Peach Butter

People, we're at the tail end of a fabulous peach season, so if you have oodles of peaches left over and you're watching them rot, it's time to get canning. Let's preserve those peaches.

In what might be the simplest recipe known to the world, with the shortest list of ingredients, I give you Marisa McClellan's peach butter from her book, Food in Jars.  What might surprise you is the sheer amount of peaches you need for three little jars of sugary, concentrated peach goodness. 

Behold: It's a pound of peaches in each jar! 

However, a little bit of this peach butter goes a long way.

Do you know this book, Epitaph for a Peachby David Mas Masumoto? If you don't, go gander at it right now (or gander at the article in the LA Times from the 80s that started it all). Both article and book are lovely meditations on organic fruit farming in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Valuing flavor over shelf life, Masumoto found himself with a peach varietal (Suncrest) that was not always be able to stand up to market pressures. 

So he started meditating on two important questions:
  • What do we lose if all we look for in a peach is whether or not it can get to market across the country? 
  • But what happens if we cannot get our beautiful, flavorful peaches into the hands of a consumer--if no body's buying them, and we cannot make a living? 
Luckily for Masumoto, his peaches were snatched up by Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, but these two questions seem central to small farmers everywhere, even now.

Flash forward three decades, and both PBS and NPR did lovely pieces on how Masumoto is handing off the farm to his daughter, who recognized the power of place, of staking one's claim where one has been historically denied, of claiming what is one's own. These are the success stories, the celebrations of small farming. Yet for all the farm-to-table, slow food, small farming movements, this is still hard, often unrecognized, unrewarded work.

Let's come back to the recipe, where you can truly embrace the taste of the peach.

This butter is simple. Which is what it should be to celebrate great peaches. So go ahead, spend a little more, buy the best (preferably organic) peaches that you can. And you will need a lot of them. But this will be worth it, I promise.

Serious business. This butter is something worth savoring as part of a cheese plate, spread over whole-wheat biscuits, swirled in oatmeal, or (let's admit it) on its own with a spoon. Because this can easily be made into large batches (try doubling or tripling the quantities), you just might want to do so. 

Before this summer's peaches are gone.

Peach Butter

Adapted from Marisa McClellan's Food in Jars

3 (1/2-pint) jars

3 pounds yellow, freestone (or non-cling) peaches (about 9-10 peaches)
2/3 cup to 2 cups granulated sugar, as needed
Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the peaches in half and remove the pits. Arrange them cut side down in a single layer in a non-reactive baking dish (glass or ceramic is best). Roast for 30 minutes, until the skins are loose.

2. Remove the baking dish from the oven and remove the skins from the peach halves and discard. Using a fork or a pastry cutter, mash the softened peaches in the baking dish. Reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees. Return the mashed peaches to the oven and bake for another 2-3 hours, checking often to stir and to prevent burning, until all the wateriness is gone and they are dark in color.

3. When the peaches have broken down sufficiently, taste the fruit and stir in 2/3 cup sugar. Taste and add more sugar to your preference. Stir in the lemon zest and juice.

4.  McClellan says that because this makes such a small amount, she often skips canning it fully and chooses to eat is right away, storing the jars in the refrigerator; however, if you're ready to can prepare the boiling water and 3 half-pint jars and lids (See below: To Sterilize the Jars).

5. Ladle the jam into the prepared jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling bath for 10 minutes (See below: To Seal the Jars). This butter is fantastic with whole-wheat biscuits, swirled in oatmeal, or (let's admit it) on its own with a spoon.

To Sterilize the Jars:
1.  If you're starting with brand new jars, remove the lids and rings; if you're using older jars, check the rims to ensure there are no chips or cracks.

2.  Put the lids in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring them to a simmer on the back of the stove.

3.  Using a canning rack, lower the jars into a large pot filled with enough water to cover the jars generously. Bring the water to a boil.

4.  While the water in the canning pot comes to a boil, prepare the peach butter (or whatever product you are making).

5.  When the recipe is complete, remove the jars from the canning pot (pouring the water back into the pot as you remove the jars).  Set them on a clean towel on the counter.  Remove the lids and set them on the clean towel.

To Seal the Jars:
1.  Carefully fill the jars with the butter (or any other product). Leave about 1/2 inch headspace (the room between the surface of the product and the top of the jar).

2.  Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, damp paper towel.

3.  Apply the lids and screw the bands on the jars to hold the lids down during processing. Tighten the bands with the tips of  your fingers so that they are not overly tight.

4.  Carefully lower the filled jars into the canning pot and return the water to a boil.

5.  Once the water is at a rolling boil, start your timer. The length of processing time varies for each recipe; for the butter, cook for 10 minutes at a rolling boil.

6.  When the timer goes off, remove the jars from the water. Place them back on the towel-lined counter top, and allow them to cool. The jar lids should "ping" soon after they've been removed from the pot (the pinging is the sound of the vacuum seals forming by sucking the lid down).

7.  After the jars have cooled for 24 hours, you can remove the bands and check the seals by grasping the edges of the jar and lifting the jar about an inch or two off the countertop. The lid should hold in place.

8. Store the jars with good seals in a cool, dark place. And jars with bad seals can still be used, just do so within two weeks and with refrigeration.


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