“An apple is an excellent thing — until you have tried a peach.” — George du Maurier
Did you know that August is national peach month?
Now is the best time to enjoy this sweet taste of a perfect summer.
I love peaches. Not the kind my wife Kim likes ... you know those sour, sweet Fuzzy Peaches found in the candy aisle, but rather the sweet juicy bit of heaven that is a fresh Ontario peach at its peak.
They are an extremely versatile fruit. Prepared in so many ways, either raw or cooked, baked or griddled, they keep their juicy, sweet nature.
I have so many fond food memories of peaches, from Gramma Ruth's peach crisps to Gramma Heidi’s peach pies and my “kryptonite,” her special peach marmalade.
Every year, I look forward to peach season. As they mature firm peaches become sweet and juicy with a soft flesh and a fuzzy skin. There is no wrong way to enjoy a peach, either fresh from the fruit basket or in one of many excellent sweet or savoury dishes.
During the season, you will find three main types of peaches available: Semi-freestone, Freestone and Clingstone.
The Semi-freestone peach arrives first and includes varieties such as Harrow Diamond and Garnet Beauty. They are available in mid-July.
As for the Freestone, the pit separates easily from the fruit. The most popular variety is the Redhaven, which arrives at the peak of our peach season. They are available in early to mid-August.
With the Clingstone, commonly referred to as Baby Gold peaches, the flesh of the peach is firmly attached to the pit. These peaches, with their distinct flavour and firm flesh, are perfect for canning. They are available in late August.
Peach trees (Prunus persica) are a fruit tree that is part of the rose family. They grow in mild climates, as they need both cold winters and warm weather.
In North America, peaches date back to the 1500s, brought first to Latin America by early Spanish colonists. Peach trees flourished in temperate parts of Canada almost from the time of the first European settlement.
Stone fruit farming in Canada is a somewhat complicated and intensive prospect. It really requires attention and care to see an orchard come to full production and deal with so many of the challenges associated with growing fruit commercially.
Peach trees only live for about 10 to 20 years and begin to bear fruit when they are about two to three years old.
These fruits, unlike many other types of stone fruits, can’t handle much cold and can be injured or even killed if exposed to weather under minus-23 Celsius. It’s because of this that most peaches in Canada grow in either here in southern Ontario or southern British Columbia.
Here in Ontario, we are blessed with an amazing natural wonder that is the Niagara Escarpment. The micro-climate created by this unique geographical feature has allowed peaches to become one of the main crops of the Niagara Peninsula.
Now we have not tried to plant any peach trees in our Georgian College garden yet, but I do know where to find peaches growing here in Simcoe County.
Several years ago, our friends at Nicholyn Farms constructed a geodome greenhouse and one of the first things to go in it was a peach tree.
The geodome greenhouse differs from ordinary greenhouses in that it utilizes a combination of innovative systems to harvest solar energy for both heating and cooling. These passive solar greenhouses are designed to accommodate heat-loving plants in the summer and cold-hardy crops in the winter with little to no need for heating or cooling.
It’s been amazing to watch each year as the geodome has progressed. This year, that tree is packed with fruit! Shane and the team at Nicholyn Farms have an amazing farm store and bakery on Horseshoe Valley Road. It’s well worth a visit to see the geodome in action and a great spot to load up on many of the local products featured in the store and grab of few baskets of perfect peaches for the family.
And if you can’t make it out to the farm, they bring the farm to town every week. They are a regular fixture at the Barrie Farmers' Market every Saturday at city hall.
So, once you have your big basket of peaches, what’s next? Keep any peaches that are solid to touch at room temperature out of direct sun until ripening begins and their skin yields slightly to gentle pressure.
Your ripe peaches should be kept refrigerated in a single layer for no longer than five days. And if you have any overripe (extremely soft) peaches, they should be used, fresh or in cooking, at once.
When preparing, just gently rinse under running water. And to make peeling easier, a brief dunk into boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds will help the skins slide right off.
To keep fresh, sliced peaches from browning, toss lightly in lemon juice. Sliced peaches are also great frozen. Just lay the slices out on parchment lined trays in the freezer till solid and bag for later use.
Surely you all have your favourite peach recipe or treats. I’m always a sucker for a peach pie or a crisp, but when I want to make sure that I can get a peach fix in the dead of winter, there is nothing better than a jar of homemade preserves. That’s why Gramma Heidi’s peach marmalade is really my favourite.
Always the most anticipated gift given at Christmas, it’s a sweet taste of summer to brighten those cold grey winter mornings. Now’s the time, my friends, to get out and grab a basket of the sweet taste of a perfect summer while the peaches are ready.
Grandma Heidi’s Peach Marmalade
Yield: Four cups
2 pounds peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
1 medium navel orange
Juice from 1/2 lemon
3 to 3 1/2 cups granulated white sugar, approximately
1 tsp. of vanilla or vanilla bean paste
10 maraschino cherries, halved or quartered
Kitchen scale for weighing fruit and sugar
Peel, pit and slice the peaches. Remove the ends from orange and slice across the equator as thinly as you can. Chop the peel and flesh into smaller pieces. (You can chop as finely or as coarsely as you prefer).
Cut maraschino cherries in half or quarters and place on a paper towel to absorb the juices. Set aside.
Place the prepared peach slices and chopped orange into a large bowl. Add the lemon juice. Weigh the fruit mixture. Add an equal weight of granulated sugar to the bowl. Stir to combine.
Place the fruit/sugar mixture in a large, heavy bottom pan (not aluminum) over medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Raise heat to medium-high and continue cooking until juices start to thicken and jam tests done on a chilled plate.
Remove the pan from heat. Stir in vanilla and cherries. Spoon into clean jar or jars, leaving half-inch headspace. Properly seal by the boiling water bath sealing method.
If you wish to can the jam, spoon into sterilized jars and process in a water bath. Always refer to a reputable source of canning information for how to sterilize and how long to process in a boiling water bath.
Cold plate test for jams and jellies: If you don't have a jam/sugar thermometer, place a small dinner plate into the freezer before starting your marmalade, to use for the cold plate test.
As your jam comes close to done, remove the plate from the freezer and place a drop of the hot jam liquid on the plate.
Run your finger through the drop. If the space where you ran your finger through runs back together and fills in the space, your jam is not done yet. Boil a little longer and test again.
When the space where your finger run through remains and the edges along where you ran your finger appear slightly raised your jam is ready.