On Peaches and Problems

Not every recipe will be successful.

This one was saved by the peaches and the vanilla that managed to bring it through even despite the problems. I don't often talk about failures here, part because failures are only interesting to read for so long and part because I like to put recipes up that work, that I love and want to enjoy again with friends. But, I made a promise that I would talk about what happened to those peaches and this is that story.

A friend of a friend offered me some peaches from her mini-orchard of five peach trees (!!) and wondered what I would opt to do with them. At the time, I had no idea - there are so many wonderful ways to use peaches! It would depend on how many and the size before I could decide.

Now, my favorite thing to do with peaches is turn them into Easy Peach Freezer Jam. (I still don't do hot-water canning! For some reason, that just scares me. Maybe next year.) But I've already put up two batches and there's enough peach jam in the freezer for the winter.

Another option was to make the open-faced Peach Galette from last year. It was fantastic, plus since it only needs two peaches, it might be just the thing to use up any leftovers.

One factor that also played into my decision was the packet of 30 Tahitian vanilla beans that had just arrived at my door, courtesy of Vanilla Products on eBay. Now, I know what you're thinking - vanilla beans off ebay?? They are wonderful. Clear explanations, 100% positive feedback over thousands of transactions and primo product. I'm very happy with the beans I received and am looking forward to many happy hours making desserts that were never an option due to lack of real beans.

Peach and vanilla go hand-in-hand, especially in pie, so with five ripe peaches and a packet of beans fresh from the mailbox, it had to be pie. Plus, not only have I not made one yet this year, I've never actually made a traditional American peach pie before. It's old-hat to folks in peach country, but for me, it's all new.

To make any peach dessert, you almost always have to remove the peel first. This is still easy, but it does take a little bit of time.

How to Peel Peaches Cut an "x" into the bottom of each peach, then bring a big pot of water to a boil and dunk them in for 30 seconds each. Then, remove them to an ice bath, also known as shocking, to stop the peaches from cooking. The peels should then easily slip and slide right off.

Sounds easy, right? Guess what, it is with one caveat: the peaches MUST BE RIPE. I had a bag of peaches earlier this summer that weren't quite ripe and I fought those damn things every step of the way, from getting the peels off to getting the stone out. If they're ripe, really, truly, actually ripe and not ripened simply with ethylene gas, everything will proceed quickly and easily.

I found my favorite pie crust recipe and printed out yet another copy to pin on the fridge while I worked. I carefully pushed it into place in the new-to-me ceramic pie/tart dish I found and turned my attention to the peaches.

I had just enough peaches, about 2 to 2 1/4 pounds, for the recipe I had in mind. Or should I say, recipes, since I was riffing on at least three different ones to create the final filling. I blanched and shocked, rubbing the peels off with my thumb carefully and then cutting each into little bite-size chunks.

Traditionally, both peach and apple pies call for sliced fruit instead of chopped fruit. I opted to chop instead to make it easier to remove from the pan and eat. I never seem to get a clean slice with sliced fruit!

The peaches were tossed with a tablespoon of lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom, a dash of cloves, the seeds from one vanilla bean and two tablespoons of tapioca starch. Why tapioca? One, it was more accessible in the pantry than cornstarch and two, I like how tapioca sets up cleanly. I added a splash of milk and a pinch of brown sugar for extra flavor.

I patted it all into place, the vanilla's scent wafting up delightfully. My whole pantry smells like vanilla, did you know? Even though they're wrapped in three freezer bags, I can still smell it faintly in the air when I open the doors.

Problem is, my "pie" looked kinda bare. I didn't want to make another pie crust, so I opted for streusel, my favorite pie topping.

Now we get to the reason why you're not seeing photos or a true recipe on this post: I tried a recipe from Southern Living and it failed miserably. The crust and pie filling came out beautifully but the streusel damn near ruined it.

I'm not sure if the recipe from Southern Living was off by not including any kind of fat, or if I put too much on, even after cutting it by half and not even using all of what I made or even if I failed to cook it long enough. The upper layer of the topping was basically raw, though most of it was cooked through.

In the end, it was all eaten and, once you took off some of the raw streusel, it was actually pretty darn tasty. Next year, when peaches come into season again, I'll try again, but next time, I'm thinking a traditional crust for the top instead. I'm not eager to repeat the great raw streusel experiment again!