Friday, August 10, 2012

Peaches and Other August Events

You may recall how I am a bean freak. However, with the exception of my yard-long beans which are drought tolerant and reliably productive, the rest of my regular, Shelley and heirloom beans have pretty much all withered and died. Sadness all around. I’ve had a handful of green beans this summer. The black beans are hanging in there (which means there is soup in my Fall future), but there is no joy in 1/3 of my Garden plot this year. Since we received 2 inches of rain in the last 24 hours, I may try and plant some more tomorrow morning. Kroger’s has a good price for beans this week, but everyone else is charging about $1.50/pound.  I feel comforted that I am not the only one having a tough bean year.

Faithful readers may recall that I am also a peach freak. One of the SACG neighbors asked me to teach her to make and can jam. So, last week, I drove to Lynd’s Orchard Farm Market north of Pataskala to get peaches and bulk tomatoes. Pecks are $14; half-pecks $9 and a peck of seconds (which last week were just small white peaches) are only $7.  Peaches purchased from an orchard bear no relation in taste to what you can buy in a supermarket.  Trust me.  Mary and I learned this a few years ago when we bought peaches from Legend Hills Orchard at the Bexley Farmer's market.  Once you've had fresh peaches, you never go back.

I also got a peck of tomatoes last week for $9. Today, I got a half-bushel of tomatoes there for $9. (They also have pecks of pickling cucumbers for $9). Considering that my tomatoes are not a wildly productive in this drought, I wanted to make sure that I have enough tomatoes this year to get me through until next July.)

There are scores of varieties of peaches.  Who knew?  I'm starting to learn that they do not all ripen at the same time. Peach varieties are categorized by color and pit.  There are white or yellow peaches.  Then, there are cling and freestone peaches (which refers to whether the flesh clings to (or not) the seed pit).    My favorite varieties are yellow peaches.  The easiest to can are the freestone -- which ripen in late July through September.  Because of the heat and drought, the harvest is a few weeks ahead of schedule (like everything else).  The peaches are also smaller (and maybe sweeter) than usual.  I'm usually not a fan of white peaches, but the white peaches I bought last week were quite tasty and looked very cute in the jars.

In years past, I've made what I call a fuzzy navel marmalade (i.e., peaches and naval oranges). However, I seem to be the only person who likes it. Last weekend, I tried a new recipe -- from Martha Stewart’s website – for peach rosemary jam. Oh boy. Is it good, or what. I never would have thought of that all by myself. (I did, however, add pectin). I’ve been eating it on crackers all week. I added triple sec to one jar just for grins and giggles.

This weekend, I’m going to try and teach Cathy to make jam and to can her preserves. I bought more peaches and perused a new Better Homes and Garden canning magazine that I picked up a few months ago. I’ll be making three peach jams. One with ginger. One with triple sec or cointreau. And then I have to chose between jalapeno, basil, white wine or bourbon. Oh the decisions.

Shockingly, my friends who receive my gifts of jams generally forget to return the jam jar so that I can refill it for them. (My mother is never so negligent. She ensures herself of refills every year). I had to go shopping for jam jars this afternoon since I am close to running out. My favorite are the 8 oz jars I found a few years ago at the Giant Eagle in Reynoldsburg. My next favorite are the half-pint quilted jelly jars. Wal-Mart had loads of them, but charges more for them than pint jars. Go figure. Then, the really fancy ones (i.e., short and wide-mouth) are about a dollar a jar and can be found at Target, Wal-Mart and Lowe’s. For that matter, the East Broad Street Lowe’s had absolutely everything you could possibly need (except quilted jelly jars) to can tomatoes or peaches near the back door in aisle 32. One cannot truly be a home food preserver without owning at least one copy of Ball’s Blue Book, which you can get at Lowe’s for about $6. I usually wait until late Fall to buy jars on sale or really early at Big-Lots. However, there are peaches that need me now, so what’s a girl to do?

With the peck and a half of peaches that I bought last weekend, I made 3 pints of jam and canned 10 pints of peaches. I don’t need to can any more peaches, so this weekend will be devoted to making jam, making and canning a pasta sauce, and then canning tomatoes for the rest of my winter cooking. I might even freeze a few peaches to use in smoothies and margaritas.

For those of you new to this, the University of Georgia has the best website for jam recipes, etc. If you mess up your jam, you can start over or use it as a syrup or meat glaze. I have some blue and blackberry jams from years’ past that are pretty hard, but now I know that I can use them to glaze chicken or pork in a slow cooker over the winter.   I can't wait.

While I am weeding, planting and harvesting tomorrow morning at the SACG, Cathy and her kids had planned to be picking peaches at Legend Hills Orchard near Utica (and probably having Velvet ice cream). (I love Legend Hills, but it’s farther away than I can conveniently visit every week). Cathy and I will be experimenting with peach jam recipes on Sunday afternoon. Hopefully, I will find time before then to mow my grass, vacuum the living room and mop the kitchen . . . .

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