Eating a peach and letting the juice run down your chin is something that doesn’t get old for me. I could peel one and cut it up into bite sized pieces but I will always love just biting in and letting the peach show me what it’s got. There’s even a towel stashed under the seat of my car this time of year, for that very reason.
A locally grown peach that has been allowed to ripen on the tree tells a story. You can see the gentle indentations made when the picker carefully released the peach from the tree. The ruby red splash of color tells you which side faced the sun. The first bite tells you about the orchard, the creek that feeds it and the farmers that care for it. Inside the fuzz, the juicy heart of a peach inspires love (and therefor pie) and good memories. In recalling my favorite peach recipes, I realized that most of my really great ‘meal memories’ include peaches.
A peach pie on a cold wintry day soothes my soul and promises me, with each bite, that summer is coming again. I prepare for winter by putting up a couple batches of peach pie filling. Peel and slice 6 large peaches and toss with a bit of sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, lemon juice and cornstarch and put into a ziplock freezer bag. Then come January, just let the bag thaw in the refrigerator while making a pie crust. Pour in the peach filling and dot with butter before closing it up with the top crust. Voila! The miracle of peaches in the middle of winter!
Of course, there’s plenty of time for more “in the midst of the season” peach treats.
- Whip up a batch of Peach Ice Cream, pass the maker around the table during dinner and dessert will be ready as soon as you’ve cleared the dinner plates!
- Grill thick peach slices until nicely marked and serve as a side with roasted pork loin and potatoes. Grilled peaches are also fun to serve with waffles. Peaches and maple are extraordinary together! Try using maple sugar in your next batch of peach jam.
- Add peach cubes, caramelized pecans and a bit of blue cheese to your next romaine or spinach salad and top with vinaigrette made with peach juice, balsamic vinegar and lime juice.
- Puree a blender full of peaches (and I don’t even peel them when I do this!) and freeze in silicone ice cube trays. Empty the trays out into zip lock freezer bags and keep for making extraordinary cocktails in the late fall or winter or for smoothies!
- Go Italian! Add peaches, sautéed in a bit of butter and tossed with candied ginger, to a classic layered Tiramisu. Up the ante’ even more with a drizzle of caramel sauce over the peaches.
Speaking of Italian things… the peach is the basis of one of Italy’s most famous cocktails, the Bellini. It was created at Harry’s Bar in Venice during the 30’s, at a time when both Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles hung out there. A classic Bellini is made up of peach puree and Prosecco with a tiny drop of raspberry syrup. I like to substitute a drop of Orange Blossom Water for the raspberry syrup. You can also make a Bellini with sparkling water, sparking apple cider or use Vinho Verde, the low alcohol spritzy wine from Portugal. Peach nectar is available all year, but the best Bellini’s have fresh peach puree!
In an effort to broaden my mind (and my palate) beyond peach pies and jams, and because it seemed like a fun thing to do, I enlisted a friend to help me develop a couple of peach cocktails. It was a delicious project and the winners are:
Louisville Peach Smash
1 ripe peach, peeled and sliced
5 or 6 fresh mint leaves
2 T. real maple syrup
Juice of 1 lemon
Put into a cocktail shaker and muddle until the peaches are completely smashed.
2 shots Kentucky Bourbon
4-6 cubes of ice
Splash of soda
Shake vigorously and pour into glasses. Garnish with a peach slice.
2 ripe peaches, peeled and sliced
1/2 t. Orange Blossom Water
1 shot Campari
1 shot agave syrup
2 shots vodka
Put into blender and blend until smooth. Sugar the rims of stemmed glasses and fill.
Mile High Apple Pie
The story always begins at the orchard, sitting on the porch with tired farmers, sipping a glass of wine and watching the colors change on the hills as the sun settles. Harvest has begun, there are ladders in the cherry trees and the first apples, the early ripening Lodi variety, have been picked.
And thus the season of fruit begins! While I don’t have the farmers aching muscles, another product of an orchard heavyset with fruit, I woke up mighty tired myself to a house filled with the perfume of Sweet Cherry Jam and Spiced Upside Down Apple Pie. The fragrance is perfection. Complex floral and sweet spices in the air are more than a fair reward for standing in a (very) hot kitchen pitting cherries, slicing apples and transforming fruit into edible art late into the evening.
