Just peachy!

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!

Peachtree

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.

Peach_harvest

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.

Peachde-skinPeachdrip

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.

Peachleather_wetPeachleather

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.

Peachdrying

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.

Peachproducts

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Cook like a girl

As I was stirring my peach and lemon marmalade this morning I decided there really was such a thing as ‘girly’ cooking. The marmalade was pinky-orange and smelled delicious (BTW when are blogs going to have a smell application so we can share these moments?).

PeachlemonPeachjamcookPeachjam

While I’m sure my male friends will tuck into it quite happily it a peach marmalade just doesn’t strike me as having the same ‘grunt’ as a bitter orange or lemon marmalade. Not that I’m worried. Indeed I’m really pleased to see a whole group of young women putting out some fantastic recipes and writing engagingly about cooking. And all that lovely retro-influenced book design doesn’t hurt either!

Today’s revelation came to me courtesy of  Rachel Saunders Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, which I picked up ‘on spec’ from the ACT Public Library last Friday.

Rachellr

I was making my late summer version of her Early Summer Peach Marmalade, as one does. She has a slightly different approach to her technique, preferring to do initial preparation the day before and leaving the ingredients to macerate overnight before a final cooking. Rachel also has some lovely flavour variations – I’m looking very seriously at cooking Orange-Kumquat Marmalade with Cardamon. You can read more about Rachel’s cooking at her Blue Chair Fruit website.

It didn’t take me long to think of some other examples of exciting young cooks including Poh Ling Yeow who hosted Poh’s Kitchen one of my favourite cooking programs of 2010. 

Poh

Poh’s cookbook came my way via Santa last Christmas and its as enjoyable as Poh herself. The book is clearly targetting people new to cooking but there is plenty for the more experienced cook can learn. Indeed I owe Poh for encouraging me to make my first croissants from scratch.

Last but definitely not least is Molly Wizenberg, author of the blog Orangette, who published her book A Homemade Life in 2009.

Molly

I was somewhat concerned about the blog into book, some are good and many are truly regrettable. But there are no regrets with this book. My biggest problem was not being able to leap up immediately and cook the recipe at the end of each chapter, only being on the bus to work stopped me. I have since made her Winning Hearts and Minds chocolate cake. Chocolate is the operative word as there is only 1 tablespoon of flour in this cake! Yummo.

Chocake

We were won over.

I know there are more good cooks out there, both young and old, and all of them an inspiration.