Inspirations for new flavor combinations come in many forms and from many sources.
The Washington State Fruit Producers kindly sent me a gorgeous box of their fruits to play with – prune plums, nectarines and peaches – and declared me a Canbassador. (I’ll admit, I was hoping for a fancy hat or some sort of sash, too ….) They have a terrific website – Sweet Preservation – that has many superb tips for canning novices and lots of great recipes, too.
There was no question that slivovitz would be the fate of those plums. That was easy. Last year’s batch was gone all too soon, and I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. I had
hoarded saved the very last two ounces but had to relinquish them to the Washington Post Food section editors to taste test before my story ran.
(By the way, after writing the story I learned more about slivovitz. And set off a little comment skirmish… darn it. I learned slivovitz is a distilled drink, not a fruit infused alcohol. This particular libation, the recipe that’s here on my site, and now in the Washington Post recipe files, however, most resembles the slivovitz I first consumed in Pittsburgh at my roommate’s family dinner table, so in my mind will always be slivovitz. But to be entirely accurate, this is a recipe for plum brandy. Whatever. It’s delicious.)
The nectarines were lovely. Perfectly ripe and ready to be jarred up. I made one batch of nectarine jam. Just nectarines, sugar and lemon. I could have gotten fancier, added herbs, nuts, booze, but this is the way I prefer nectarine jam – simple, not too sweet, with chunks of fruit suspended in a rosy gel. Some people peel nectarines, but I don’t bother. The skin is very thin, and has no peachy fuzziness, and anytime I can avoid vats of boiling water, I will. Especially after a few days of wrangling and peeling tomatoes.
Makes 4 half pints
3 lbs. ripe nectarines, pitted and diced
3 cups sugar
Juice of one lemon
Combine the nectarines and sugar, stir well to combine. Add lemon juice and stir again. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
Strain out the fruit from the syrup.
In a preserving pan or other heavy pan, bring the syrup to 220° on a candy thermometer.
Add the fruit and stir well. Continue to stir and cook. When the fruit is no longer floating, but suspended in the syrup, and the foam has dispersed, test the set.
Ladle into warm, sterilized jars, add lids and rings and process for ten minutes in a boiling water bath.
The peaches needed a couple of days to ripen. I stared at them. What would I make? Before this bounty arrived on my doorstep, I had already made eight jars of peach preserves with lemon verbena, four quarts of peaches in ginger syrup, and four quarts of peach pie filling. How many jars of peaches did I need?
So, I made salads for a few days. The first, a lovely modern spin on a fruit salad, was an attempt to recreate a gift from Bonnie Benwick. A couple of days after my ankle surgery last month, she showed up at the door with chicken pot pies for Dennis and me (so good!), and a big bowl of this salad. I must have been craving fresh fruit because I ate the entire bowl myself. I couldn’t get enough of it. I begged for the recipe, which Bonnie off-handedly said is just one of many similarly fashioned summer salads she makes.
Nectarine Fennel Salad
Makes enough for two, or one
3 ripe nectarines, pitted and sliced thin
1 medium fennel bulb, sliced thin
Mint simple syrup
Juice of two limes
Cracked black pepper to taste
Put everything in a bowl, toss gently. Share, if you wish.
This salad doesn’t hold well, so make what you will eat. Then make it again. And again and again and again.
After every remaining nectarine had been made into salad, the peaches were ready, perfectly ripe, and it was time to play with them. I was on a salad kick, so while I thought about creating a new peachy recipe, I concocted this composed salad. Peaches and tomatoes are good friends, and like lining up next to one another on a plate. Add some crumbled goat cheese (or ricotta salata) and a walnut oil dressing sweetened with a little honey, and another perfect end of summer salad was served.
Peaches, Tomatoes and Arugula, Composed
1 perfect heirloom tomato (or two, depending on size), sliced
1 perfect peach, sliced
1 small bunch of arugula, washed and dried
A knob of fresh goat cheese, crumbled
1 small shallot, minced
Big pinch of salt
A few turns of the pepper mill
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon honey
3 Tablespoons Walnut Oil (or very nice olive oil)
Salt and Pepper
First, make the dressing. Add the shallot, salt, pepper and vinegar to a small bowl and allow the shallots to pickle for 10-15 minutes.
Then, add the remaining ingredients and whisk well.
Divide the arugula between two plates, then the tomatoes, peaches and cheese.
Drizzle the dressing over the top.
After many salads. Really, many…. I decided it was time to can up the remaining few pounds of peaches, but until my massage therapist mentioned a cocktail she had loved at the beach, I had no idea what to do. This seemed like an inspired idea, and indeed, it was. What I love about this preserves is the way it plays nicely with savory dishes. It was wonderful spooned over a thick piece of halibut, a jalapeno slice or two placed on top, then roasted for 20 minutes at 425°.
Peach, Cilantro, Tequila Preserves
Makes 4 or 5 half-pint jars
3 lbs. peaches
2-1/2 – 3 cups sugar, depending on the sweetness of the peaches
1 bunch cilantro
Juice of three limes
Juice of one lemon
2 oz. silver tequila
Peel and dice the peaches. Add the sugar, cilantro (tie the herbs together so you can remove the bundle easily) and citrus juices.
Allow the mixture to macerate for two days.
Remove the cilantro and strain the fruit from the syrup.
Bring the syrup to 220° on a candy thermometer, then add back the fruit and cook until the foam has boiled off and the preserves are thick.
Add the tequila and cook until the alcohol smell burns off (about two minutes.)
Ladle into sterilized jars, add lids and rings and process for ten minutes in a boiling water bath.
P.S. If you’re still cautious about canning, check out this video I made with Melissa Clark of the New York Times.