A few days ago, my family and I went on a whirlwind day trip around Washington State. We drove to Leavenworth for brats and beer steins at München Haus, dipped our feet in the Wenatchee River, drove to Ellensburg for ice cream at Winegars and poked around Jerrol's bookstore like old times (CWU!). Next, we stopped in Thorp and bought a case of peaches, picnicked at Snoqualmie Falls, and caught a late night ferry back to our cozy little Kitsap home. It was a perfect end to summer vacation.
Today I began the task of processing our treasured peaches. I considered canning the whole box but decided to freeze some of them for smoothies and use in winter baked goods. The process has a few steps, but I promise you, it's not hard and oh so worth the effort.
The first step in processing peaches is to get your hands on good fruit. We're pretty lucky to live in Western WA because access to gorgeous peaches is as simple as finding a local fruit stand. And of course, when you buy in-season fruit by the box, the price is always going to be a steal. A 24 lb box only cost $12.95. Now I'm regretting only picking up one box.
Peaches have a very specific window of ripeness when it comes to preserving for freezing. What you're looking for is that point where the fruit is still firm, but when you take a bite, it bursts with juice and flavor. If it's super ripe, the juice content is so high, that they won't hold their shape in the freezer, and quite frankly, why wouldn't you turn that into jam?! Yum. But that's for another day's article.
Once you select the peaches you want to process, give them a quick rinse to remove the stems and any remnant fuzz and score the fruit into quarters but don't pull it away from the pit. The peaches I bought were not a freestone variety, so they held their shape really well.
Next, you'll need to blanch the peaches. Blanching will release the skin from the peach, as well as kill any surface bacteria present on the fruit. Fill a large pot with water and set it over high heat. While you wait, prepare your blanching station by filling a large bowl with ice water. After the water on the stove has reached a rolling boil, carefully lower the peaches into the water and cook them for one minute. A kitchen spider is an excellent tool for the task of getting the peaches in and out of the hot water. After a minute, remove the peaches and immediately shock them in the ice bath. Shocking the fruit will halt the cooking process. Side note: if the skins don't easily peel off after a one-minute hot water bath, you may need to adjust the blanching time.
Now it's time to prepare the fruit from their first freeze. Remember how I scored the fruit before I blanched it? Now, with a simple twist, the fruit comes away from the pit in nicely uniform quarters. I opted to cut each quarter in half before I placed it on the trays, but that's a personal preference. Place the fruit in a single layer on a tray. I use my food dehydrator trays because they are slotted, have a drip try, and fit easily in my chest freezer. If that's not an option for you, place a cooling rack over a rimmed baking sheet. The goal is to have them freeze on a surface where they won't sit in a pool of juice as they freeze. Be creative.
Once the peaches are par frozen, remove them from the freezer and transfer the fruit to freezer bags. Label them with the date, and you're set to enjoy peachy goodness in January. Stay tuned for a roundup of some of my favorite peach recipes.