Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 22, 2013

Peach of a fruit: Peak season this weekend

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Beryl Striewski moved to northern Michigan from Texas, where “local” fruit and vegetables meant watermelons and tomatoes.

So she revels in northern Michigan’s growing season, using the bounty in cooking and canning, and writing a food blog called Traverse City Locavore. She said her favorite fruit is cherries, but peaches are a close second.

“I try to pick a half bushel, minimum,” she said, adding that her favorite u-pick farms include Buchan’s and Elzer Farm, both on Old Mission Peninsula.

Peak peach season in the region will arrive this weekend, said Steve Fouch, a retired Michigan State University Extension educator and an owner of Jacob’s Corn Maze and Farm on M-72 west of Traverse City. The season started two weeks behind last year’s, which was unusually early, but will end up more or less on target thanks to this week’s hot weather.

“We’re kind of halfway normal this year,” Fouch said. “Usually early varieties come on mid-August and the season runs to early September in our region.”

Besides the perennial customer favorite, Red Haven peaches, the farm offers early, late and unusual u-pick and we-pick varieties including Saturn, an odd-shaped white-flesh peach.

“It’s shaped like a doughnut and it’s flat like a flying saucer,” Fouch said. “You can eat around the pit and you don’t get all juicy and messy.”

With such a short growing season, Striewski gets to work early, canning peaches, peach butter and peach compote made with a sugar water syrup. The professional photographer said she uses the peach butter as a low-calorie alternative to jam on toast and as a sandwich spread, adding it to sliced turkey and Swiss cheese for a “spicy, yummy” kick. A lot of the peach butter also winds up as Christmas gifts.

Gene Peyerk, chef-owner at Leelanau Pie and Pastry in Lake Leelanau, makes peach pies all year long, thanks to individually quick frozen peaches from Smeltzer Orchards of Frankfort.

“They take them from the orchard and blanch, skin and slice them at their facility,” said Peyerk, who goes through between 80 and 100 pounds of peaches a week to make some 60 to 90 pies — and more in peak season. “I let the big manufacturers do the work and the peaches still make an excellent pie because they’re frozen right from the orchard.”

The regular and streusel pies are popular all year long and are also available at Leelanau County groceries and restaurants. But Peyerk said during peach season the demand is extra heavy.

“It’s all what’s in season,” he said. “In July, it’s cherry pies. They’re carrying them out the door. It’s strawberry rhubarb in June. And it’ll be peach pies in another two weeks.”

Peyerk said he uses a simple filling recipe, likely picked up at culinary school and later “tweaked.” Instead of other peach pie fillings that call for nutmeg or cinnamon, his uses only peaches, sugar, butter, cornstarch and a pinch of salt.

“And don’t ask for my dough recipe, because I’m not giving it,” he said, divulging that it calls for vegetable shortening instead of lard.

To make the pie at home, use your favorite-two crust dough recipe, add the following filling and bake.

Peach Pie

1 ½ qts. peaches

½ lb. sugar

1 T. butter

1 t. salt

3 T. cornstarch

Combine peaches and 3-4 ounces of water in a large pan and bring to a boil. Turn down heat to simmer. Make a cornstarch slurry using 3 T. cornstarch and 4 ounces of water and add to the peaches. Cook until the mixture thickens. Take filling off stove and add sugar, butter and salt. Let the filling cool to warm before adding it to pie pastry.

— Gene Peyerk

Peach Butter

15 pounds peaches, about 45

3 T. ground cinnamon

2 t. ground ginger

½ t. ground or grated nutmeg

½ t. ground cloves

¼ t. ground cardamom

¼ t. ground allspice

Working in batches, blanch peaches by immersing in a pot of boiling water for about 1 minute. Remove from water and pull off skins. Blend peaches in a food processor or blender until smooth. Pour peach purée in heavy stockpot or dutch oven, stir in spices and simmer uncovered over medium-low heat for about 1 hour, or until thickened into a fine paste. Blend with immersion blender to make smooth. Pour into pint jars and can using the standard water bath method, or freeze in wide-mouth jars.

— Beryl Striewski