• Surprises From The Orchard

    Indian Free peaches. Yum.

    Sometimes (all the time?) the garden and orchard throws you some surprises. We just spent months, with only middling results, fighting off the varmints from our peaches and nectarines (only passive measures, but one does get tempted to go “active”). Meanwhile, in the corner of the orchard one of our smaller trees had some peaches, but they seemed destined to stay hard and green forever. In fact, these were our Indian Free peaches, and they are a real treat.

    The Indian Free peach is a late-season heirloom peach, common in the northwest and known for resistance to leaf curl. It’s been a popular peach for centuries, Thomas Jefferson even had them at Monticello. And as Jefferson was quite a gourmet, we aren’t surprised, the Indian Free peach is incredibly tasty and very beautiful. Actually we should say the insides are beautiful, with lovely variegated red and white color. The outsides are somewhat less attractive with less blush tones and more dark patches. But beauty often really is skin deep.

    While the Indian Free’s appearance is somewhat undesirable (this and need for a pollinator make it perhaps a less popular commercial variety), the flavor is among of the best of any stone fruit we’ve tried. The Indian Free’s flesh is similar in color and flavor to a blood orange, with more tangy and “berryish” flavors than most peaches. And since we are big fans of blood oranges (see our early posts from last winter) we are instant fans of our Indian Free peaches. And while we could use them in cocktails or put up a few, we are just eating them…..quickly…

    Early Meyer lemons.

    Kaffir limes.

    Why didn’t the squirrels and wood rats go after the Indian Free peaches? We have no idea. We didn’t reinforce or weight the nets, and we waited until they were ripe (the varmints tend to go after the fruit a few days before we would pick). We could come up with any number of plausible explanations, but we have no real evidence of any changes in the orchard. We will chalk it up to dumb luck. Go figure.

    As for the rest of the orchard, the pears and figs are coming soon, and we are very excited. The Comice pears and the figs should be ready in a week or two (some concern that what we thought was a Black Mission Fig is a different fig variety, more on this later). And the “mystery” heirloom pears that grow on the side of the house are still at least a month or two out- these take a while. But once they are done, a new season begins.

    And that means citrus! Our Meyer and Eureka lemons, Kaffir limes and Cara-Cara oranges are off and running. Meyer lemon-based punches for the holidays are already coursing though our minds. And sorbet, and preserved lemons, and lemon curd….you get the idea.

    And as a last pre-holiday bonus, we leave you with pomegranates. We get just a few every year. Not enough to call it a crop, but just enough for a snack and some smiles….

  • Peach Lavender Jam

    Peach Lavender Jam.

    A bit of a “peachy” hue on the blog these days. But when you have a few hundred peaches with a limited shelf life, you work with the peaches (we are also giving them away to friends, whether they want them or not ;-) ). The only thing at the farm we have more of than peaches is lavender. It’s everywhere, and mostly for the bees. But since we have peaches and lavender, we are making Peach Lavender jam.

    We have lots of these…

    …and tons of this. Let’s make jam.

    This recipe comes from the excellent canning and pickling book “Tart and Sweet” from Kelly Geary and Jessie Knadler. We are by no means experts on canning and pickling, so this book is a great tool with both recipes and very clear guidelines for safe canning. But the key for any home canning / pickling is to use the base recipe and then follow your standard, safe processing instructions. Most setups will be similar, but some equip will vary. Just remember, sterilization is always a good thing.

    As for the actual jam, this is really a peach jam with a touch of floral, herbal and tannic notes from the lavender. The lavender keeps the sweetness of the peaches from overwhelming the flavor of the jam. But the key is just a hint of lavender. Too much lavender and your jam will taste like soap. In fact, you don’t actually put lavender in the jam at all, just steep some lavender in water, strain it out and the add the water to the fruit. Again, go easy with the lavender- less is more.

    The peeling and pitting dis-assembly line.

    This took a while.

    The process of making jam isn’t complex, but it is time-consuming. Making jam is a good activity to do with friends and/or a great way to put your kids to work. First you must sterilize and prepare your equipment. Make sure everything is good order before you start. As for the jam, you need to skin and pit 6 pounds of peaches. This involves cutting an X in the base of the peach, briefly blanching it in boiling water, plunging it in an ice bath and then skinning and pitting the peach. We take an assembly (dis-assembly?) line approach, but even with help, this takes a while. But we don’t do this every day either, so it was (kinda) fun.

    Steep the dried lavender and strain it out.

    Cook the fruit, lemon juice and sugar.

    Blend until smooth.

    Add calcium water, sugar and pectin.

