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DISH: Trusting the Process, Part I
If you’ve ever picked fruit of any kind – wandered into berry thickets as a kid, maybe, or stopped at a U-Pick for apples – then you’ve learned why the story of Adam and Eve might have its roots in a little bit of fact. It’s simply impossible to turn away from a bush or tree jeweled with abundance. But pluck just one? Hardly. Before you’ve even shifted from your perch, you’ve gathered ten times the amount that you can readily use.
This, in turn, teaches you some other lessons. Not about religion, per se, but about the food supply chain. Such as: Harvest is hard labor. Twisting and stretching to pick one apple or stooping for a couple of particularly tempting strawberries is no big deal. But doing it for hours on end is a breaking kind of pain.
And unlike other forms of creation, where process begets product, growing fruit works both ways. Whether you’re visiting a commercial orchard or cultivating a personal one in your backyard, once you have a good sum of product in hand, you have to invest in process again.
In other words, you’ve got to do something with all that fruit. Wash, peel, pit, chop, cook. It’s like the culinary equivalent for the “5 D’s” in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. And it’s a lot of work, this whole long preservation of your efforts, and the prevention of their waste. It all seems to result in more exertion.
In creative writing, we often emphasize the importance of process and try not to dwell on the product. French Symbolist poet Paul Valéry said, “A poem is never finished; it is only abandoned.” I know many writers who continue editing their work to read aloud long after it’s been published in book form. (Ahem.)
Athletes use process as a journey to travel many times for a worthwhile result. The same is true also of cooks, I suppose. The product is what counts. That means you have to perform the routine over and over until it becomes rote. So the chores of gardening and cooking are, or can be, mundane. The trick is to marry inspiration with the monotony, find hacks, make assembly easier – which I have, after taking care of 14 mango trees for nearly two decades and dispatching indescribably large amounts of fruit.
For instance, most fruit freezes. That’s not novel news. But many of us don’t know that it may not freeze well in its natural state. Berries do, but mangoes – and stone fruit in general – shouldn’t be frozen without being disassembled first. (Yes, I’ve seen people freeze mangoes whole. It’s not an attractive or useful defrosting.) They’re best kept peeled and in chunks. I partition them in pint and quart bags for ease of use, because once the pieces meld together you can’t separate them until they soften. Then I double-bag them, three or four to a gallon size, so freezer burn doesn’t set in. You can also puree your fruit first and save it using the same method.
Speaking of purees, around this time of year you’ll be seeing lots of recipes for ice pops and paletas. But how many of us have molds on hand? What you more likely have is a few ice cube trays hanging around. In the past couple of years, ice cube trays have been made from silicone. They’re flexible and in all different shapes and sizes, some meant to replicate the large cocktail cubes you see in bars. To turn these cubes into cute fruit sorbets, all you need are syrups on hand. Simple, rich, infused, and fruit syrups are incredibly easy to make, and also ideal for everything from cocktails to cakes. (See instructions in “TILL,” below.)
Still, despite the work involved – or maybe even because of it – as coronavirus continues to ravage our summer plans, fruit-picking trips all over the country are some of the safer options. You’re outside, you’re with family or friend bubbles, and you’re helping the farmers who have been impacted by coronavirus by picking way too many buckets of their peaches and blueberries. Right now, there’s plenty of time to invest in the process-product-process chain of command.
Next month, in Trusting the Process: Part II, we’ll talk about preserving.
If you’ve ever been confused about the differences between syrups, and why you use one in cocktails and another on pancakes, here’s a quick primer. Note that because sugar is a natural preservative, homemade syrups will keep in the refrigerator for about a month.
Simple Syrup has a ratio of 1:1 sugar to water. It’s a little less sweet than actual sugar. Heat sugar and water together in a saucepan until sugar is dissolved.
Rich Syrup has a ratio of 2:1 sugar to water. It’s thicker, has a little bit more body, and you can use less of it. Heat sugar and water together in a saucepan until sugar is dissolved.
