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.
At the start of this week I bottled 3 kgs of tomatoes. 1 kg of green toms was turned into Green Tomato Sauce, although ‘khaki’ would be a more accurate description. 2 kgs of my assorted ripe red and yellow toms became Tomato Chilli Pickles, one of my all time (well at least the last two seasons) recipes from Sally Wise. By coincidence, it turns out that Sally Wise was interviewed last week on the Bush Telegraph’s (ABC Radio National) ‘Food on Friday’ segment. I was all set to listen to it over my lunchtime yseterday but when it came to the crunch the battery in my MP3 player was flat! Anyway if you want to listen to Sally and the other callers you can find the program here.
One other useful tip I picked up while looking for interesting preserve recipes was that if you can’t process all of your tomatoes when they are ripe you can just freeze them. DUH! Of course they won’t be any good for slicing but making sauces, passata or chutneys after they’ve been de-frosted is not a problem and according to what I read the skins come off very easily once the fruit has been thawed. There is, however, always the question of finding space in the freezer!
Another busy weekend looms. It’s Canberra Show weekend and we will be off to inspect the produce and the animals, not to mention dropping by and saying hello to all the Canberra Spinners and Weavers who will be spinning away in the craft pavillion. On Sunday (28 Feb) the Old Bus Depot Markets will be holding their Food Producers Day, however although it’s been advertised as such there doesn’t seem to be anything on their website to indicate that this is an ‘event’ rather than just a re-branding of their ‘normal’ activities – we’ll see. I did at least find out that the Markets will be holding their “Portobello Road” day for collectables and bric-a-brac on Sunday 4 April.
After the aerial assault on my nectarine tree the cockatoos scouted for other opportunities and soon found my neighbours’ plum tree. She also took drastic action and picked all the remaining fruit off the tree. Apart from sharing it with her family we also received two shopping bags full of extremely tasty plums. You may recall that we have already made apricot, strawberry and blackberry jam this season, along with nectarine chutney. Somehow the thought of more jam just wasn’t so appealing.
Thankfully I’d just read Christie over at Home Grown
, another Grow Your Own
entrant, who inspired us to make plum leather instead. Yummo, not to mention dead simple to make.The recipe details are on Christie’s 8 January 2010 post. You can see our before and after photos below that the colour change was quite dramatic.
In the excitement of going out for even more blackberries (another 3 kgs) on the weekend I didn’t check my nectarine tree until Monday morning when I discovered that about a third of the fruit had already fallen on the ground, making a lovely meals for my arch nemeses the slugs and slaters. While they were distracted I picked what was left on the tree, about 3 kgs worth. Ditto the above re jam. This time I decided to just dry the fruit. This is so simple and TB already had the dryer out (he made it himself after our commercial one died). All I needed to do was cut the fruit in half, remove the stone and place it on the racks. As we’d only just had a big rainstorm even the skin was clean. We don’t do anything to the fruit other than dry it.
Our new dryer is a large cedar box with racks that can take five large fly mesh trays. The heat source is one of those trusty old electric fry pans with a thermostat. Even after one day of drying we’ve had a fair bit of shrinkage. It will be a few days yet before we get to the fully dry version like last year’s crop. They may not be pretty but these dried nectarines are great in my muesli or used in slices and cakes.