Yesterday was the last day of summer. River rats and Parrothead wannabes, time to turn in your Tevas for a pair of hiking boots. Mountain people, better zip in that liner to your Columbia jacket, double check the rainfly on your tent and upgrade to a loftier sleeping bag. Backyard barflies, swap the margarita or mojito for darker spirits.
Pale ales yield to chocolate stouts and rich porters; summer salads move from the main stage out to the wings as accompaniment to autumn soups Now that the sun is slip-sliding from view, it’s time to preserve some remnants of summer. You can stock up on next summer now with a few simple preparations that alchemize with time into potent concoctions that will keep things sunny all winter long.
It’s been a banner year for fruit across Montezuma County and most of us have been gorging ourselves on peaches, apples, apricots, pears and plums. The peaches have never been better or more prolific. They are so juicy and sweet that I eat mine directly over the sink like a kid who couldn’t care less how much of the juice sticks to her face and fingers. I can easily polish off 3 or 4 in one standing.
There is, however, a downside to this lavish abundance. Fruit has the maddening habit of coming ripe all at once. Suddenly you can go from buying a few rock-hard supermarket peaches – because they look so inviting – to having access to bushels and bushels of dead-ripe fruit strewn across counters, windowsills, tabletops and any other available flat surface. And since it’s only the cold-hearted cook who can ignore ripening fruit to the point where it has to be thrown out, something must be done with the excess. So when you can’t face another peach pie – if that’s possible – or don’t want to spend the next 12 hours canning peaches, or have had your fill of sink fruit, there is help.
Keep reading for some no-cook recipes that will preserve summer sunshine through the dark of winter.
Artisan vinegars are a hot item at farmers markets, in stores, and in tasting rooms everywhere. They’re also one of the easiest and most inexpensive condiments to make and a great way to use up fruit while preserving your aromatic herbs like basil, marjoram, tarragon, cilantro, oregano, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Summer in a bottle
Artisan vinegarArtisan vinegars are a hot item at farmers markets, in stores, and in tasting rooms. They’re also one of the easiest and most inexpensive condiments to make and a great way to use up fruit while preserving your aromatic herbs like basil, marjoram, tarragon, cilantro, oregano, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. DirectionsStuff a sterilized (hot boiling water) ball jar with your favorite blend of herbs.
Fill to the top with a vinegar of your choice: white, rice, or balsamic, or a combination of vinegar and white or red wine.
Bruise the herbs slightly with a wooden spoon, cover the container, and store in a dark, cool place at room temperature.
Stir or shake the concoction every couple of days. Your vinegar should be ready by Christmas or sooner. Strain out the solids by pouring through a coffee filter fitted inside a funnel and decant into decorative bottles.
A note: some recipes call for refrigeration during and after the infusion or curing; others recommend simply a cool dark place.
Peach Cinnamon Basil VinegarTry the above vinegar recipe using 2 parts cleaned and peeled peaches with one part fresh cinnamon basil and a couple of cinnamon sticks.
The longer you let it set, the more pungent and earthy it will become.
Use a splash of it in place of lemon juice called for in dressings and dips, sauces and cocktails.
PEACH GINGER SHRUBShrubs are the relative new kid on the bartending block and are simply an infusion of fruit, sugar, and acid. In general, shrubs use equal parts macerated fruit, sugar, and vinegar or alcohol, although proportions vary according to recipes and tastes. Experiment with your own mixture of sweet, tart, and fruity.Ingredients4 medium peaches1 C sugar1/3 C grated fresh ginger1 ¾ C white balsamic vinegar½ C apple cider vinegarDirectionsChop and mash peaches, ginger, and sugar together. Cover and set for 24 hours or longer.
Add vinegar. Cover and set for at least a week.
Strain and discard solids and return to a cool dark place. Cover and set for another week.
Seal in sterilized bottles with a clean cork or sterilized lids.
Serve with sparkling water or white rum.
CRÈME DE PECHE (Peach Liqueur)For those who hanker for something a bit stronger, consider peach liqueur or, more poetically, crème de peche. Alcohol, in this case vodka, acts as a solvent, pulling both flavor and aroma from the peaches. Making homemade liqueur is all about process: preparation, steeping, separating, decanting, bottling, and—perhaps the most important ingredient—time, the great alchemizer that transforms earthly ingredients into heavenly nectar. Here’s a simple way to get your own bootleg operation started.Ingredients2 large peaches, skinned, pitted*, and sliced to maximize surface to vodka1 C vodkaZest from one lemon¾ C sugar¾ C waterOptional: A couple drops of yellow food coloring for a peachier color.*(Some people prefer to leave the pits in so that the mixture acquires the almond flavor that the pits impart.)
DirectionsCombine peaches, zest, and vodka, preferably 100 proof to absorb the peach flavor.
Seal, shake, soak and store for one week. Keep away from direct sunlight.
Strain out solids through a fine mesh sieve or through 2 layers of cheesecloth. Discard solids.
Heat the water and sugar together just until sugar is absorbed.
Combine sugar mixture with peach mixture.
Store in the refrigerator for two months before serving. It will, however, keep indefinitely.
Decant into a sterilized favorite bottle and seal with a clean cork or sterilized lid. Store in the refrigerator or in a cool, dark place.
This makes about 2 cups of liqueur which can be used as a glaze for chicken or fish, served over grilled fruit, over ice cream or cake, or mixed with club soda. And of course, it can also be enjoyed when served in tiny cordial cups or brandy snifters after an elegant candlelit meal. Enjoy the sunlight now while you can. And when you can’t, enjoy it in a bottle. Cheers!