Infused Syrup is flavored with herbs, teas, or zest. Heat sugar and water together in a saucepan until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, steep flavorings for 30 minutes, and strain.
Fruit Syrup boils fruit, sugar, and water together. You can make it thicker by adding a little cornstarch before it boils.
Peach Simple Syrup
1 cup peeled and chopped peaches
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
In a small saucepan, combine peaches, water, and sugar. Over medium heat, stir until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to boil until the syrup thickens, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice, and strain. Pour into a container with a lid. Refrigerate. Makes 1½-2 cups
Grilled Peach and Corn Salsa
You can easily make this salsa without grilling the corn and peaches. But the grilled flavor does offer an extra flavor dimension. If the weather’s bad or you don’t have a grill, try roasting them in the oven. But we confess, we’ve made it with leftover corn on the cob and peaches that needed to be used up before they went bad. However you throw it together, this salsa is a great addition to rotisserie chicken (add to pulled, roasted white meat for an easy chicken salad), grilled fish, pork chops, and even lamb.
2 grilled ears corn on the cob (see Tidbit 1.1: Cream of the Crop for directions)
3 large ripe but firm cling-free peaches, pitted and halved into cheeks
½ cup finely chopped orange or yellow bell pepper
1-2 tablespoons minced jalapeño or hot sauce of your choice (optional)
½ cup finely chopped red onion
½ cup minced cilantro
Juice of one lime
Juice of one tangerine or ½ of a navel orange (substitute 1-2 tablespoons orange juice)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Freshly ground sea salt and pepper to taste
Using a sharp knife, cut the kernels from the cobs. Roughly chop or crumble into a bowl. Grill the peach cheeks until they are caramelized. This takes a very short time, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the grill and allow to cool. Remove skin (optional), dice, and add to the corn. Retain the juices and add those to the bowl as well.
Mix in remaining ingredients and stir well. This tastes best when made ahead of time and allowed to marinate before serving.
Makes about 5-6 cups
BK / JK
Salute to Mom BBQ Glaze
We grew up above the Mason-Dixon line, completely unaware that serious BBQ had nothing to do with the grill. Nevertheless, we persisted. Inside and out, our mom used a version of this glaze that lacquers the exterior of roasted meat with delicious flavor while keeping it somewhat protected from overcooking. Use on chicken or pork. Change out the jam flavors. Feel free to raid the spice cabinet (I’m looking at you, cumin) or add chopped scallions to lean in different cultural directions. I’ve taken the liberty of adding a touch of zing that was never in our mother’s original, but you know daughters – you can’t tell them what to do or how to do it.
¾ cup peach jam
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2–3 minced garlic cloves, NOT pre-chopped from a jar. Standards!
2 pinches pepper flakes
Ground pepper to taste
In a bowl, mix all the ingredients.
For no-nonsense oven bird:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slather chicken pieces and parts, saving about half the marinade. Bake in an oven-proof pan or dish for at least 50 minutes (but likely longer). Re-glaze before the last 15 minutes. Feel free to baste with the pan juices. The temperature of the breast meat should hit 165 degrees. For extra browning, say “hello” to your broiler at the end.
For an easy-peasy grill bird:
Preheat grill to a minimum 400 degrees. Turn off the middle burner. Roast a whole or butterflied chicken with the lid closed, turning every 20 minutes or so. After about an hour, start glazing with a brush every 10 minutes, closing the lid in between. A 3-4 pounder should take about 1 ½ hours.
No-Bake Peachy Keen Parfait
Among the many pandemic lessons I’ve learned in the kitchen so far is this: Four adults – two older, two younger – don’t always eat the same thing, or for that matter, at the same time. You’ve no doubt discovered the same. Not to worry! This easy-to-assemble dessert can take the challenge. Pick up a pound cake or angel food with your next grocery run. Or not: Vanilla ice cream, layered with fresh peaches and topped with spiced and caramelized almonds, can stand alone. Peaches can be grilled or served raw. Add or sub other fresh, seasonal fruits like berries. Plate (see above) or stack like a parfait (see below).
