Walking on the Beaches, Looking at the Peaches

I can’t say it often enough – I HATE SUMMER. I would honestly rather deal with 3 feet of snow and bitter wind chill than the heat and humidity we’ve gone through in the past few months. I’ve got my days arranged for the minimum amount of outside time absolutely necessary. Some days I only go outside to walk the dogs and then we don’t even go around the block, it’s so hot. I grew up in Nova Scotia where it was seldom humid and where, when the temperature hit 25C, we’d head for the beach and the frigid chill of the ocean. My body just never acclimatized to living in pea soup.

The only good thing that comes from an Ontario summer is the food. And it’s truly the only thing that keeps me from fleeing to Halifax for July and August. Because if I left, I would miss out on Ontario corn, melons, tomatoes and peaches. (Not blueberries, though… Nova Scotian blueberries far exceed those we get in Ontario.)

Peaches in particular are a point of contention. A couple of years ago, Ontario’s last canning facility shut down. Canned fruit in the supermarkets is 100% guarantee to be from away – usually from places like China or South Africa. Many Ontario farmers who grew peaches and pears in particular razed their orchards because without the cannery, there was no one in Ontario to buy their fruit in quantity.

For those of us who enjoy the occasional canned peach in the middle of winter, the options weren’t great. Buy the dubious imports or poach and can your own. Since I do love those Ontario peaches, and since I wanted to do what I could to support Ontario farmers, I came up with a recipe to have my own Ontario-grown equivalent of canned peaches. We’ll use these for breakfasts in the winter months (when the weather is much nicer!) atop porridge or rice pudding.

This is the simplest recipe ever, although it does dirty a lot of pots and pans. As someone said to me on Twitter – it will be worth it in February.

Poached Peaches

3-litre basket of freestone peaches (any variety, but they must be freestone) – not too ripe
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
1-inch wedge of fresh ginger
pinch of salt
juice of 1/2 a lemon

Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil. Score an X in the bottom of each peach and place in the boiling water for about 1 minute. Don’t worry about cutting down to the pit, these lines will be your guide for cutting the slices later. Remove each peach to a bowl of ice water.

When peaches are cool enough to handle, peel each peach (the skin should slip off with just the pressure of your fingers).

In the stockpot, combine water, sugar, ginger, lemon juice and salt. Bring this mixture to a boil. [*See my notes at the end re: simple syrup.]

Using the cut lines already on the peaches from the blanching process, take a sharp knife and cut the fruit into slices. Because they are freestone peaches, each slice should pull away from the pit with little effort. Each peach should yield 8 slices.

Place peach slices in the boiling syrup mixture and let cook for 1 or 2 minutes. Then turn off the heat, but leave the pot on the hot burner, and let the peaches poach until tender. Remove from heat when the peaches are the desired texture. Cool completely.

When the peach and syrup mixture is cool, divide into appropriate containers, label and freeze. [**Info on storage.]

To use, simply defrost and serve with or without the ginger syrup.

*Notes on simple syrup – the standard recipe for simple syrup is a 1 to 1 ratio of water to sugar. This creates a very sweet syrup and was sweeter than I wanted for my finished product. If you are freezing your peaches, the half ratio syrup I used above (2-to-1 water to sugar) will be fine.

**However, if you prefer a sweeter syrup or if you plan to store these in jars via the traditional hot water bath canning method, use the traditional syrup ratio to ensure the product retains its freshness and to extend shelf life.