In late April we had a frost. After an unbelievably-mild winter that required only two or three shovellings, and a spring that had us in sandals by March, the raw cold of April 29th came as a harsh surprise.
That said, what was merely startling to us was devastating to the farms and farmers we call neighbours. The fruit trees — apple, peach, pear, plum, cherry and others — were already festooned with early blooms; the fragile flowers couldn't handle the biting, sudden freeze, and were largely wiped out.
So, there's been months of waiting. Talking to friends with farms to see how they're doing, peering down the rows of orchards as we drive by, craning our necks in the hope of seeing some fruit on the branches.
The good news is, pockets of fruit survived — the yields are low, and the season will be short I hear, but there are peaches. There were cherries too, though less than what we've come to expect.
We are thoroughly spoiled by where we live. Smack-dab in the middle of farmland, there's markets almost every day, and roadside stands full up with produce, well into autumn. We're used to the strawberry festival, the cherry festival, and the peach celebration that closes down the main street of a nearby town every August, and by September we're in the orchards, picking apples for cake. We greedily bide our time until the late-summer glut of fruit arrives, and then snatch up the harvest, flat by flat, to be preserved.
This year, there won't be that boon. I don't know if there will be peaches for canning, there's hope, but not for certain. And so, what we have is all the more precious. I want to take grateful note, as their time is fleeting.
We often take those days of feast for granted. We've fogotten our luck at what we have nearby.
We bought our first basket of peaches. They smelled like summer holidays, like nostalgia and growing up. They reminded of humid evenings in the backyard, of shortcakes and crumbles, and fruit eaten out of hand sitting at Mum and Dad's old picnic table, with sticky juice running down to our elbows. They made me think of how we seek out the sweetness in so many things, peaches, plums and nectarines among them, and how we find an edge of sharpness in each bite.
I didn't want to muss up these peaches; I wanted them for their simple peachy-ness. Pure, straight fruit, helped along maybe, but not essentially changed. That need manifested into peaches soaked in wine, perfumed by honey and vanilla. I chose not to poach the fruit exactly, rather giving them a gentle bath, in the thought that suggestion of warmth would coax a that bit more vanilla out of that pod, and bring that much more tenderness to the peaches, as if there had been an extra day of sunshine.
The fruit goes into the wine whole and unpeeled. There's rather ceremonial beauty in a peach, served whole. The peels are slipped away, like silk across shoulders, just before eating. The skins leave rosy marks on the flesh of the peaches, and also offer some protection from the simmering wine so that their centres are just barely cooked; they retain the direct sour-sweet of the farmstand, tinged with the taste of the wine. And that wine, well, as the peaches sit their flavour fully blossoms, mingling into the liquid — so that wine makes for a boozy consommé, sparkling, bracing and bright.
I let some runny crème fraîche meander through the juices, it's twang perfect against that of the fruit. The peaches feel fresh, firm and bouncy cheeked, through-and-through fragrant. I like them very much, straight from the fridge. Their taste is clear, that of a July afternoon without cloud.
There are those moments when I look around and wish I could stop time. I wonder for a way to hold everything, as it is, still and somehow the same, to keep safe for the times ahead, for times of frost and freezing.
This is the closest I've come.
PEACHES SOAKED IN VANILLA WINE
The peaches require a few hours to chill, so plan with that in mind.
- 2 cups (500 ml) dryish white wine
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 vanilla pod, split
- 4 medium peaches, washed, stems removed but left whole
- Crème fraîche, to serve
In a saucepan that will fit your peaches snugly, stir together the wine and honey. Run the blunt end of a knife across the vanilla bean to scrape out the seeds, add the seeds to the saucepan, along with the pod itself.
Bring the wine mixture to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Allow the wine to bubble gently for a few minutes, until the honey is melted and the mixture starts to thicken just a bit. Carefully lower the peaches into the barely-simmering liquid — they should be submerged — and cook gently for 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat, flip the peaches over, and cover with a lid. Set aside to cool to room temperature, then chill the peaches for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.
When you're ready to eat, carefully remove a peach from the liquid. Gently pinch the skin with your fingers and it should pull away from the flesh. Peel the peach and place it back in the liquid. Repeat with the remaining fruit.
Thin some crème fraîche with a bit of the wine mixture; it's nice at a pouring consistency. To serve, place a peach in a bowl, spoon over some of the wine, followed by the crème fraîche.
Serves 4, or maybe 2, depending on the day.
- The peaches must be fully covered by the liquid while chilling, or they will discolour. If needed, top up with some extra wine to keep them dunked, or seal out air by pressing a piece of clingfilm against the surface of the peaches.
- For those who prefer a thicker syrup, the wine can be further reduced after the peaches have had a chance to soak. I'd remove the fruit, boil down the liquid, then get it good and cold again before serving.
- Any extra wine in left in the pot can be sipped, or reduced to a syrup as above and saved for eating with ice cream.