Store-bought pound or angel food cake, sliced or cubed
2-3 peaches, skinned and sliced* or grilled in halves**
Vanilla or preferred flavor of ice cream
Stove-top spiced almonds***:
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1-2 pinches cayenne
Healthy pinch of kosher salt
1 cup slivered or sliced almonds
In a stainless steel skillet over medium to medium-high heat, stir the first 4 ingredients together until mixed. Add the almonds. Cook until the sugar is melted and clinging to the browning nuts, about 3-5 minutes. Spread on Silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet to cool. Nibble as you work.
*Prepping peaches: Score the bottom. Drop them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Remove and place in an ice bath. Peel. Don’t skip the ice bath, because it stops the cooking process and loosens the peel. Keep whole until using or spritz slices with a little lemon to prevent from browning. Covering in simple syrup (see “TILL”) can also help.
**Grilling peaches: Cut in half from top to bottom and remove the pits. Slick the cut sides with a little neutral oil to help prevent sticking. Grill cut side down for 1-2 minutes over medium-high heat.
***Note: If you’re grilling the peaches and want to do the almonds on the grill as well, go right ahead. A little smoky flavor goes well with these crunchy bites!
Y Not: White Sparkling Sangría
Sangría = punch. In many cases, mine included, that’s a literal punch. If my former New Jersey July 4th gatherings were noted for anything, it was for the gathering of friends over glasses of easy-going, drinkable, and intoxicatingly delicious Sangría. It was known to deliver the aforementioned punch. As for the holiday, you could also catch the town fireworks for free from the front lawn! Sangría reportedly traces its roots to the birth of wine growing in Spain thousands of years ago. The popularity of combining wine with fruit and flavorings gathered momentum in the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe. For the late-blooming United States, it took another couple of centennial. While you can make Sangría by combining wine with fruit, other spirits are almost always included. Below is a sparkling version celebrating peaches because, well, it’s you-know-what season. Plus, as noted by my friend Erin, gifted graphic designer and owner of Akron’s Paper Mill Studio, it makes it highly drinkable.
P.S. I also made my standard red Sangría with orange, peaches, and strawberries because, well, because… (Thanks to Erin for helping me taste test!)
2 good-sized firm but ripe peaches sliced into 8ths
1 orange, ends removed, sliced into half rounds (with or without the rind)
Handful of strawberries, hulled and halved
½ cup apricot brandy
½ cup triple sec or other orange liqueur
1 cup orange juice
1 bottle available sparkling wine (mine was a Dolce but try any Prosecco, Cava, or California selection)
Tip: Skip the pricey stuff – no one will know the difference with Sangría
Combine the first 6 ingredients and let sit at least several hours in the fridge. Before serving, add sparkling wine. I recommend adding ice to the glass, not the pitcher to avoid diluting the Sangría. (Consider making cubes from orange juice or peach juice!)
Final thought: Some people, not saying who, replace the fruit before serving with fresh fruit, which is prettier and less lethal. Diehards stick with the booze-soaked fruit. Not saying which camp I pitch my tent in, but…
While Florida isn’t known for peaches, they do grow in the northern part of the state, near the Georgia border. Recently, thanks to the pandemic, we’ve been seeing Florida peaches in the markets. That’s a first for us, although I did try to plant a peach tree once. It was supposed to be able to withstand the low chill hours of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 10b here in Miami, but you can see from the poem below what happened to it.
I planted the peach tree dead,
the graft a telltale tan
under fingernails that lesioned
the irresolute parasol of trunk.
Come summer there will be
no fragrant moons
whispering of a childhood
spent eluding drunken wasps,
no mouths stained the misbegotten
pink satin of a prom dress,
no fibers to floss the teeth,
but this flagless pole only, struck
barren in its first blush by the hands
that meant to transfer it
from fertile pot to earth but instead
wrote the whole thing off.