Living La Vita Locale 7/12: Peaches

Ok, FINE! I’ll give Georgia THEIR peaches, because if you live in Georgia, and can get those gems tree-ripened, they are wonderful.  But in mid-July in New Jersey? It is all about the Jersey peach, especially white peaches that squirt juice all over when you bite them.  We like to pick peaches at the same orchard where we pick our apples, Strawberry Hill.  We bring home about a bushel of peaches and I can some, and lacto-ferment some, and dry some, and make fruit leather out of some.  And yes, we eat the rest of them: peach cobbler, yogurt with peaches, or even just a plain peach as a snack.  While I will buy “bump-and-dent” tomatoes to can into sauce (because sometimes I do not get enough tomatoes from my garden even with what is supplemented by the CSA share), I will not skimp on peaches.   They must be perfect specimens and perfectly ripe.

Peaches are number two on the list of the “Dirty Dozen” foods as defined by the Environmental Working Group.  Because they are fuzzy, peach skins retain much of the topical fungicides and pesticides that farmers spray on the fruit.  And because they are fuzzy, it is nearly impossible to get all of the chemicals washed off of the fruit.  And it is very difficult to grow a soft fruit that is susceptible to a plethora of pests and fungi without the use of chemicals.  That is why organic peaches are hard to come by. Additionally, with peaches being publicized as part of the “Dirty Dozen” more people are choosing organic over conventional.  This is why organic peaches are so expensive.

Of course I went in search of a local organic orchard!  Did I find one?  Yes.  But they did not grown peaches.  As a matter of fact, I could not find one local organic peach.  Not one.  The organic orchard I found only grew organic apples — the soft fruit orchards were on another property they owned about a mile down the road, and were not organic.  They, like Strawberry Hill, use IPM (Integrated Pest Management) system that minimizes the use of chemicals.  They do not use antibiotics (Yes! There are some pesticides that are antibiotics!), they release lady bugs and parasitic wasps to manage insect pests, but they do have to spray sometimes. Usually fungicide, and usually when it has been very wet.  My advice is to call the orchard and ask questions.  Most farmers and orchardists will be very happy to talk to you — they will be surprised that you are interested.  So while Strawberry Hill is a conventional orchard, I still buy fruit there because I feel that their practices are environmentally sound.

The absolute easiest thing to do with peaches is to lacto-ferment them.  Lacto-fermenting fruit can be a little tricky because the ferment can go “boozy” very quickly.  This is one I check about every 12 hours.  As soon as you feel a little effervescence on your tongue, it is time for this to go into the fridge!

Lacto-Fermented Peaches

2-3 ripe peaches, peeled and cut into chunks catching as much juice as possible

1/2 C fresh berries (blackberries and blueberries are usually coming in around the same time as the peaches)

1/4 C cilantro leaves

1 T salt

In a scrupulously clean quart jar, combine all of the ingredients.  Secure the lid and shake the jar until all of the ingredients are combined and the peaches and berries are broken up.  Leave this on your counter for 1-2 days, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.  This needs to be stored in the refrigerator, below 42° F.

This is delicious as is, or mixed with fresh chopped tomatoes and sweet onions as a salsa, spooned over grilled fish or chicken, or blended with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil for salad dressing.

Not a fan of cilantro? Try some basil instead.  Don’t have blackberries?  Use strawberries.  This is just as wonderful without the berries.  If you want an amazing topping for ice-cream, leave out the herbs!  Have fun experimenting.  If you come up with a new combination, please share it in the Comments!

Anticipation

I am ready for this school year to end. I am tired of attempting to teach a bunch of high school seniors who are ready to graduate. It’s all about prom and dresses and limo and the week at the shore following. Yes, you read that correctly, week at the shore following. No matter that we will be finishing units, taking unit tests, and preparing for final exams (although we have taken to calling them assessments here). And I have piles to go before I sleep, so to speak. Much grading to do, much whining to listen to.

But that’s all OK. I can deal, because last week I received an email about opening day at our CSA at Fernbrook Farm. It is only a day away! Forget Memorial Day weekend. For me, the start of summer is marked by going to the farm for the first day of the season. We like to go early in the morning, when everything is still wet with dew, and the sun is not too strong. We pick our U-pick crops, get our produce from the “shop” and then mosey around to say hello to the animals. It is a slow time, and I enjoy that very much. My daughter sometimes gets frustrated because I chat with everyone who wants to chat (She reprimanded me once, about talking to strangers). Why is she in a rush? Because visiting the goats, sheep, and chickens always comes last.

