HOW TO SURVIVE A GLUT OF… PEACHES
If you've planted a selection of peach varieties, you'll be lucky enough to enjoy a long season of tasty, juicy fruit. ’Maycrest’, ’Orion’ and ’Springcrest’, for example, are typically ready to eat by Christmas (which is a handy attribute in Auckland’s humid climate, as it means the fruit is all gone by the time brown rot spores start to show up to spoil your harvest), followed by white-fleshed ’Wiggins’ in early January, followed by ’Flatto’ in late January and ’Golden Queen’ and ’Blackboy’ in late February/early March. ’Blackboy’ is everything you could ask for in a peach. It’s full of flavour and ripens late enough to avoid brown rot (if you’re lucky); it’s easy to grow without sprays (it will get leaf curl, but it doesn’t do the tree any noticeable damage); it comes true from a stone, producing fruit within four years; and its fuzzy brown skin seems to trick the birds into leaving the fruit alone until it’s so ripe they can smell it. Plus it’s freestone, so easy to process in jams or as bottled fruit. Pick fruit when still firm as it’s easier to peel without ending up with a handful of juicy purple mush!
For sliced, BOTTLED PEACHES, ‘Golden Queen’ is fantastic, even if it is annoyingly clingstone. If you’re trying to cut down on your sugar consumption, it can be bottled in water as its fruit has enough natural sugars anyway. Just peel and slice the flesh off the stones, pack it into preserving jars, fill with hot water, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes, or until you can see air bubbles rising in the jars. (The jars should be fully submerged by 2-3cm.)
Another way to preserve peaches for winter puddings is to STEW sliced fruit with a little water, to stop it sticking, and some honey and vanilla. After cooking, set aside to cool, then spoon into plastic pottles to freeze.
Or try Alice Arundell’s PEACH AND RASPBERRY CORDIAL, which makes about 8 cups. Put 375g raspberries (fresh or frozen) and ½ cup water in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, simmer for 2 minutes, then mash until pulpy. Strain the mixture through a fine or muslin cloth into a large bowl. Put 1.5kg peaches and 1 cup of water in the same saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until pulpy (10-15 minutes). Mash well, then pour into the muslin on top of the draining raspberries. Stand for an hour (or until the dripping has stopped), then squeeze to extract more juice. Combine the juice and 1½ cups sugar in a large saucepan and stir over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add ¼ cup lemon juice and taste. Add more lemon juice if you prefer the cordial more tart. Bring the juice to the boil and boil for 2 minutes. Pour the hot syrup into hot, sterilised bottles and seal immediately. Label and date the bottles once cold. Store in the fridge for up to 3 months.
PEACH JAM is all the better when made as a chunky conserve. This approach preserves some of the textural pleasure of the fresh fruit – more so if you include a modest amount of shredded, velvety skin. Add 1kg diced peaches to a saucepan along with 1kg jam-setting sugar and the juice of a small lemon. Cook over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Turn heat up and boil rapidly for 4 minutes. To check that your conserve is set, place a drop of the conserve on a very cold spoon or plate. The surface of the conserve should wrinkle when pressed with a spoon. Pour into hot, sterilised jars and seal.