Peaches grow best in sub-tropical climates, not here. I know a few farmers with a few trees, but the harvest is hit or miss. Happily, this year was a hit. With our balmy, seemingly endless-summer, which felt more like the South of France than Southeast Wisconsin, peach-tree growers experienced a bumper crop.
Hooray, because eating a fresh, tree-ripened peach is a small slice of summertime heaven. Second to that, a properly preserved tree-ripened peach surely beats a rock-hard, off-season grocery store peach any day of the week. So while the season lasts, eat them…and preserve them. Options remain endless—syrups, pie filling, even pickles. I prefer to freeze them mostly, but I also make peach fruit leathers and peach butter, neither of which can easily be found at the supermarket. I do follow a strict rule and never can peaches. Canned peaches conjure memories of bad times like junior high school lunch or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
HOW TO FREEZE PEACHES
Step 1: Blanch and Remove the Skins
- Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.
- Add whole peaches no more than 8 at a time to the boiling water, cover with lid and time for 3 minutes. Start timing immediately. Don’t wait for it to return to a boil.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl or the sink, create an ice-water bath.
- After 3 minutes, remove peaches with a slotted spoon and place the fruit in the ice-water bath to cool as quickly as possible. This is called blanching, and it stops the activity of the fruits’ enzymes thereby preventing browning.
- Once cooled, the skins should slip off easily.
- Cut into wedges or halves removing the pit. I sometimes skip the knife and just use my hands depending on how I will use the fruit later.
- Next transfer the cleaned fruit to another large bowl of ice-cold water which has been acidified with lemon juice—¾ cup lemon juice to 8 cups water. The lemon water is an additional safe-guard against browning. Leave the cleaned peaches here until you are ready to pack and freeze them, and do not dump the water out at the end. You can turn it into a Peach Lemonade. I’ll show you how. Read on. (Crushed ascorbic acid/vitamin C will also do if no lemon juice is on hand, but you won’t be able to experience the peachy lemonade).
Step 2: Choose a Freezing MethodWet Pack Methods: 1. Sugar Pack Sprinkle desired amount of sugar over the peaches as you layer them in the freezer-safe storage bags or containers. I use about 1 tablespoon sugar for every 2 cups peaches. Let it set at room temperature for about 5 minutes before freezing it. This allows the sugar to bring out the peach juices. Leave ½ inch headspace to allow for expansion in the freezer. This is my preferred method—great results with less work. I pack them in 1-cup or 2-cup plastic containers, and use them in my packed lunches or for after-dinner treats all through the winter. The kids love them. 2. Honey Syrup Pack Honey syrup is much simpler to make than simple syrup with sugar and water. You don’t have to make it in advance as it doesn’t require cooking and cooling. Moreover, it has more sweetness with fewer calories. The syrup will be easier to make if the water and honey are warmed slightly.
- Very Light Honey Syrup—4 parts water: 1 part honey
- Light Honey Syrup—3 parts water: 1 part honey
- Heavy Honey Syrup—3 parts water: 2 parts honey
Again, pack the peaches in desired proportions in freezer-safe containers leaving ½ inch headspace to allow for expansion in the freezer.Dry Pack Method: Blanch and remove peach skins and pits. Cut into wedges, place on a cookie sheet and set in freezer. Once frozen, transfer them to a freezer-safe storage container. I can easily remove the number of frozen wedges that I want anytime. This method is great for storing peaches which you will later bake. I also like to throw these into smoothies and of course I use them to make Peach Lemonade. “No time–Freeze now, Prepare Later Method”: Use this method when you’re really pressed for time and the peaches are on the verge of spoiling. Put the entire peach in the freezer. That’s it. Transfer it to a freezer bag if you’re planning on leaving it there for more than a few days, otherwise, it will start to shrivel. You can later run the peach under warm water and the skins will slip right off. I use these peaches to make fruit leathers or peach butters. This “No time” method works for tomatoes too.
- Lemon water used to hold the cleaned, blanched peaches (about 8 cups)
- Lemon juice as needed
- ¾ - 1 cup sugar
- Take the lemon water that the clean peaches were floating in awaiting processing and place it in your blender or if you have an immersion blender, transfer it directly to a pitcher. The water will be a peachy-orange color with small bits of peach flesh floating in it.
- Add sugar and blend thoroughly in your blender.
- Taste and add more sugar or lemon juice if needed.
Cooking with Kids: Let your kids help with removing the skins and pit. I also let my girls spinkle in the sugar while I layer the fruit in containers–just measure out the sugar in advance or have them. They also love to use the blender. What kid doesn’t like using a noisy machine? Lastly, the kids must participate in adjusting the taste–great sensory exploration for the little ones and an opportunity to describe flavor for the older ones.
Tip: I want to give a shout out to Tree Ripe. Long before I knew that we would get a bumper crop of peaches, in late June I headed to the parking lot of the Ace Hardware in West Allis to buy peaches off the back of a truck arriving straight from Georgia. I bought 70 pounds of peaches. I know GA isn’t exactly local, but it directly supports farmers, and Georgia is closer than California, and I can’t live on apples only. I also bought 10 pounds of MI blueberries. If you live in the Midwest check Tree Ripe out.