This is the first year that our peach tree has really done much of anything. It’s very exciting. It’s strange to see peaches this late in the summer, right?
Even though August in the usual time for looking at pretty pictures of peach pie on the internet, there are actually a lot of late season peach varieties available in California. I know they’re still around at the farmers markets in San Francisco and I believe that the Gowans have them at the Ukiah Farmers Market up here in Mendocino County.
Still, it is strange that it’s almost october and we’re just now harvesting the peaches. I’ve already canned a few hundred pounds of pears, so I feel like I’m driving in reverse through the summer. Food magazines, websites and blogs will follow this theoretical cycle of produce coming into season (strawberries in the spring, peaches in the summer, then berries, then apples…) but something about living in Redwood Valley means that instead of one by one, we’ll get everything, all at once, right around the end of September (with a few exceptions, like cherries and apricots.) There are still strawberries and rhubarb at the Redwood Valley Farmers Market – at the exact same time as pears – which seems impossible somehow. The reality of the fruit harvest here actually kind of emphasizes the important of preserving if you care at all about eating these most of things during any month that’s not September.
Once my cat and I finished harvesting our peaches, I realized I had some preservers-block when it came to what I was going to do with all of them. I usually make a ton of this peach-vanilla bean jam, but these peaches seemed so precious since they came from our own tree which we’ve been caring for for years now. It really just seemed like a travesty to do anything other than eating them fresh or putting them into pie.Which brings me to two major revelations that I’ve had. They might not seem very exciting or important reading them here, but I had to share them because they’ve helped me out so much.
1. I’ve been using pre-made frozen pie crusts. I know, I’m going to hell! The thing is, they sell two-packs for $3 and change, and they’re organic, and they come out great, flaky and tender. I know how to make pie crust from scratch. It’s easy. There’s no way I can do it as quickly as popping one out of the freezer, though, and it also means I don’t trash the whole kitchen with flour, which happens whenever I try to bake anything. It seems ridiculous to grow the peaches myself and then use a pre-made crust, but the time saved literally makes the difference between pie or no pie. When I’d seen these crusts in the freezer section in the past, I also never realized you could do double-crust pies with them. I’ve gotten the best results when I follow this process:
- Put bottom pie crust on a cookie sheet so if it overflows you won’t have to clean up burnt fruit and sugar off the bottom of the oven. Ladle pie filling into crust. Gently pop the top crust, still frozen, out of the metal pie tin and place it facing down, on top of the fruit filling. Don’t press down or worry about the seam.
- Put the cookie sheet with the pie in the oven and bake it for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove the pie (still on the cookie sheet), and then cut a few slits in the top crust, brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with about a tablespoon of sugar. If there are any cracks in the top crust, I’ll work them together a little bit by brushing egg on them. I also brush a little egg around the seam to try and seal it. Then pop it back in the oven and bake until the whole thing is golden brown.
2. I realized that the best way to preserve peach pie filling, or any precious fruit pie filling, is just to put it in the freezer. I know, you just read that and thought “that’s not a revelation, that’s completely obvious.” Maybe, though, you’re like me and need a reminder that you have a thing called a freezer… I had all these peaches out in front of me, I knew I didn’t have any clear-jel on hand (the thickening product that you have to use when you’d canning pie filling), and when I looked in my Ball Book of Home Preserving, the peach pie filling recipe didn’t have clear-jel in it but did call for apples and golden raisins. Golden raisins? …. Um, no, I don’t think so, not in this pie. I was also really worried about how fragile our peaches are and was pretty certain they’d turn to much if I tried to can halves or slices.
Right about then, I had a lightbulb moment and realized: put it in the freezer. Then you can use your favorite fresh pie recipe, flour and all, put whatever you want in it, and not worry about it being shelf stable. Or, you can be like me and not use a recipe at all, just eyeball a bunch of peaches, sugar, flour, lemon juice and cinnamon. Then dump it in a jar and call it good. Obviously, this method would be horrible if you were trying to preserve a large amount of peaches, but if it’s only a couple jars, I would challenge you to think of a single item more worthy of your freezer space than peach pie filling.
So, I hope these tips help you eat pie more often. I hope you don’t judge me for the crust thing. Or, you know, judge me if you want but I’m just going to keep doing it because I like pie. I hope that you can find a few last, precious peaches before the growing season’s over.