Monday, October 12, 2009

The Peaches' Last Hurrah

I stood at the stainless steel kitchen counter tapping my pen against the neon green index card. I felt a little like Winnie the Pooh; Think, Think, Think… Only instead of honey as my motivation, it was rows of jars waiting to be filled with some sort of peach concoction. What to make, what to make…With Elane gone for the whole week, I had been left as lead creator of all things made in the kitchen that would eventually be sold at the season’s last Farmer’s Markets. “So we have peaches and pears coming out of our ears…fill as many jars as you can with something preserved that we’ll be able to sell. Feel free to get creative, have fun!” Creative and fun I can do, yes, but I needed something I could do on my own that was manageable, delicious, and sellable. Otherwise it would be a waste of time, expensive jars and lids, and of course produce. All of this with my few week experience of large production jarring and canning. No pressure…right?

Okay Lizzy, lets think about this. We’ve done peach jam, and I can very well try to do that without any guidance – even though blanching and peeling all of those peaches, with the added x-factor of how much sugar to pectin to lemon juice, might take a lot of time and create some heartburn inducing stress. No jam should be made under stress, it wouldn’t taste good. Alright, well, how about something a little less congealed than a jam and a bit more rustic, but equally as peachy and delicious. Then it came to me, slowly but surely, and after a few scribbles of a game plan, out came the cutting board and knife and peaches were flying out of boxes.

Yeah, yeah, I think this will work I thought confidently as more and more peach slices filled the tall, silver pot. I had decided to skip peeling all together – rebellious, I know! – since I figured that after a good rinse, the skins could add a nice flavor, color, and texture to what I was making. And since these were the tail end of the saved peach crop, those added elements could really help save the true summer flavor of a fresh peach.

After the chopping was complete, I set the pot over a medium low flame to slowly heat up the mound of orangey-pink peachy deliciousness that stood before me. With a few teaspoons of lemon juice and a dusting of sugar, I let the mixture come up to a boil in order for the very soft pieces of peach to break down and the more sturdy pieces of peach to soften but still hold their shape – a contrast in texture, this is good. I continuously stirred the mixture to avoid any burning on the bottom of the pan. The pot gurgled and spurted small bits of hot peach purée at my exposed arms as the small air bubbles slowly exploded after building up within the thick mass. It was almost like watching slowly moving hot volcanic lava. I held strong though and dodged what I could, anything to avoid the hint of burnt peach flavor. The skins started to break down as well, which along with the evaporation, made the mixture a bit thicker in consistency due to its natural pectin content.

After about 20 minutes of babysitting the pot, the room started smelling of pure peach. Yum. I also liked the level of resistance the mixture was giving me as I moved my spoon around. Not too thick, not too thin. So…it’s not exactly a jam…not congealed enough. But it’s not strictly a peach purée either, not with the occasional chunk of peach, the sugar, lemon juice, and cooking process involved. I tasted it to see how the balance was. Mmm heavenly peachy. As I felt the texture and taste move about in my mouth, my mind instantly shot to different destinations…on ice cream! in yogurt! the make or break of a smoothie! a best friend to a hot bowl of oatmeal! Wow, this stuff could go the distance in a lot of different food categories. Heck, as I stood there, the spoon in my hand was all that I needed at that point. Once I finally succumbed to the reality that I couldn’t eat it all by myself and had to ration it to actual jars to give to other people, I cut the burner and ladled the batch among a group of Ball pint jars.

The jars hung out in their hot tub of boiling water and I finished writing down what I had done to create this batch of…huh, what should I call this thing? I thought about the texture and taste of the mixture as well as the different uses I dreamt of as I tried my first sample. Since it was no jam, it had to be some type of sauce. Yeah, a peach sauce, that’s what it was. But writing just plain ‘Peach Sauce’ on the top of the card didn’t seem to justify the great peach flavor these exceptional peaches have that comes out so well in the sauce. When you eat it, you just feel…good. Ah! That’s it! I reflected on how much fun I had while creating and making the sauce (the local radio station had some groovin’ tunes on that blasted out of the kitchen stereo) all with Sizzle, the 11 year old golden/lab mix, laying happily under my feet. What would I do without my supervisor? Not only did I think about that, I also took into account how great the rest of the day had been too. I had a great run with Xoey and Miko (two more of the orchard owner’s dogs) along the ditch trail, I was able to watch a FULL, and victorious, Patriots game on a big TV screen even when in Colorado (Ben is my hero), and had a great steak dinner with Paul to finish it all off. I wrote down my final title and placed the card on the windowsill. Hopefully I would be able to have time later on in the week to make another batch of ‘Peachy Keen Sauce’ at least once more.

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