Years ago I was given a white peach tree as a memorial for my mother by some thoughtful colleagues. Before her death my mom, Julianne Glatz, was the original author of the Illinois Times food column, and one of my coworkers recalled that she'd once written that white peaches were one of her most favorite things. I was touched by their kindness and planted the tree in a sunny corner of my yard. Since then the tree has thrived and grown into a beautiful specimen, bursting forth with bright pink blossoms each spring.
Fruit trees, however, are tricky. The deluge of blossoms that greeted us in April would give way to lush green leaves in June but the quantity of actual peaches on the tree was negligible. You see you can't just stick a fruit tree in the ground, water it and expect a harvest. Fruit trees, especially stone fruit types like peaches, nectarines and plums must be pruned annually in order to be strong and fruitful. Pruning should be done in late winter, while the tree is still dormant and the buds have not yet begun to swell. For years we missed the boat, realizing when we'd see the peach blossoms open that we once again forgot to prune.
Determined to no longer neglect our fruit-keeping duties, this year we scheduled pruning reminders on our calendar. One sunny morning in early March, my husband headed out armed with sharp loppers and a bevy of YouTube tutorials. A while later he came in and said he thought he was done, and for me to come take a look. I gasped when I saw the tree – it was comically cut back to what looked like a sad stick poking up out of the ground. "Oh honey... wow. Um, I thought you were only supposed to cut back 25 percent..." I looked down at the massive pile of branches on the ground and hoped that he hadn't just killed my mom's memorial tree.
It turns out that a severe pruning was exactly what that tree needed. As spring progressed, the peach tree proceeded to put on its greatest show of blossoms yet, before giving way to an overwhelming bounty of fruit. Branches packed with clusters of peaches hang lower and lower under the increasing weight of the fruit as they morph from fuzzy green balls to sunset-hued orbs. We just started picking this week and I'm trying to wrap my head around what I'll do with the haul. This fresh summery salad has been my go-to favorite lately for a not-so-sad desk lunch – it's crisp and satisfying and makes good use out of all the garden has to offer right now. Undoubtedly my brown butter peach cobbler will make an appearance also. And with any luck I'll stash away some jars of brandied peaches to give as gifts at Christmastime. Most of all I'm looking forward to enjoying these succulent white peaches the way my mom liked them best – freshly sliced and drizzled with honey atop a bowl of vanilla ice cream.
Peach and sweet corn salad
1 medium cucumber, sliced thin
1 ripe tomato, cut into wedges
2 peaches, peeled and cut into wedges
1 ear sweet corn, cooked, cooled and cut off the cob
¼ cup crumbled feta
¼ cup pickled red onions (see recipe at: https://www.illinoistimes.com/springfield/yucatan-pickled-red-onions/Content?oid=11447657)
2 tablespoons minced basil or mint
1 tablespoon olive oil
Layer the ingredients onto a plate or serving bowl in the order listed. Drizzle olive oil over the top and season to taste with coarse salt and black pepper.
Brown butter peach cobbler
10 tablespoons butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided (more if peaches are tart)
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
4 cups peeled and sliced peaches
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Freshly ground nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a medium saucepan, brown the butter over medium heat. (For more on melting butter check out: https://www.illinoistimes.com/springfield/the-magic-of-brown-butter/Content?oid=12648343). Allow to cool slightly, then pour the butter into a non-reactive 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish. Wait to wash the saucepan. You will reuse it.
Combine the flour, one cup of the sugar, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl, then add the milk and stir until moistened. Pour the batter over the browned butter in the baking dish but do not stir. Add the peaches, lemon juice and the remaining ½ cup sugar (add up to ½ cup more sugar if peaches are tart) to the saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour the hot peach mixture over the batter in the baking dish but do not stir. Top with freshly grated nutmeg then transfer to a preheated oven and bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is golden and the filling is bubbly.
4 pounds peaches (about 12 medium)
3 ½ cups brandy (or you can use whisky)
2 cups sugar
1 ¼ cups water
Wash and pit the peaches.
Cut them into eight wedges each.
Bring the brandy, sugar and water to a boil in a large saucepan over medium high heat.
Sanitize six pint jars by scalding them in a large pot of simmering water fitted with a canning rack. Remove the jars from the hot water and place them on the counter. Keep the lids submerged in hot water until ready to use.
Pack the sliced peaches into the jars then top with the hot brandy syrup. Remove any air bubbles and add more syrup as needed to fully submerge the peaches. (Make sure to leave a half-inch of headroom at the top of the jar.) Wipe the rim with a towel, top with a clean lid, and screw on the bands.
Place the jars in the hot water bath and bring to a boil. Process for 15 minutes once they come to a boil. Carefully remove the jars and place on a towel-lined tray to cool.
The brandied peaches will keep for several weeks once opened, as long as they stay submerged in the syrup. Use in cocktails, in desserts, or simply over ice cream.