The Missouri peach crop is coming on, and the results of my early samplings are in: Delicious!
Peach season is fleeting, but you can enjoy summer-fresh peaches year-round if you buy a large quantity now and preserve them in several different ways:
▪ You can freeze bags of sliced peaches tossed with sugar and lemon juice for winter cobblers, pies and topping for waffles and oatmeal.
▪ For straight-up eating or with ice cream, can a few quarts of peach halves. (Instructions for freezing and canned peaches here.)
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▪ Homemade peach jam, instructions here, and peach jelly, instructions here, are easier to make than you think. The canning part scares off some people, but it’s as easy as cooking spaghetti — you just place the jars fitted with canning lids and screw bands into a tall pot of boiling water for 10 minutes.
Jelly takes longer to make because of the extra step of dripping the cooked fruit through a strainer (I use a clean pillowcase, like my grandma always did), but it requires less prep work because you don’t have to peel the peaches or crush the cut-up fruit.
If you like making jam, the “Joy of Canning” offers this tip for keeping the fruit from floating to the top: After the first cooking, let the fruit mixture cool, then refrigerate it a few hours or overnight and bring it to a boil again briefly before ladling it into canning jars.
Peaches, particularly if they are tree-ripened, which is what you want, can go from perfect to moldy in 24 hours, so set aside a couple of hours to process your treasures on the day you buy them.
If that is impossible, here is a trick that will buy you a couple of extra days but not more: Wrap each piece individually in half a page of newspaper, then place the peaches gently in a cardboard box or large bowl in the fridge.
The most important part of preserving peaches is finding ones that are ripe and juicy. A dry, underripe peach will taste just as bland in a pie or jam as it does eaten fresh.
The best places to find fresh local peaches are farmers markets, orchards and fresh produce stands (I got peaches from Lexington, Mo., this week at the Peddler’s Daughter, 3300 Merriam Lane in Kansas City, Kan.)