When life gives you peaches…you make peach butter.
Okay, so that’s not quite how the phrase goes, but when I happened upon a big basket of peaches that were right at their prime (to me, that is; I like very ripe fruit), I couldn’t resist getting a giant bag of them. I got about six pounds for a dollar per pound. We ate a few and the rest went into the freezer until I could figure out exactly what I wanted to do.
The freezer part was an experiment. I wondered if the peaches would be easy to peel when frozen like tomatoes. They are. However, this only works with already-ripe peaches (the skins don’t just fall off under the water if the peach is hard as a rock when you put it in the freezer, FYI). While they were freezing, I decided on peach butter. Twice actually, but I'm going to tell you about the easier process I used (slow cooker) for Ginger Peach Butter instead of the much more time-consuming and worrisome process for the Amaretto Peach Butter (note: it was good, but most of the flavor cooked out by the time the consistency was right).
Getting the skins off the peaches is just the first step in the process toward peach butter. Once they’re off, I set the peaches in large bowls to thaw. As they thaw, juice collects at the bottom. This is a crucial part of the step toward peach butter that doesn’t take a thousand years to make. Drain that juice off. Set it aside. Make some peach-ade. Or popsicles. But don’t put it in your pot with the peaches.
Once your peaches have thawed and drained, you slice them up and put them in a very large slow cooker. Note: Doing this in the slow cooker means turning it on and leaving it (lid off, so the water can evaporate) and not having to worry about stirring or scorching like on the stove top. I recommend it. Add some citric acid or lemon juice (about ¼ cup for 4-5 quarts of chopped peaches) to help prevent discoloring and about ½ cup (or a little less) of sugar per quart (test later to make sure it’s sweet enough for you, but it shouldn’t be too sweet). And whatever flavor you’d like to add (I added about six tablespoons of grated fresh ginger to my peaches in one batch and a cup of amaretto in another batch). And then cook on low. Slow and low, that is the tempo. For a very long time.
After the first hour or so, more liquid separates and rises to the top. Use a ladle and drain it off. That juice has a little more fiber from the fruit in it, so it's even better as popsicles. I combined mine with some lemon-lime seltzer water and mango puree to become delicious, delicious popsicles.
But back to the peach butter. Good thing I started this process in the morning, because this took a long time, despite draining off all that juice. After about 3 hours of cooking, puree the peaches (I just used my stick blender and yes, it was hot, but no, I didn’t get burned because made sure it was all the way at the bottom of the pot before turning on). After pureeing, cook for, oh, another 3 hours or so to get it to the right consistency. That’s a matter of taste, but a good test is to put a saucer in the freezer for a few minutes and then put a dollop of fruit butter on the saucer and leave it for two minutes. If it retains its shape and doesn’t separate into a blob surrounded by a pool of liquid, it’s done. There are some other tests, like if the track remains after a wooden spoon is dragged through, and so on. But it really depends on how you like it. Shouldn’t be too runny, though. But note that the color does darken as it cooks, which is kind of a bummer. Particularly if you were using some dark fruit to begin with.
After it's done cooking, it's ready to be canned! I didn’t have time to start up the canner that evening, so I put it in another pot and into the fridge over night. The next day, I heated it up again to can it. Fifteen minutes in a hot-water-bath. Make sure you have 8-10 half-pint jars for canning (or 2 jars per quart, plus one just in case). The citric acid should help keep it looking good and it should be good to eat for at least a year.
It’s good stuff. Y’oughtta make it. Slap it on a biscuit (if you don't make biscuits, I recommend Mary B's buttermilk tea-size frozen biscuits, but if they're not available where you are, Pillsbury southern style frozen biscuits are also pretty good), put it on toast, oatmeal, or just on a spoon. It's delicious.
If you're interested in slightly more detail on this process (really, it's not difficult nor does it require precision), check out this fruit butter post on Food in Jars.