I’ve always been a bit conflicted about the peach. I love, love, love the juicy, sweet innards. And Colorado is no joke when it comes to some amazing fruit. But the fuzz. I have a real hangup with the fuzz. And for me, fruit is best when it is good right then to eat—cut into bite-sized pieces or at least washed and ready to just eat already. So I am probably not going to peel a peach. It might sit there one day too long when it goes from ripe perfection to near-puddle-of-waste in the blink of an eye. But I got a phone call last weekend. My friend’s peach tree was ripe for picking and I was going to go git me some peaches.
I packed up the kid, some snacks and some swimming gear (double score that the peach friend also has a pool with a view). And we headed north to Berthoud, a small farming community about an hour north of Denver. There is a stretch of I-25 that makes you think you might be headed straight for Wyoming, but then you take a left through Mead and a right onto a dirt road and the acres of farmland stretch in front you ending smack into the foothills. It’s a peaceful and lovely view. We arrived, got a tour of the place and set out picking peaches with a small and wobbly crop duster making rounds at the farm across the road.
When our bag was more than halfway full we took a snack break, played an odd game of bocce as dictated by my three year old (throw the ball in the air, run around that tree, then line the big balls all up around the tree as they are now babes taking their nap), a dip in the pool, then back home.
As I drove home hoping the kid would nap (which she did about a block from the house) I began pondering peach recipes. Any time I make a tart or pie or even crumble, I feel like I give most of it away and the last little pieces just sit around until we throw them away. I don’t know why this is, it just is. So I started thinking about a peach caramel. Maybe a sauce to pour on ice cream. It could be canned and saved and also given away. I also thought of smoothies which we could have for at least the next couple days. So far that was good enough for me. If I had any left I’d do a chutney of sorts for some grilled chicken or pork.
I waited two days until all the peaches were ripe and set about gently washing and de-fuzzing them. We ate a few as is for breakfast.
I had searched for a fruit juice caramel recipe and came across this amazing looking and sounding blood orange caramel recipe on Matt Bites. As always the photos on his site are stunning and I made a brief mental note to try to step it up in the photo department as my first photos were just camera phone phooey. We can all dream, folks.
I hoped that the thicker peach juice would work in this recipe and set about blending and straining about 2/3 of the peaches.
I blended a cup of it with bananas and frozen strawberries for a pretty epic smoothie and set about reducing the rest for the caramels. I followed the rest of the recipe getting a little nervous watching the temperature fluctuate between 175 and 200 for a good 10 minutes or so. But finally the mixture took on a whole new, thick, rolling, gooey form and quickly reached the right stage. I might have gone just a few degrees too hot, as these caramels required a bit more sucking than chewing, but better that dilemma than being too soft. Here is what they look like cooling- sort of like pumpkin pie.
I had visions of grinding up some fleur de sel with fresh thyme for the topping, but two things happened. First, I could not find my fleur de sel and had to settle for some sel gris which was ok, but not as flakey and crunchy as I wanted. Second, I just got lazy and didn’t bother with the thyme….though it is hardly too late to still add some.
Next step was to cut this mass into perfect little cubes. That was exhausting. Next time I might use a saw.
Then I popped one in my mouth. I chewed for a split second until my teeth sort of stuck together a bit. For anyone who has read about my dad’s caramel disaster, this just figures. This peach has not fallen so far from the tree. At least I still have all my real teeth (knock wood). I was able to chew a little more and the caramel began to melt and coat my mouth with a creamy, luscious peach flavor. The random bits of crunchy, toasted almond were a natural pairing as were the occasional bursts of salt. A perfect little treat.