Few summer treats compare to fresh, locally grown peaches. Sweet, juicy, and absolutely delicious, peaches appear in local markets for only a few weeks in the summer, depending on where you live. Get them while you can and be creative. Use fresh peaches in sauces, salsas, ice cream, and pies. Then can or freeze the rest to preserve that taste of summer for the cold winter months. Read on to learn all about picking and using summer peaches.
Like tomatoes and corn, peaches are one food that you must either grow yourself or buy from a local farmer if you want the true experience. Peaches shipped from across the country have two strikes against them: first, they’re typically varieties known for their ability to withstand shipping, rather than their great flavor and texture. Additionally, these peaches often have a mushy texture, wrinkled skin, or watery taste because they were either picked too early  or were stored incorrectly.
Look for peaches that were grown locally. They should be firm, but yield slightly to touch. Most peaches have an orange or red blush, but look at the entire peach to determine the “ground” color, which should be cream or yellow. A green ground color means the peach was probably picked too early and will never ripen fully. Additionally, smell the peach. It should smell like, well, a peach—sweet and fragrant.
Peaches ripen best at room temperature. You can put them in a brown bag if you like to speed up the process or set a few in a bowl in the kitchen counter. When I’m ripening big boxes for canning, I put the peaches in my basement for a few days. Just don’t store them below about 55 degrees Fahrenheit, or you’ll ruin their flavor.
If you’ve never tried canning before, peaches are a good introduction. They’re fairly simple, and you can process several batches in one day. You’ll need about seventeen pounds of peaches for seven quart jars or eleven pounds for nine pints.
To can peaches:
- Drop the peaches gently in a pot of boiling water for thirty seconds. Drain and rinse with cold water. The hot water loosens the skins so they slip off easily.
- Peel, pit, and slice the peaches. Drop the sliced peaches in a large bowl of water to which you’ve added two to three tablespoons of citric acid or ascorbic acid, which prevents darkening.
- At the same time, heat your sugar syrup on the stove. I prefer a light syrup, but you can alter this, depending on your preference. To make a light syrup, combine one part sugar to four parts water. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. You can also use apple or pear juice for the liquid.
- Drain the peach slices and place them in hot, clean jars, pit sides down. Fill the jars with the syrup, leaving half an inch of headspace. Remove air bubbles by running a spatula around the insides of the jars. Wipe the rims and secure the lids and rings.
- Process pint jars for twenty-five minutes and quart jars for thirty minutes in a water-bath-canner. Increase the processing time appropriately  if you live more than 1,000 feet above sea level.
I usually can several batches of peaches and freeze a few bags as well. I prefer frozen peaches in smoothies as well as in baked desserts like peach crisp. To freeze peaches, simply peel, pit, and slice them and drop them into cold water treated with citric or ascorbic acid (see above).
Drain the peaches well and mix them with a bit of sugar and ascorbic acid if you like. I usually pack them without any sugar. Pack peaches into freezer boxes or bags, leaving ½ inch headspace. To individually quick-freeze peaches so the peaches stay separate in their containers, lay them out on cookie sheets. I usually cover the cookie sheets with silicone mats so the peaches don’t stick. Freeze the peaches for several hours or overnight and then transfer them to freezer boxes or bags.
Peach Honey (from Clemson University)
Spread this delectable treat on toast or an English muffin for a flavorful change from jam or honey.
- 8 cups peach juice
- 4 cups sugar
To make peach juice, save the peelings and small bits of fruit left over from canning and cooking projects. Put the fruit in a large pot and cover with water. Simmer covered for twenty to thirty minutes or until the fruit is very soft. Drain the fruit in a colander lined with cheesecloth, saving the liquid. Gather the cheesecloth around the fruit and squeeze to remove every bit of juice or allow to drip through a jelly bag.
Place the juice in a pot and bring to a hard boil. Add the sugar and continue to boil until the liquid thickens to a honey-like consistency. Store in the refrigerator or pour into hot, clean pint or half-pint jars. Process in a water-bath-canner for five minutes, adjusting the time for high altitude.
Peaches and Cream
I make this recipe and freeze it when peaches are plentiful. Then, on busy mornings, I pull one bag out of the freezer and let it defrost for thirty minutes. My kids love to eat this for breakfast alone, or added to cereal.
- 8 ripe peaches, peeled and sliced
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 cups half and half or whipping cream
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Ladle into quart-size resealable bags and freeze.
Peach Sauce for Grilled Pork or Chicken
Brush this savory peach sauce on grilled chicken or pork during the last five minutes of grilling so it doesn’t burn.
- 4 peaches, peeled, pitted and diced
- 3 tablespoons honey
- Juice from one lime
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- ¼ teaspoon dried rosemary
Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer over medium low until the peaches are soft and the sauce thickens slightly.
Grandma’s Peach Ice Cream
Melt in your mouth goodness!
- 8 large fresh peaches
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 3 cups sugar
- 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
- 4 cups milk
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 cups whipping cream
Peel, pit and slice the peaches. Puree the peaches with the lemon juice, sugar and sweetened condensed milk in a blender.
Heat the milk in a large saucepan until almost boiling. Whisk the eggs in a bowl. Pour the milk into the eggs very slowly, whisking constantly so the eggs don’t curdle. Return the milk and egg mixture to the saucepan and heat until the milk thickens and coats a wooden spoon. Do not boil.
Strain the milk mixture through a strainer into a large bowl. Combine the milk with the peach mixture, the vanilla, and the whipping cream. Refrigerate for several hours or until chilled. Pour mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. Makes four quarts.