Wednesday, September 5, 2012

How to Try to Make Peach Melba...and how to propagate strawberries

Peaches are lovely fruit--friendly in a fuzzy way with every golden, flushed-with-red orb of juicy sweetness being beyond delicious.  When to pick peaches is almost as a heated debate as picking tomatoes.

Some say since harvested peaches will not produce any more sugar, they must be ripe, while others insist that they can be picked partially ripe and they will soften and be sweet.  Amazingly they are both right.   Sugar production is halted once picked.  However harvested peaches' acidity gradually lessens allowing the sugar already produced to be more pronounced.  Fully ripe peaches are great for eating out of hand, preferably over the kitchen sink as they are so juicy, while firm peaches are good for poaching and jams.

A Charentais melon sharing a basket with peaches

Decades ago when I was a young lass, I had to this day what was the best dinner of my life.  It was served to me on the porch of a restaurant in Woodstock, New York while a summer sunset over the mountains provided a gentle glow.  Though the entire meal was wonderful, the Peach Melba dessert was so scrumptious I still to this day have not found its match in perfection.  My hopes did rise when a Paris friend brought us to a well known brasserie close to his apartment near le jardin du Luxembourg.  He told us how the Polidor have customers who frequent the place so often that their own napkins are reserved for them.

As soon as I saw the canned sliced peaches suffocating in fluffy mounds of whipped cream pocked with spots of thin raspberry sauce, I knew the fabled Woodstock Peach Melba would retain its top place against all contenders.  I reluctantly turn around, expecting to see all the restaurant customers swooning in dismay at this travesty of a Peach Melba.  But no, no one but me noticed while our French friend nonchalantly shrugged off this horror.

Since our garden is producing both peaches and raspberries at the moment, and Picard down the street stocks an excellent vanilla ice cream, I decided to make Peach Melba.  It is a deceptively simple dessert which was made for Nellie Melba:  poached-in-syrup fresh peaches filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with fresh raspberry sauce.  I used Nigella Lawson's recipe.  

Sugar, lemon, peaches, and vanilla bean

My poached peaches were delicious but the texture was fibrous and the skins so difficult to remove that I, like the Polidor, sneakily suffocated the halves with ice cream as to hide their stressed state--at least I did use vanilla ice cream and not whipped cream!  The one served at the Woodstock restaurant was presented so simply, just a large peach half filled with a neat scoop of dense ice cream artfully topped with raspberry coulis.

Coulis:  liquidise raspberries, confectioner's sugar, and a bit of lemon juice, then strain.

Though my attempt was better than the Polidor's--but then again, any would be--I would not come back for seconds if this was restaurant fare.  However, I did thoroughly enjoy the melting ice cream intermingling with the raspberry coulis.

I reluctantly accepted that the quality of my peaches just did not cut the grade as this season in general was not conducive to good fruit harvests plus the peach tree had an infestation of mites early on which would explain the fibrous texture and difficult-to-remove skins.  Next season's harvest hopefully will be better.  It was the first time I poached fruit and I liked the technique, especially getting an intoxicating whiff of vanilla while I made up the poaching syrup.  If you do make Lawson's recipe, remember to use the best peaches possible.

Vanilla bean infusing in simmering poaching syrup

Growing strawberries takes a bit of know how to pull off well, but the effort is well worth it.  They, along with tomatoes, have the most pesticides on them of all supermarket produce.  Also, home-grown varieties' flavour are incomparable.  Now that I have successfully grown them, I am super focused on propagating my three varieties via runners.

One of the three is a continuously fruiting.  Though June bearing ones are fantastic and are presented as the ultimate in strawberry quality, nowadays there are excellent strains bearing well into the fall.  La Savoureuse de Willemse is a huge, fragrant, splendidly flavoured strawberry.  We have been eating about a pint of these weekly since the June bearers stopped fruiting a couple of months ago.

Strawberries start to put out runners in summer and rev up their production in late summer.  One runner can contain several baby plants.  Snip off the runner and gently tuck the baby plant root down in a prepared area. 

Runners cascading over the edge of a strawberry bed

If their bed is ready, I will make a transplant directly into its permanent location, if not which is the case this summer, I will transplant into shallow containers like recycled food trays, protecting them under horticultural fleece over the winter.  The setting out into their final destination can take place by end of September or be postponed until early spring.


Transplanting strawberries
Freezing strawberries
Making strawberry jam
Glazed fresh strawberry pastry-free tartelettes
Uses for horticultural fleece