August is the season of goodness, of pause and of wonder. Its table is abundant and its vibrant flavors seasoned by the poignant knowledge that September will soon bring apples, grapes, game birds and cool nights—autumn.
What's best is that there's nothing easier than eating out of the August garden. I like to say that summer food is less about cooking than it is about cutting up. Recipes take less than a full breath to explain. Corn? Cut it off the cob and warm in butter. Zucchini? Boil little ones whole, cut into rounds and toss with lemon juice. Peppers? Char over a hot woodfire, peel and slice into strips. Tomatoes and melons don’t even need heat, just carve into chunks and serve.
The best of August canning is almost as simple. I’ve been talking all summer about white peaches in lavender syrup. Here, at long last, is the recipe.
If you do no other canning this summer, will you promise me that you’ll put up a few peaches?
WHITE PEACHES IN LAVENDER SYRUP
8 pounds white peaches
8 cups water
4 cups sugar (this is to make a light syrup—something about the weight of raw apple cider. You can add as much sugar as you want, up to 8 cups, for a thicker syrup reminiscent of the heavy sauce in those cans of cling peach halves your mother served you with a scoop of cottage cheese when you stayed home sick from school.)
2 stems of dried lavender flowers (probably about 1 teaspoon of flowerets off the stem. Careful not to overdo it: lavender is potent and all you want in the syrup is a passing thought of the aroma.)
1 combine sugar, water and lavender in a heavy pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and hold at a bare simmer.
2 peel the peaches: working in small batches, blanch the peaches in a large pot of boiling water for 1 minute. Remove and set aside. (Some people plunge peaches in cold water to arrest the cooking and cause the skins to blister, but I don’t find it makes much difference whether you do or not.) When cool enough to handle, gently slip the peaches out of their skins. Half each one, using the edge of your knife to carefully pry it apart at the cut. Remove pits.
3 pack peaches into quart jars: lay in two or three peach halves, seed side down, then ladle in syrup almost to cover. Gently shake jar to settle the peaches into the syrups, then add another layer or two of peaches and ladle in more syrup. Repeat until full. Leave a generous ½” head space. Seal the jars and process in a boiling-water bath for 30 minutes.
8 pounds of peaches yielded 6 quarts
This is so tasty you can hardly believe it. Next time, though, I’d like to try making better use of shelf space so I think I’ll slice the peaches and pack them in pint jars to see if I can’t get more in. I also want to experiment with cooking the peaches first to make them shed some liquid before packing, thus reducing shrinkage. The incomparable Edna Lewis suggests fully cooking the peaches first, then packing them in carefully sterilized jars so as to avoid subjecting them to further heat in a hot-water bath.