After six years, the farm has become as comfortable as a second home, and tomorrow I look forward to a kind of homecoming. While I haven’t received the weekly email as to what I can expect this week, my guess is that my share will include bunches of greens, maybe some spring onions (scallions), and hopefully some “s-berries”! So what do I do with the abundance of greens? I start making Kim Chee, a spicy Korean ferment. It is an easy way to stretch the life of your greens. While most people think of Kim Chee that is made with Napa Cabbage, I have found that just about any firm green works well.

Kim Chee
Napa Cabbage, or other firm green (such as bok choy or mustard or collard greens), shredded
3-6 cloves garlic, chopped
3-4 T fresh ginger, grated
1-3 T Korean red pepper (or crushed red pepper flakes)
2-3 scallions, sliced
2 T salt (non-iodized), or 1 T salt and ¼ C whey

1. Put all of the ingredients in a large, sturdy, non-reactive bowl and mis thoroughly. Pound for 10 minutes. When I first started fermenting vegetables, I pounded with an old potato masher. You can use a boiled rock, or wooden block. I have a plunger from my Squeezo that works very well.
2. In a sterile quart canning jar, tightly pack the pounded ingredients. It is VERY important to leave one inch of space at the top of the jar. Do not try and squeeze in more than that. If you have too much to fit in the jar, use a second jar.
3. Secure the lid firmly, but not super tight.
4. Leave in a warm spot for 2 or 3 days, until bubbles start to form. Move to cold storage. This will keep in your refrigerator for months, if it lasts that long!

Pickles, Pickles, Pickles

I didn’t always love pickles.

I do now.  But I didn’t always. And the first pickles I made were horrible.  The cucumbers got mushy in the processing.  I tried dills, garlic and bread-n-butters, but they all tasted terrible because the consistency was awful.  I will never forget opening the first jar of pickles that I made and biting into one.  It was the worst thing I ever put in my mouth.  And I was a little kid once.  A little kid who was a younger sister, who actually took a bite of the mud pies my sister made.  Trust me, the mud pie was better than the pickle.

I gave up on pickles for a long time, until I got married, actually, and received the Winch Family Pickle Recipe.  It’s a secret, so I can’t share that one.  However, I have figured out all kinds of pickles since my first successes with the Family Recipe.

I think the most intimidating thing about making pickles is batch size.  We tend to think in larger batches because it is such a pain in the neck to pull out all of the canning equipment. Who wants to do that for two quarts of pickles, right?  Well, you don’t need canning equipment for these pickles.  And they aren’t those refrigerator dills, either.  These are garlic pickles, like from the big barrel in the deli. My husband, a native Minnesotan, was dubious about a pickle that had no dill in the brine.  But he is a convert to the strange and mysterious ways of the east: lacto-fermentation (Probiotic Preservation) and a ton of garlic!

Garlic Pickles

  • a clean wide mouth canning jar with lid
  • enough cucumbers to fill the jar
  • horseradish or grape leaf (optional)
  • 1 small head of garlic peeled
  • 1 t peppercorns
  • 2 T salt dissolved in 2 C filtered water (or 1 T salt, 1/4 C whey, and 1 3/4 C filtered water)
  1. Push the horseradish or grape leaf into the bottom of the jar (this helps the cucumbers retain their crispness, but it is not necessary).
  2. Pierce the garlic cloves and add them to the jar.  Drop in the peppercorns.
  3. Push the cucumbers into the jar tightly, but try not to bruise them as they go in.  If they are too long for the jar, cut them to fit.
  4. Cover with the salt water (or salt-whey water), leaving about 1 inch of space at the top.  Be sure the cucumbers are completely under the solution.
  5. Put the lid on the jar and let is sit on a counter for 2 or 3 days, until you see bubbles forming.  You should also notice that the color of the cucumber skin has changed.
  6. Move the cukes to cold storage.  They are ready to eat at any time, but the longer they sit around, the more garlicky and sour they become. The consistency will change over time.  hey may get a little soft.  They are still ok to eat.