In our last episode, I mentioned that my husband and I like to hit the farm stands on the way back from the Delaware shore on beach weekends. What I didn’t talk about was the peaches. Last summer was amazing for peaches – I don’t know what the deal was, maybe something in the ultra-high temps and decent rainfall made for the most delicious peaches in years. This summer was pretty good as well. Supermarket peaches weren’t as reliably juicy-sweet as they were last year, and I had more than a couple of mealy fruits, but the farm stand peaches were impeccable.
I’m allergic to peaches. I’m not supposed to eat them, but I do. My ears burn from the inside and the roof of my mouth itches like crazy. Maybe 10 percent of the time I’ll luck out, but most of the time, I pay for my fun. It’s the same with all stone fruit – nectarines, cherries, plums, apricots all send me to Itchytown. Apparently, if you’re allergic to birch trees, you’ll probably also be allergic to stone fruit. There are two ways to avoid the itch altogether. One is to heat the fruit, so cobblers, pies, clafoutis, purées, fruit soups are all pretty safe. The other is to soak the fruit in alcohol. In both cases, the principle is the same – to denature the protein that elicits the allergic reaction.
In addition to this somewhat esoteric virtue, soaking fruit in alcohol has other merits. For one, alcohol is a pretty good preservative, especially at high concentrations. As very basic food preservation methods go, soaking fruit in booze is probably the easiest. And you can double down from a food preservation standpoint by adding sugar to the booze, although the primary culinary reason to add sugar is to prevent the fruit from absorbing too much alcohol through osmosis. Take yourself back to high school chemistry for a moment and recall that, where the concentration of solute in solvents differs on two sides of a selectively permeable membrane, the solvent will pass through the membrane from the area of lower solute concentration (such as a more dilute sugar solution) to the area of higher solute concentration (such as a more concentrated sugar solution), until the concentrations are equal. So adding sugar to the booze prevents too much alcohol from passing from the preserving liquid into the sweet peaches. It’s a little more complicated than that as well – peaches contain quite a bit of water and hard liquor contains something like 50-60% water, depending on the alcohol content of the liquor, so water also passes through the peach fruit cells. But anyway, you get the idea. The fruit becomes boozy, and the booze becomes fruit-juicy.
Enough science for you? OK. Get into the kitchen and put those end of season fruits in some booze, so you can enjoy them again once December rolls around.
For me, the real prize isn’t the peach that emerges from the boozing process – it’s the peach-juicy liquor left behind. So decide what you want: sweet but somewhat boozy peaches and sugary (but still sippable or mixable) bourbon, or sort of overwhelmingly boozy peaches and delicious, delicious peachy booze juice. If you want the peaches less boozy, you need to add sugar to your mix. Otherwise, just slice the fruit and cover with booze. In a few months, you’ll be able to enjoy the peach liquor.
I usually use something cheap, like Jack Daniel’s, since the subtleties of better quality booze probably will be lost or diluted in the process of fruit preservation. But right now I’ve got one jar of nectarines going with Eagle Rare – we’ll see if it makes a big difference once we crack that sucker open in November.
three pounds summer peaches, nectarines, etc
500 ml bourbon
250g (about 1 1/4 c) sugar.
Wash the fruit well and slice into 12 each (quarter and then cut each quarter into thirds). If using sugar, place the fruit slices in a large, nonreactive bowl (ceramic is good) and toss with the sugar. Allow to macerate for about an hour. If not using sugar, proceed immediately to the next step.
Pack into sterilized Mason jars or another jar with a tight-sealing lid, with the sugar and juices if applicable. Cover with bourbon. Seal tightly and place in a cool dark place to age for about three months.
Cherries, spiced rum
Same deal as the peaches. You can sugar these or not, depending on how you want the end product to turn out. If you like the cherries to stay relatively juicy and sweet and not unbearably boozy, use the sugar. If you’re really just trying to produce an awesome cherry rum, go without. Pit the cherries if you like, but I prefer to leave them pits-in, which lends a subtle almond taste to the rum.
Use the same proportions of sugar to alcohol. In this case, I used no sugar and Kraken spiced rum, which is an amazing sipping rum, especially considering the price. Don’t let your scary college memories of Captain Morgan’s get in the way of your fun here – the Kraken is delicious. If you can’t find it, or don’t want to use it, just use any other really dark aged rum, and throw in the spices of your choice – a cinnamon stick, some cloves, a few allspice berries, a vanilla pod. I don’t recommend using ground spice since this will adversely affect the drinkability of the rum – it’s like swallowing little bits of sand.