evaporated cane juice).
- Remember not to do too much adjusting of spices until the butter is nearly done; fruit butters reduce quite a bit, but spices do not, so the spice flavor will intesify as you cook down the butter.
Canned, store in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year. Refrigerated, use within 1 month.