There are few things in life that I adore more than pie and I approach it as art. Instead of Color Theory and Line Drawing, my schooling was in my grandmother’s kitchen. Granny Iris taught me to read recipes but also to read between the lines. I learned the science of crust, the architecture of cake, developed the patience needed to stir, and to keep stirring and most importantly, to always let the fruit speak.
Pie is simple, it’s one of the reasons we are so comforted by a slice. Simplicity created from a few basic ingredients and a couple of good rules. I began using white wine in my crust 30 years ago, an idea gleaned from a French recipe. I love the aroma, flakey texture and savory flavor. It has become popular to use vodka in place of the water for crust. The reasoning being that the spirit is only 60% water. Alcohol doesn’t aid in the formation of gluten in the flour which results in a flakier crust. I’ve tried it and liked the results but the reality is that you’re more likely to find 3 tablespoons of chilled white wine in my fridge than vodka! The same theory about gluten development applies to wine, though the alcohol is much lower.
Fat, delicately wrapped inside flour, is what makes the crust flaky. I’ve used lard and while it does make a lovely crust, I find that all butter crusts have
better flavor. The trick is cold butter, minimal handling and letting the dough rest before rolling. A food processor will cut the butter into the flour in seconds but have returned to my grandmother’s method – I use my fingers. I’ll cut the cold butter into small bits, drop them into the bowl and then quickly pinch the flour and butter together until it’s a consistent crumbly texture.
My latest adaptation was inspired by a customer searching for a much larger, deeper pie dish. I looked at the tagine, the Tunisian clay ‘oven’ which has a conical lid and a deep base, sitting on top of my fridge and I decided to test it out. I chose Julia Child’s 1961 Upside-down Apple Tart (aka Tarte Tatin) recipe as a starting point and went from there. This recipe seemed like a perfect solution for a truly deep pie as the bottom crust is always tricky with so much filling.
I use a small corer to remove the stem and core from rinsed apples and then use a mandolin slicer to create 1/8” thick whole slices. I leave the peel on when I’m working with organically grown apples for more color and flavor. Using thin slices makes it easy to overlap and layer when filling the dish and creates a really gorgeous texture. The crust cover becomes the base once you invert the pie and because it’s perfectly baked, there’s no soggy bottom.
Mile High Apple Pie with a curtsy to Julia Child
1 c. A/P flour
1/8 t. salt
5 ½ T. Butter, cut into small pieces
3 T. chilled white wine
Add salt to flour, cut butter into flour with pastry blender or fingers until crumbly. Add wine one tablespoon at a time and bring dough together with a flat spatula or blending fork. Wrap in plastic and chill 30 minutes.
4# Lodi or Granny Smith apples, cored and thinly sliced
2/3 c. cane sugar, blend together with spices in a small bowl.
1 T. cinnamon/1 t. nutmeg/1 t. allspice/1 T. lemon rind, finely grated
6 T. butter, melted plus 2 T. butter for pan
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Butter deep round baking dish with 2 T. butter. Sprinkle 4 T. spiced sugar mix over base of dish.
- Overlap 1/3 of the apples around edge of dish. Overlap a smaller circle in the center.
- Drizzle with 2 T. of the melted butter and sprinkle spiced sugar over apples.
- Repeat overlapping apple layer in opposite direction. Repeat butter and spiced sugar. Repeat once more in opposite direction. Press apples down firmly.
- Roll out dough on a silicone work mat into 8” square. Lightly dust with flour, fold into quarters and dust with flour again. Roll out dough to just slightly larger than baking dish. Place dough over apples and tuck the edges down around the upper layer of apples. Cut 4-6 vents in top to allow steam to vent.
- Bake in lower third of oven for 60 minutes. If pastry begins to brown too quickly, lightly cover with foil or use a pie shield. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack.
- Once completely cooled, place serving platter over baking dish and invert. Serve with fresh whipped cream!
After cooling the pie, place platter over dish and invert!
Add a bit of whipped cream and enjoy!