Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Peach Picking

And more crucially, peach pie making!

We went peach picking over the weekend at a nearby farm. It was tremendous fun, and we must have picked a peck of ‘em. But I was transported into another world.

I was utterly captivated by the orchard, the soft and glossy leaves, the arching canopies of perfect peaches above, each peach more blushing and beautiful than the next. It was odd in a way. I’ve been apple picking and to farms many times before, but there was something almost unearthly about being there. I could have meandered all day, unaware of the time or any other being around me, wandering from tree to tree as the perfume of the ripe fruit and rich earth enveloped me.

I did, however, have my daughter with me to bring me back to earth. She started strong, respected the trees, and knew to twist the fruit just slightly in order to pick it and not damage the branch. Mike tends toward the orange peaches and took his time filling the bag given by the farm with our tickets. I wasted no space for them in my bag, and waited patiently for us to reach the white peach grove just down the hill. I couldn’t fill the bag with enough, it seemed. In the end, I think Mike, my daughter and I ate her weight in peaches before riding back on the tractor-rig. The sticky, dribbling juice on our chins and collars was a dead giveaway.

Once home and out of “context,” what seemed like an OK amount of fruit in the orchard turned into four insurmountable mountains of peaches that consumed the kitchen counters. We gave some to all the grandparents, ate a few more after Saturday dinner, sliced some at breakfast on Sunday, but were still left with a ton of fruit.

“Make a pie already!”

I think Mike expected one to magically appear from my oven the second we arrived home on Saturday afternoon. Good things come to those who wait: it was a warm and juicy midnight snack on Sunday night when Mike came home from a late news shift.

The ripe peaches peeled perfectly. Use the same process as for peeling tomatoes: shallowly score the bottom with an “X” . Briefly plunge them into simmering water. Remove, cool momentarily and slide the skin off.

As outlined in Pie 101, I flavored this crust with some cinnamon, doused the peaches in honey-bourbon, added the requisite cup of solids and made a lattice top. Baked peaches can be even more flavorful and concentrated than they are eaten raw.

We still have a lot of peaches left. We have a tentative get-together planned later this week, and if it comes together I’ll do a sponge base drenched in Amaretto simple syrup, a vanilla bean pastry cream (or maybe I’ll simply flavor some Mascarpone cheese), and sliced peaches overlapped in a radiant sunburst. A garnish of toasted, slivered almonds is optional – I’ll see if the mood strikes me. There’s no hot oven heating the summer kitchen involved in that one, and the peaches are ripening and sweetening as I type. Imagine what they’ll be like by the weekend.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Waiting for the Rain

The rain was supposed to come on Sunday, so we headed out in the morning to check the beds and harvest what had grown while the weather was still dry.

Pay dirt!

The chard was tall, thick and plentiful – just look at the glossy green leaves on the white variety. The radicchio (the last two of four heads) was huge, with green outer leaves and large, burgundy spherical centers. I removed the outer leaves (they can be pretty bitter), but kept them to wilt on a hot grill, which mitigates the flavor. The lemon cucumbers are coming in nicely, adding to the Kirby cucumber haul. We’ve been picking both red and orange cherry tomatoes for weeks, which never make it to the table; they’re so sweet straight off the vine. But our first really large tomato (German Gold, a pale orange variety) came off the vine with ease on Sunday. We left her blushing sisters to ripen just a bit further. We’ve got both Rosa Bianca and slender white eggplants on their way, as well as three dark green acorn squashes (too early!) almost ready to be picked and vines full of tennis-ball sized babies that should ripen into a basketful come September.

But no zucchini. Or pattypan squash. Naturally, just as soon as I’d made the boast that I was giving away mountains of produce did nature strike me back for the brag.

Last Sunday, we experienced a long, torrential downpour with force so violent that the beds were severely beaten down and some structures blown over. We lost power into the night as well. After righting the tomato cages and pole bean obelisks when the rain let up, I surveyed the damage. The center bed consisting mainly of squash had really taken a hit.

“Oh, they’ll bounce back,” I told myself. “They always do.” By midweek, some leaves were back up and filling in, but not many. Yesterday, I really looked: the storm severed a lot of the rambling vines right off of their main stems. Whatever little orbs I had growing on the vines before the storm were hollow, soft or simply dead. The vines themselves are bleached and turning dry. The main stems are trying to send off new shoots – nature is amazing – so I’ll keep you up to date on their success.

This weekend’s rain never did come. I really need to water, not just to keep up production, but to nurture the squash bed back to health.

But for now, let’s break even on Eco-nomics – I knew the chard would put me over the top. To be honest, I more than broken even a while ago. I haven’t been keeping up on the harvest tally like last year, and beyond this date, I may not do it to the dollar. Oh, the garden is producing – don’t get me wrong, I’ve picked more salads than I care to calculate, not even tallying the first two heads of radicchio – but I think I’ll keep a roundabout running total offline and approximate at the end of the season. And anyway, my pricing is admittedly somewhat less than scientific this time around and as last year, a bit on the low side.

Triple bale of chard $5
Radicchio $5
3 lbs cukes @ $.99/lb $2.97
3+ lbs cherry & other tomatoes @ $1.29 $3.87
2 lbs purple and yellow beans @1.29 $2.58
From $6.86 in the red last time: Ahead by $12.56