    Once you have the peaches peeled and pitted the work is easier, but still requires time. You need to bring the peaches, some sugar and lemon juice to a boil in a large pot and cook the fruit for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile you need to steep some dried lavender flowers in 1 cup of boiling water for about 20 minutes. Strain the lavender from the water and add the water to the peaches. Then blend the peaches with an immersion blender, or in batches on a stand-up blender. Then add calcium water, pectin and sugar to the fruit and cook until you get a jammy consistency. To finish the jam, put it in hot jars and process for 10 minutes. Then cool and eat. Continue reading

  • Orchard Update: Red Haven Peach Harvest!

    Red Haven peaches at harvest.

    A great day here at the farm. We managed to fight off some very determined squirrels, rats, birds and raccoons (and maybe coyotes) and get a real peach harvest. Our first tree to ripen gave us a few large, tasty peaches, but the animals dug under the nets and took the rest. Frustrating, but a good lesson. The tree we harvested today had most of the peaches, so we were able to augment the nets with wood and rocks until the peaches ripened. And we got a great haul of Red Haven Peaches! It’s been a few years coming and it was great fun to pick the peaches with the kids (although they found out picking fruit in the sun is real work).

    Red Haven trees are big producers.

    Weighting the nets kept the varmints from digging underneath.

    The haul from one small tree- a few hundred peaches about 1/2 the size of a baseball.

    As for the Red Haven peaches, they are one of the most common “eating” peaches. They are freestone peaches with a bright, sweet flavor and a decent amount of acidity. They are popular with farmers and home gardeners, as the trees are heavy producers and the peaches have a long “shelf life”. Red Havens are in season usually from mid-July until the end of August. We like these peaches a lot, but the Suncrests are still our favorites. But as we have a harvest of just one Suncrest peach, the Red Havens will be our focus this summer- at least until the nectarines ripen a few weeks from now.

    Our “lonely” Suncrest peach. Hopefully more next year.

    Nectarines are at least a week or two out. Hopefully our augmented nets hold up.

    So what we will do with all of these peaches? We are making peach-lavender jam, peach-vanilla ice cream, maybe peach butter and certainly a batch of Bellinis and other peach-driven cocktails. And we are already eating the peaches out of hand. But as much of the Putney Farm crew will be on the road for the next few weeks, we will give many of these away. Few things make us happier as gardeners than to have enough to share freely with friends.

    Time to get to work….

  • Peaches! And Updates From The Orchard and Garden

    Our first ripe redhaven peach. Sweet, tangy and juicy.

    Our redhaven peach trees are heavy with fruit- the nets are paying off.

    Our days away from the garden certainly came with a few surprises. The big surprise is that some of our redhaven peaches are already ripe with others on the cusp! Wow- very tasty, very cool and very rewarding. The netting on the trees really paid off, the trees are brimming with fruit. We just posted a peach cocktail, but expect many peach recipes in the coming weeks. Summer is really here.

    Unexpected, but welcome mission figs.

    Macintosh apples starting to color.

    Another very pleasant surprise is the mission figs. We planted a more mature tree after gophers killed the last one. We did not expect fruit this year, but it looks like we have it. Same thing for the Macintosh apple tree, we have quite a few apples on a young tree- way beyond expectations. We are very grateful for the luck we have, as we all know the garden can also dish up some disappointments.

    Artichoke blossom there are bees in there, look closely.

    One happy, but expected, development is the blooming of the artichokes. The blossoms are one of our all-time favorites, the color just pops. Nothing quite like it- and the bees agree, they love the artichoke blossoms and literally dive in. The thin purple needles of the flower constantly move with the bees. After giving us so many tasty artichokes to eat, the plant still gives us (and the bees) something extra, something special. Delightful.

    Carrots growing but still need more time.

    Sugar snap peas. We just had these at lunch.

    Zucchini always seem to grow by 2 feet when you leave the house… Continue reading

  • Bonus Cocktail: The Orchard Moonraker

    The Orchard Moonraker cocktail.

    Last week Carolyn and I had a few days in San Francisco and the wine country, and of course that means we enjoyed some great food and cocktails. Ironically, the wine country is filled with signs promoting cocktails along with wine- and we think this is a great thing. Wine country is also farm country and there are all sorts of tasty fruits and vegetables that can make their way in to cocktail menus- and they are, often with tremendous success. Meanwhile, San Francisco continues to be a hotbed for great food and cocktails. If you like to eat and drink, San Francisco is a very easy place to like.

    And our inspiration for this week’s drink, the Orchard Moonraker comes from a visit to Bar Agricole, one of the best bars (and restaurants) in San Francisco. Bar Agricole is well-known for its cocktail program and a mix of both classic and creative drinks. The interior is modern and clean, the spirits top quality, the glassware beautiful and the bartenders knowledgeable. Altogether, an excellent place for a cocktail, and a great place to discover new flavors. In this case Bar Agricole featured their take on a classic cocktail, the Moonraker, which comes all the way from the Savoy Cocktail Book of the 1930′s.

