Before August Ends, an Ode to Peaches

Summer ain’t over until the fat lady sings—but this recipe for peach upside-down cake might just inspire a song.

PeachCake6_JoanBernstein

August is National Peach Month. Since peaches have been around for four or five thousand years—originating in China and then emigrating via the Spaniards to the Americas—the use of peachy expressions, like “peachy keen,” or a special person’s being an ” absolute peach” have become common metaphors. I’m sure you know others, just as you know the basics about the fuzzy yellow fruit. Like: peaches can be yellow or white fleshed. They have a corrugated shell at their heart that contains the pit itself, which is bitter, poisonous, and taste like almond. In fact, peaches are related to almonds, both being in the Rose family. Their relatives, all “stone” fruits, are cherries, plums, nectarines (a smooth-skinned peach) and apricots. Freestones and Clingstones are the two cultivars of the peach family. You can deduct from their names that freestones are loose, while clingstones are scooped or cut out. Both are excellent table fruits, though clingstones are better for canning. In fact, most of the world’s production of peaches are used for canning.

Now is the time to make the most of fresh peaches. On Long Island, look for peaches by mid-summer into September. The rosy blush does not mean a peach is ripe. A peach is ripe is when it’s yellow and sweetly aromatic, still firm, but not hard. Ripe peaches should be refrigerated immediately, or they will rot quickly. Never buy hard green peaches. Despite being climateric, i.e., continuing to ripen after picking, they will not ripen. Ripe peaches should last up to a week. Once sliced and/or peeled, treat the peaches with a citrus juice or ascorbic acid to retain their color. Orange juice and peaches are a great combination, perfect for breakfast smoothies, too!

Peaches can be eaten without being peeled, which is preferable because many of the nutrients are in the skin. You can rinse them and remove some of the fuzz with a coarse cloth, but it’s not really necessary. The fuzz is practically indiscernible. Cooking with peaches requires peeling them first. Some peaches lose their skins reluctantly and have to be coerced with a very sharp paring knife. Others relinquish the thin skin simply by pouring boiling water over the ripe fruit in a deep pan or bowl, letting them sit for a minute or so,  then, using a slotted spoon, dropping them straight into a bowl of ice water. The shock will let you slip the skins right off. Once peeled, you can prepare them for whatever dish you’re making.

I’m particular about my fruit, after so many years processing jams, jellies, and savories.  My fruit and vegetable sources came down to three major dependable suppliers: Briermere Farms in Riverhead; Rottkamp’s Fox Hollow Farms in Calverton; and Lewin’s in Wading River. I tried others, but their peaches were grainy and tasteless. I needed peaches that would stand up to, among other ingredients, the Habanero peppers in my “Peachy Keen Pepper Jelly,” integrating without coarseness: juicy, with huge flavor. Dry, rough-grained fruit is a no-no. My theory was that if I couldn’t enjoy it as table fruit, it didn’t belong in my (premium) products. When I eat a fresh perfect peach, the juice better run down my arm! That’s the kind of peach I want for baking; otherwise it’s a waste of time and ingredients. The better the peach, the better your results.

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So, when I’m cooking with peaches, my first stop is a Farmers Market or a local farm stand. Some farms are growing peaches espaliered (tied to a fence), rather than on trees in an orchard. You can grow orchard fruits in your own back yard, providing you have the right elements and good practical guidance. Leuthardt’s nursery in East Moriches sells fruit trees for espaliering. If you’re not canning or freezing any excess fruit, you can sell it or give it away to grateful neighbors.

I’ve had quite enough of canning and preserving. I buy just what I need plus a little over, mainly for baking. I like backup in case of a mistake, or if I want to alter a recipe’s volume. This means researching my cookbooks first, to be sure of quantities and ingredients. Checking out at a recipe from the South’s most renowned Junior League cookbook, Charleston Receipts, first published in 1950 by the Charleston, S.C women’s organization and now in its umpteenth printing (mine is the twenty-first edition, September, 1976), Mrs. Dill’s Bucket Dumpling “receipt” caught my eye because I was analyzing the Peach Upside-Down Cake on the same page. I was wondering how to measure a “pint of flour,” and if my supermarket carried cans of lard, since the batter and fruit are baked in the lard tin; though the contributor does say “lard can or mold.” Here’s the recipe, for fun or experimenting. If you make it, you have to let me know how it turns out!

Mrs. Dill’s Bucket Dumpling

  • 1 pint flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon shortening
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 quart sweetened blackberries*(“or any other fruit in season”)

Mix butter lard, flour and baking powder. Add eggs, slightly beaten, then milk. Put in a lard can or mold and smear around sides. Place one quart of berries* in center. Cover mold and steam in boiling water for three hours. Serve with hard sauce. This dumpling is more delicious than when made with biscuit dough. If berries are sour, you may add a little sugar. *Any other fruit in season*, such as apples, peaches or huckleberries may be substituted for blackberries. Serves 6-8.

Contributed by Mrs. W. Davis Rogers (Julia Dill)

The peach upside-down cake reminded me of the Fifties beloved pineapple version, so I decided to try it. I used a coated 9″ X 13″ pan, sprayed it with Pam, and when I turned it out onto a platter, it held its shape and looked “just peachy!” My grandson and nephew loved it with the pecans I added to the brown-sugar base. Enjoy!

 

Peach Upside-Down Cake

  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 and 2/3 cups flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond flavoring

Cream shortening and sugar. Add remaining ingredients and beat well. Pour over peach mixture. Serves 6

Peach Mixture

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sliced peaches

Place butter and sugar in a sheet cake pan and heat slowly, stirring constantly until well browned. Add peaches. Cover with cake batter; bake 3/4 hour at 350 degrees. Turn out peach side up. Serve hot or cold with whipped cream. Other fruits may be substituted for the peaches.

Contributed by Mrs. S. Edward Izard, Jr. (Anne Kirk)

Note: You can use the above peach mixture as a sauce, too. Grill some ham steaks or pork chops and douse them with the sauce. It works especially well with ham. I’d add a tart juice, like mango or orange juice—or a shot of Grand Marnier—to cut the sweetness.

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Joan Bernstein lives in Manorville on land that has belonged to her family for over 100 years, but she grew up on the water in Center Moriches. As a youngster, clamming, crabbing off the dock, snapper fishing and power boating kept her busy when she didn't have her nose in a book. She has bred pedigree Tonkinese cats for the past 40 years. "Eat locally" is her byword whether she's at home or in Russia.