Thursday, September 5, 2013

Peach Avalanche

I laugh at all the alchemists of the middle ages who thought the key to everything was finding a way to turn lead into gold when in fact the most amazing transmutation bar none is turning sunlight into peaches and tomatoes and things.

Yesterday my neighbors Amy and Chris called, inviting me over to pick from their tree. Never mind my amazement that one can grow peaches in Western Massachusetts -- thank you, global warming? -- but when I got to their yard I found a tree drooping from the weight of its crop. Heavy rains were scheduled for later in the day, and some of the delicate fruit were already suffering from the effects of the recent wetness, growing brown and soft in spots, molding right on the branches.


That didn't stop me from finding many perfect peaches to pluck, though. Many, many, many of them. They were fuzzy and pale -- white peaches, firm and big enough to cup in your hand, not so big as to be show-offy. I spent a lot of time thinking later that our names for colors are so imprecise, almost arbitrary, because while there were endless shades of fuchsia and pink and pale yellow and creamy white jumbled in the big box I almost filled, there was no "peach" color at all.

I was greedy, as I am when I pick cherry tomatoes from the farm or herbs from my garden: it's not even hunger that drives me, it's something more primal than that. A sense of the rareness and fleeting quality of bounty, and a sense that these fruits (or tomatoes, or herbs) are somehow true wealth. Riches that don't depend on anything but sunlight, water, and occasional tending to produce something so valuable. No oil companies to pay, no dams to build, no pipelines to fear, no fracking to poison us. Just pure energy. I blushed and laughed and apologized to my friends for being so shameless even as I tucked more peaches into the box.

I'm romanticizing, I know -- the fact is that as much as I love gardening, I certainly don't have the stamina or the skill that Chris does; I could never produce more than a few token tomatoes and eggplants and green beans in my yard. But to the extent that sunlight is, more or less, the one resource we all have access to, is not diminished by any individual (I can use as much sunlight as I want without leaving any less for you), is almost infinitely available (until the sun burns out, which -- let's assume -- is more than a few years from now), and is inalienable (no one can take it away from us), we should all be exploiting it, using it, harnessing it in whatever little ways we can.

Growing things is a pretty good start.

Peach Chutney
Makes about 3 pints

If I were you, I'd eat this alongside roast pork, duck breast, or on goat cheese crostini. Oh! Or with Manchego and bread. Or maybe in a grilled cheese sandwich.

About 3 lbs peaches, just shy of ripe
1 TB olive oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
3 cloves
2 cardamom pods
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/2 large Vadalia onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 TB grated ginger
1-2 red chili pepper or 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
1 small red bell pepper, diced (optional)
1/2 c sultana (golden) raisins
1/2 c cider vinegar
1/2 c light brown sugar
1/4 c white sugar
salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Prepare peaches: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cut a shallow "x" in the blossom end of each peach. Slip about 5 or so peaches into the pot; let blanch for 1 minute. Transfer peaches to a bowl of ice water. Repeat with the next round of peaches, transferring to the ice water as they're done. After a couple of minutes (until they're cool enough to handle) the skins will slip easily off the peaches; if they don't, tug them off with a paring knife. Cut each peach into half and remove the pit; roughly chop into big chunks.

2. Pour water out of the pot and let heat on medium high heat. Add the olive oil, along with mustard seeds, cardamom, and cinnamon. When the mustard seeds pop, add the onion and sauté for 30 seconds, then add the garlic, ginger, chili, bell pepper, and raisins. Sauté until the vegetables start to soften. Add the peaches and a healthy pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper and stir. Add the cider vinegar and sugars and stir till dissolved.

3. Boil the mixture, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes, or until you reach your desired consistency; watch carefully during the last 10 minutes of cooking, making sure the sugar doesn't burn. (Caramelizing is good -- scorching is bad. As long as you stir often, it will be fine.) Turn off the heat. Transfer to sterilized jars and keep in your fridge; use within three weeks. Alternately, you can process the jars (boil, covered with water 1" above the top of the jars, for 25 minutes) and store up to one year. 

1 comment:

Kat said...

Oh, dear god...I need to make this. Love the idea of pairing it with goat cheese. Fruit and cheese...can you go wrong?