PITTSBURGH — Summer is wonderful for all kinds of reasons, but especially because of all the different types of fruit available for the picking.
June ushers in plump, juicy local strawberries, followed by tangy-sweet blueberries around the Fourth of July. If you're lucky, you can make it to a farm to pick them yourself, heightening the taste experience.
But for me, the king of summer fruits will always be the peach.
I'm not much for home preserving, but I've learned over the years how to make a pretty good refrigerator peach jam. My husband only half-kids that he's addicted to it. I make jar after jar so there's always a spoonful for his morning yogurt as summer stretches into fall and then winter. That requires not just a lot of time in the kitchen, but also a lot of peaches.
Some years, I wait until Pennsylvania's Chambersburg peaches arrive in August, or load up at local farmers markets. This year I couldn't wait, so I ordered a 25-pound box of yellow peaches from The Peach Truck, which delivers the stone fruits from farms in Fort Valley, Georgia — the Peach Capital of the World. They were trucked inside a refrigerated semi to a parking lot near my house on July 10. Apparently I'm not the only peach lover in Pittsburgh: The line of cars was so long that a cop was directing traffic.
"Perfect for baking, canning, grilling or eating straight from the box," the company proclaims, and they're spot on. Everything I've made with their sweet and juicy fruit has been terrific.
The last time I bought from The Peach Truck, my box of fruit took about a week to ripen, which gave me some time to ponder what to do with it besides make jam. This time, however, the fruit was giving off a sweet peach aroma just two days in, and almost every one had some "give" when I gently squeezed it. These peaches were ripe, and I needed to work fast.
My sister, Kathy, took a bagful to make a pie and I also unloaded some on my mother. Another dozen were quickly peeled, sliced and tossed in a little sugar and lemon so I could freeze them for later. And the rest?
Yes, I made some jam, but not with my usual recipe. This time I followed Leah Shenot of Shenot Family Farm's recipe, and added diced jalapeno for a bit of a kick. I'm not sure my husband will love it at breakfast, but it will make an awesome glaze for pork or chicken wings, and I can't wait to spoon it on a warm buttermilk biscuit.
Having made three batches of homemade "cellos" this spring — with lemons, oranges and cherries — I also decided to try my hand at peach brandy. My colleague, Bob Batz Jr., gave me his father's old-school recipe and swore it was one of the best things he'd ever tasted. The only drawback was I'd have to wait a year or two to drink it.