Another post in my informal series on bottling Summer, I’ve moved on to peaches.
There are few fruits that say “Summer is here!” more than peaches. Their smell, fuzzy skin, and their taste are some of the things that make summer in Texas almost bearable.
Peaches originated in China where they were cultivated since the early days of Chinese culture where they were considered a favorite fruit of the emperors. They were mentioned in Chinese literature as early as 2000 BCE. Peaches likely reached the Middle East, then the Mediterranean, by way of the Silk Road, a 2,500-mile trade route that stretched from East Asia to ancient Persia (present-day Iran). Peaches were introduced to Europe by Alexander the Great (an example of a rare good thing coming from conquest). Later, the Romans called peaches “Persian apples” (Prunus persica).
Some historians believe peaches came to North America in 1562 with French explorers who established settlements in the area of present-day Mobile, Ala. However, it’s certain peaches also arrived in 1565 with the Spanish colonists who settled in St. Augustine, Fla. These ancient peach cultivars, described as hardier and more productive than today’s peaches, quickly naturalized into groves so widespread that later colonists believed the peach was a native American fruit.
Spanish explorers are credited with bringing the peach to South America and then eventually to England and France where it became quite a popular, but rare, treat. During Queen Victoria’s reign, it is written that no meal was complete without a fresh peach presented in a fancy cotton napkin.
Finally in the early 17th century George Minifie, a horticulturist from England, brought the first peaches to the New World colonies, planting them at his estate in Virginia. It was the early Native American tribes who actually spread the peach tree across the country, taking seeds with them and planting them as they traveled.
But it wasn’t until the 19th century that commercial peach production began in Maryland, Delaware, Georgia and Virginia. Today, peaches are grown commercially in California, Washington state, South Carolina, Georgia, Colorado, Texas, and Missouri. As well as numerous backyards all over the country.
(information from homecooking.about.com and baderpeaches.com)
Now, on to the recipe.
A few notes:
1. You can use fresh or frozen peaches in this recipe. I will admit I used frozen for this post. Because of weather conditions not only here in central Texas, but through most peach-growing regions, fresh peaches haven’t been as good as they could be. Also, with a smaller supply, they’ve become rather expensive. Frozen peaches do well in a pinch and are easier on the wallet.
However, if you can and want to use fresh peaches, do so.
2. You can use either clingstone or freestone peaches. Clingstone peaches tend to be juicier and sweeter while freestones are less juicy. (There are many online resources to find out which peach varieties are which.)
3. As for the spices, use as many or as few as you prefer. Or none.
4. This is a soft-set butter. Meaning, that it hasn’t set up as solidly (for lack of a better word) as jelly or jam.
5. For a complete hows and whys of making sweet preserves, please see my August 10, 2012 post, Classic Strawberry Jam (http://tinyurl.com/l67ymj4).
5-1/2 lbs. fresh peaches, peeled, pitted, and cut into wedges
5 lbs. frozen peaches, thawed, juices saved
1-1/2 c. peach nectar
3-1/2 c. sugar
Up to 4 tsp. sweet spices (cinnamon, ground or grated nutmeg, ground ginger, ground cloves, ground allspice)
1. In a large saucepan, mix all the ingredients together.
Begin cooking over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves.
2. Cover the saucepan and bring the peach mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Uncover and boil for 30 minutes.
3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool for about 10 – 20 minutes.
4. Depending on how smooth you want the butter, you can either use a potato masher or a stick blender to crush or puree the peaches.
5. Place the saucepan back over medium heat, cover, and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Uncover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for about 1 hour or until the mixture is thick. Again, stir frequently.
6. Pour the butter into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Clean the jar rims, seal, and process for 5 minutes. (Begin timing after the water comes back to a boil.)
Makes 6 – 7 half-pint jars.