We spent last weekend in New Orleans. I’d been invited to be on a panel about recipe development at a lovely conference, and we wove that together with a baby-free mini-vacation for our anniversary weekend. We’d only been to New Orleans once before, just a couple months before our wedding in 2005, not realizing how strongly we’d feel connected to the city when our wedding and Hurricane Katrina fell on the same date. Meanwhile, we managed to miss another hurricane — and her damages — entirely back home. We’re lucky people.
When we go away, we always have great plans to walk everywhere and eat freely, hoping to strike a balance. However, that arrangement works out a little better in a city that doesn’t have the still air and intense heat of a preheated oven — summer there is no joke! So, we walked slowly and ate immensely. I wanted to tell you about all of it — the tomato salad with battered Vidalia “chips”! the boudin! the po’ boys! — but when I typed it all together, it was a terrifying thing to behold. I couldn’t even own up to it on a weblog that extols good eating. [Hint: I had at least four dishes smothered in gravy. In three nights!] But I will tell you about the brunch platter that nearly did me in, and had it, it would have been a fine, fine way to go: eggs, grits, fried green tomatoes, bacon, a giant warm biscuit and the owner’s own peach butter made to slather upon it. “You’re going to have to roll me home from New Orleans!” I told my husband, after which we vowed to find healthier fare on our final day (but still ended up with a beignet breakfast, muffaletta lunch and then pralines boxed up as gifts. New Orleans is snickering at me right now, I know it is.)
Needless to say, I’ve been on an austere regime of
bread and water something close since we returned, but I could not get that peach butter out of my head. The thing is, I’ve never been terribly into it’s more popular cousin, apple butter; I find most to be very, very, very sweet and so intensely spiced that it tastes little like apples at all. But this peach butter wasn’t overly sweet and it just tasted like what it was — no cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves to clutter it up — the purest form of peach distilled into a spread. And so I just had to. I felt a little out of my element in the kitchen yesterday; I’m not much of a jam-maker, I’ve only canned twice. I had to Google “When will my apple butter be done?” and “Does a food mill really remove skins or just grind them up? I don’t trust this thing!” (me and Google, we’re chatty) But my apartment turned into peach heaven, the whole place was gurgling and blurping along with the peaches in the syrupy kettle, and it smelled amazing. And the results, I can hardly put into words how excited I am about this stuff, and how impossible it has been to keep my spoon out of the jar. The butter is purely peach, and just sweet enough that it’s almost, just a tad, tart. Oh, and you can pull off the whole thing in 90 minutes, while baking some biscuits in the oven. Please believe me: what your weekend morning needs is this.
One year ago: Peach Shortbread
Two years ago: Cornbread Salad
Three years ago: Sour Cherry Compote, Cold Brewed Iced Coffee and Bourbon Peach Hand Pies
Four years ago: White Bean Roasted Red Pepper Dip and Spicy Soba Noodles with Shiitake
Five years ago: 44-Clove Garlic Soup and Silky Cauliflower Soup
I first learned about apple butter from Oprah who returned from one of her diets swearing it was the thing that saved her. I was crushed to learn a few years later that it had no butter — what kind of no-fun diet is that?! What are fruit butters? They’re something between a jam and a sauce, with the flavor of jam but the smoothness of sauces. The good ones have the clear flavor of pate de fruits, but not the candy sweetness. They’re also easy to make and as good slathered on a biscuit or piece of toast as they are stirred into your morning yogurt.
If you’re looking for a traditional fruit butter, you’ll be surprised by the moderate sweetness and clear peach flavor of this one. When I did some research on apple butters, I found that most recommend 4 cups of sugar for 4 pounds of fruit. I decided to take a leap — took a deep breath and nervously eyed the stove — and halved it. Most recommend one to two tablespoons of cinnamon and a bunch of other spices. I decided to use none. Humbly, I insist that these were two of the best kitchen decisions I’ve made this week. Finally, I’ve found a fruit butter that doesn’t hit you first with sugar. It’s just perfect, all peach with a enough tartness to remind you that it is, indeed, peach and not say peach gummy bears. And with no spices to clutter it up, you feel like you’re getting the best of peach season in a format that will last until there’s frost on the windowsills.
Yield: 4 cups
4 pounds (1.8 kilograms) peaches
1 cup (237 ml) water
2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
Juice of one lemon
Without a food mill: Cut a small “x” in the bottom of each peach. Dip each into a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, and then into a bowl of cold water for a minute. The peels should slide right off. [If you have a food mill, skip the peeling step and I’ll tell you where to use it in a moment.]
Halve your peaches and remove the pits, then cut each half into quarters (i.e. 8 chunks from each peach). Place peach chunks and water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Simmer until peaches are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure they cook evenly. If you have a food mill, run them through it to puree them and remove the skins. If you don’t have a food mill — i.e. you already peeled your peaches — you can puree in a food processor, blender or with an immersion blender. I like my peach butter very smooth, but feel free to leave any amount of texture you prefer.
Return the peaches to the large pot, add the sugar and lemon juice and bring the mixture to a good strong simmer/gentle boil, cooking them at this level for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally in the beginning and more often near the end, as it thickens up and the fruit masses risk scorching on the bottom of the pot.
There are several methods to test for doneness: You can drizzle a ribbon of sauce across the surface; when that ribbon holds its shape before dissolve into the pot, it is done. Some people use cold or frozen plates; dollop a spoonful in the middle of one and if no water forms a ring around it in a couple minutes, it is done. Others use a spoon; if the butter remains rounded on a spoon for two minutes, it is done. You can also check the pot itself; the butter is usually done when a wooden spoon leaves a clear trail when scraped across the bottom.
Let peach butter cool (unless you’re canning it, in which, follow the directions below). If you’re not canning it, keep it in an airtight container in the fridge. It should be good for at least two weeks.
To can your peach butter: First, sterilize your jars, either by boiling them in a large, deep pot of water (which should cover the jars completely) for 10 minutes or washing them in lots of hot soapy water, rinsing and drying the parts well and then place the jars only in a 200 degree oven for 20 minutes. Then, divide your hot piping hot peach butter between your jars, leaving a little room at the top. Wipe the rims clean with a dry towel and cover the jars with their lids. Submerge the jars in a large, deep pot of boiling water for 10 minutes, either in a removable basket or using tongs to dip and remove them. Let cool completely on towels, a process that can take overnight. If canned properly, the peach butter should last indefinitely at room temperature.
I did not have canning jars around when I made this, but am so so so in love with it that I will be buying some and making more before the last peaches are gone. I am a woman converted.