Driving through the country these days for us is as much about keeping an eye out for edibles as it is enjoying the scenery. Returning from a family wedding in Orange a few weeks back we struck foraging gold, several peach trees growing in the drainage ditch next to the road, absolutely loaded with ripe fruit!
It was just a matter of pulling safely off the side of the road and grabbing our shopping bags from the boot and before you knew it we had 13kgs of white freestone peaches (so thanks to whoever threw that seed out of the car window!). Call us greedy but we had spotted those peaches three days before on the drive up to Orange and clearly no one had taken any in the interim.
Despite our best efforts to protect the fruit, which was fully ripe, it did suffer from some bruising on the drive home. As you can see from the picture there was an awful lot of processing ahead of us.
The most bruised fruit was destined to become peach leather. I de-skinned the peaches by dropping them into boiling water and leaving them for a minute or so (just like you would a tomato), taking them out using a slotted spoon and slipping the skins off as soon as I could handle them. After that they just needed to be blended up in the food processor with some spices and in this case a bit of grated apple. There is no need to cook the fruit. Because the peaches were so ripe I decided to let the pulp drip out a fair amount of moisture before spreading the pulp onto baking paper to dry.
To be honest the raw pulp did look like something the cat had thrown-up and I’m not sure that the finished product looks a lot better, just drier.
Given that the weather was wet and humid, rather than hot and dry as you might reasonably expect at this time of year, I ended up doing the bulk of my drying in the oven. The trick is to barely heat your oven so the fruit doesn’t cook. Our oven was set to 50ºC and then turned off and left with the fan running. It was all quite tedious so when the sun came out after two days of oven drying everything went outside.
Similarly the bulk of the good fruit was cut into quarters and dried on racks – these also had to spend several days inside with a fan turned on them. The critical thing is to have air moving over the fruit to dessicate it. Heating will only help develop moulds and fungus. Because we don’t use sulphur to suppress mould growing on the fruit we did lose some of the half-dried peaches. Every day it was necessary to scan the racks for any dodgy fruit so it could be removed before it spread the fungus to other pieces. I wasn’t at all happy about the amount of energy that was expended on drying the fruit, but by the same token I wasn’t just going to let it all rot either.
The remaining fruit was converted into peach jam, which I flavoured with some lemongrass I found skulking in the bottom of the fridge. I can’t say that the lemongrass is very obvious in the jam, but then again it wasn’t very fresh. Not to worry I’ve ended up with some tasty products to eat over the coming months.