    The original recipe for the Moonraker is equal parts brandy, peach brandy, quinquina (Lillet blanc or Cocchi Americano) and a few dashes of Absinthe. We tried it this way with Armagnac and Rothman and Winter’s Peach liqueur- and it is a good drink. Bar Agricole’s adaptation was brandy, Leopold Brothers Peach Whiskey, Cocchi and a few dashes of Absinthe. This was even better. The brandy and peach whiskey feature floral and sweet peach flavors, while the Cocchi adds herbal and bitter notes and the Absinthe cleans the palate. A bit unusual, but a very tasty drink. If you like Manhattans or Sazeracs, you may really enjoy the Moonraker. We certainly liked it.

    But as we are gardeners, and we have fresh peaches from the farmers market (ours are about a 10 days out- we are very excited), we adapted the Moonraker one more time to include fresh peaches and more common ingredients. Our version includes brandy, rye (you can use bourbon), muddled peaches, Cocchi and Absinthe. And if your peaches are not particularly sweet, a touch of sugar may help. The Orchard Moonraker, features overt floral and peach flavors and is a bit less sweet (peach liqueur is very sweet) with a touch of spice and depth from the rye and brandy. We use a little less Cocchi (you can substitute Lillet). The other notable difference is that the drink is cloudy from the muddled peaches. But overall, a tasty cocktail and fun way to enjoy peaches in season.

    Orchard Moonraker cocktail and ingredients.

    As for the name, it has nothing to do with the James Bond movie- the recipe has been around a lot longer. But a bit of internet research doesn’t give much more connection to the cocktail. A Moonraker is the name of a small, uppermost sail on some old ships, but is also a knick-name for some old-time British smugglers. Neither seem to have any real connection to the drink, and if they did it’s lost in time. But “Moonraker” sounds good, and the cocktail tastes good. So we will just have to drink it.

    The Orchard Moonraker: (Moonraker recipe below)

    Ingredients:

    • 1 oz. brandy
    • 1 oz. rye (or bourbon, in a pinch)
    • 1/4 ripe sweet peach, in slices (we like the skins on for extra flavor, but skin the peaches if you like)
    • 1/2 oz. Cocchi Americano or Lillet Blanc
    • 2 dashes Absinthe
    • A few dashes of simple syrup if the peaches are tart.
    • Peach slice, for garnish.

    Assemble:

    1. Add the peach slices to a cocktail shaker and muddle thoroughly.
    2. Add the brandy, rye, Cocchi, Absinthe and ice. Shake well to combine. Taste for sweetness and add a bit of simple syrup, if needed.
    3. Double strain (the peach pulp can be thick) into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Garnish with peach slice and serve.

    Continue reading

  • Heavy Branches and the Lonely Peach

    Bing cherries, we will harvest later this week.

    We planted our stone fruit orchard nearly 5 years ago. And while there have been a few successes, this is the first year we can say the trees are “heavy” with fruit. The peaches and nectarines are in process, but the Bing cherries are truly on the cusp. We eat them daily, but the big harvest will come later this week. The limbs on the Bing cherry tree are bending under the weight of the fruit. Amazingly, this same tree yielded just a few tiny, tepid berries last year but will give us baskets of cherries this year. A small reminder that patience and effort are sometimes rewarded.

    Cherry branch bending under the weight of the fruit. This is good.

    We are pleasantly surprised by the density of the cherries.

    And sometimes there are pleasant surprises. The hybrid Van and Black Tartarian cherry tree was mostly planted to  pollinate the Bing. But, as we noted last week, this tree is also bearing fruit. The Vans are tasty and the Tartarians are just coming in. We look forward to tasting all three of the cherries just off the tree.

    Netting the tress to protect the fruit in the orchard.

    On a more sober note, we took the plunge and netted the trees in the orchard. We needed help to do this, but as most of the trees have real fruit, now is the time. The orchard is less picturesque, but is hopefully protected from some of the nighttime raids of earlier years. We’ve written about our more…ummm, “active” protection of the garden and orchard from varmints, so let’s hope the passive systems work as well.

    A flash of purple amidst the green.

    Otherwise, the apple and pear trees outside of the orchard are looking great. The blossoms of spring are now the small fruits of the tree. These are older trees that bear fruit every year. We deal with leaf curl and the occasional pest, but we rarely worry about these trees. They are in their prime. Our younger Macintosh apple is also looking good and we expect a decent crop this year.

    Pears on an older tree. Lots of fruit, but months from being ready. Continue reading