Lavender and Honey Canned Peaches
In the throes of a gray and rainy September, it seems like summer came and went so quickly that we barely have time to grieve. The markets are now brimming with harvest cabbage, apples and squash, while the last few small and picked over berries roll between crates to wrinkle and dry. It may be a little bit past the prime peach season, but here at Choosy Beggars we’re a little bit behind in our posting, and it simply wouldn’t have been fair to ease into fall without first sharing this recipe with you.
Canned peaches in a simple sugar syrup were a dessert treat for my family when I was growing up. From an open tin can, the plump peach halves would be meted out with Euclidean precision so that each of the bowls was identical to the gram. If you don’t believe me, then clearly you didn’t grow up with older brothers that had to be watched with hawk-like scrutiny when it came to all things sugar. The syrup would be poured over top, one non-partisan spoonful at a time, as the secondary treat that we would slurp with abandon and an absolute absence of dignity and grace.
All that enthusiasm for Del Monte canned fruit, right? Just imagine how much better peaches taste when they’re picked at their prime, sweetened with honey and canned with love.
These peaches are a tip of the beret to provincial France, where lavender often infuses orchard sweet fruits with a sophisticated herbal flair. It is worth the time it takes to can your own preserves in the summer and fall, knowing that you’ll enjoy the bounty all year long. The sweet comfort of these peaches is as good as opening a jar of pure sunshine in the middle of February, and feeling yourself whisked away to a grassy field in Dijon. Is there anything better than a dessert that simultaneously teases and teleports? I thought not.
Lavender and Honey Canned Peaches
Yields 4-5 liters
- 7 lb (3.5 kg) fresh ripe peaches, about 30 *
- filtered water, reserve 6 cups
- 1.5 cups sugar
- 2.5 cups natural honey
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp dried lavender **
* Choose fresh peaches that have a firm skin without any bruises or blemishes. They should be ripe and sweetly fragrant, but still firm to the touch. Also, you really want “freestone” peaches, which means that the pit is easy to pop out when the peaches are halved. Fruit that are not freestone may be delicious, but you’ll be so frustrated trying to carve them apart without tearing the flesh (and your hair out, eventually) that it just isn’t worth the hassle.
** Be sure to buy food grade lavender from a specialty store or spice mart. The dried lavender from Michael’s that seems like a great idea for potpourri will not be as delicious as it smells.
Fill a large pot to about 2/3 full of water and bring it to a rapid, rolling boil over high heat.
With a light hand, score an “X” into the fuzzy bottom of each peach and continue running your knife up the side of the fruit until the peach is scored (but not cut) into quarters. Carefully drop about 6-8 peaches, depending on size, into the water and boil for 60 – 90 seconds. Do the peaches in batches and keep the heat steady and high to prevent the water temperature from dropping.
As soon as the peaches are blanched, remove them immediately from the boiling water and place into an ice water bath to stop the cooking and further loosen the skins.
The water that the peaches were cooked in is likely a dusky gold color. Reserve six (6) cups of the liquid and pour off the rest.
When the peaches are fully cooled, slide the edge of a spoon or a dull butter knife (not serrated) under the skin at one of the edges and gently pull it away. The skin should just slip right off. “Should”, mind you, is not the same thing as “will”. If the skin is still on there tight as a tick, and the peach feels less like a baby’s butt and more like the statue of David’s butt, feel free to use a vegetable peeler.
Use a short and sharp paring knife to split the peach in half and remove the pit. Slice each fruit into 8-10 wedges.
Clean and sterilize your glass jars. I like to use a mixture of 500 ml and 1L containers, but the choice is yours.
Pack the peach slices into your jars fairly tightly, but without pushing the fruit down and crushing it, until it comes up to 1/2″ from the top lip of the jar. Sprinkle a scant teaspoon of lavender into each liter sized jar (or 1/2 tsp lavender per 500 ml jar).
Remember that reserved cooking water? Pour it back in the pot along with the honey, sugar and a big pinch of salt. Set the pot over medium heat and stir until the sugar and honey are dissolved.
This is not a picture of golden honey water of course, because I was a bit too sticky and lazy to capture that step. Instead, I decided to try and trick you with a picture of sweet pickle brine-in-waiting. Don’t be fooled by my deceptions.
Pour the liquid into your peach jars until the fruit is just covered. The liquid should be roughly 1/2″ away from the lip of the jar which is the perfect amount of head space to get a good vacuum seal on the lid.
Use a damp cloth to wipe away any sticky sugar or debris that might be on the rim of the jar.
Tuck a fresh lid on to each jar and screw on the ring cap until it is finger tight. In other words, it should feel snug but you don’t need to break out the pliers.
Bring your hot water bath up to a rolling boil and heat process the jars for 25 minutes.
After the jars have been processed, set them aside to cool and wait for that glorious popping sound that pretty much means you are a domestic goddess. Because it’s true.
These canned peaches would be delicious served over creamy and rich vanilla bean ice cream for a fabulous dinner party dessert, but I say that even breakfast deserves a little touch of luxury once in a while. Spooned over a healthy dollop of Greek yogurt, this is one way to start the day with a little bit of sunshine in your belly.
When you’re canning the peaches, they will release their own liquid into the sweet honeyed syrup, as the slices rise up to the top of the jar and float around merrily. A jar that looked packed full when you began with firm peaches will be somewhat lighter and looser when the peaches are done. With pickles, I tend to discard most of the leftover brine and it makes me feel rather wasteful. With this honeyed syrup, however, I would never dream of it. A teaspoon stirred in to sweeten hot tea, a drizzle into a fresh fruit smoothie, or painted onto layers of yellow cake before they get filled and frosted, you will not want to waste a single drop.
If you happen to spy those last lingering summer peaches at the market, snap them up as fast as you can. Literally. Because growing time is short, but with canned honeyed peaches you can savor the sweetness of summer all year long.