It's late summer and that means one thing and one thing only: PEACHES!
We've been buying them by the bushel this summer. You may recall I made a mighty tasty peach shortcake for our Fourth of July party, thank you very much.
The other day, we wandered down to Pike Place Market -- Seattle's favorite tourist attraction (aside from the Space Needle) where folks go to watch the guys throw fish, to buy bunches of (cheap) beautiful flowers in bouquets wrapped in paper, and wander the stalls of food and tchotchkes for sale.
As a native of Eastern Washington and a recent transplant to Seattle, I deliberately sought out a stand selling peaches grown near my chilhood home. They were the sweetest, ripest, readiest fruit I could find. i raced home, peeled them, sliced them , and proceeded to make the worst peach cobbler I had ever witnessed.
My grandmother was the "Cobbler Queen." She would dollop dough on top of the fruit mixture in her well worn, beaten up cobbler pan but there was never enough of that sweet buttery crust to last to the end of the fruit and I was determined to crack that formula: to achieve that perfect fruit-to-crust ratio.
Standing in my kitchen, with peach juice running down my arms, I remembered being eight or nine at a family reuinion populated with distant cousins, one of whom saw me gouging craters in a defenseless peach as I tried to peel it. He patiently demonstrated how to gently grab the skin between thumb and paring knife so that the skin peeled off, leaving all the perfect round flesh in Gourmet-Magazine-picture-perfect condition. I don't think I ever saw that cousin again but I still us his technique.
Growing up, we lived next to a small orchard -- the kind you would lose a lot of money with today. The only way to make a profit as a modern orchardist is to spread your overhead across as many acres as possible, so the lush trees and grass of small orchards in our valley have been torn out and replaced, mostly by oversized houses on tiny lots. But back then, with a small orchard, you could afford to raise a family and even send all the kids to college.
Our neighbor invited us to help ourselves to all the culls (the peaches that dropped to the ground) and we made daily trips to the orchard so my dad could enjoy his favorite -- peaches and cream for breakfast -- and my mom could can dozens of jars for the winter. In big pots, we would boil them so the skins would slide right off, then slice them in half, pit them, place them neatly in the clean hot jars and cover them with hot simple syrup before they were sealed. Even with all the doors and windows open, someone could have charged admission to our kitchen as an commercial-grade sauna.
Over the years, out of pure sloth and a lack of loyalty, I have gravitated toward the nectarine rather than the peach as my favorite fruit. You still get the peachy taste, you don't have to peel nectarines. And I DO NOT GET IT when people eat peaches with the skin on. All that fuzz going in my mouth....AAAAGH! It's like fingernails on a chalkboard.
But I haven't given up on pursuing the perfect cobbler recipe that summer. Like Lance Armstgrong, I see my quest as a race that must be run, a mountain that must be climbed. And I will climb this mountain. It's not too late. It's late summer and peaches are still in season. In the meantime, as I carefully peel and slice each lovely perfect globe, my mind will be flooded with the sweet, mellow delights of late summers past and cobblers yet to be.