How I spend Summer Nights in the Kitchen

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Since I spotted the first ripe local peaches at the farmers market a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been dreaming about  peach preserves. That’s somewhat surprising as I’m not typically a big jam person. However, lately, non-gardener has been making a lot of oatmeal for breakfast – something, believe it or not, of which I’m not a huge fan. Grits, cream of wheat, farina, cream of rice – love them all. Oatmeal, not so much. To make it more appealing, I cover my allotment of cooked oats with  homemade yogurt and fruit preserves. Except commercial fruit preserves, even the high quality ones, are so stiff with pectin and ultra-sugary, that I’m not actually a huge fan of those, either.  I much prefer the low sugar, almost tart, loose and sloppy style of fruit preserves that most jam makers consider a failure. Fortunately, sloppy jam making is super easy: fruit, lemon juice, sugar.

So, I went in search of local peaches. One of the local orchards was selling their prime peaches at the market for $10 a basket (around 4.5 pounds). But they also had a box of the rejected, slightly bruised and marred peaches hidden under their table that they were willing to part with for $3. So, I was able to take home 8 pounds of local peaches for $13. The best, most fragrant peach was set aside for later and I blanched, peeled and sliced about 2 lbs for the freezer (to wet pack, I just sprinkled on some lemon juice and sugar and let it all sit until enough juice was drawn out to cover the fruit, then packed it up into freezer bags).

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Then came the jam making. Same drill: blanch, peel, slice, then let the fruit sit with some lemon juice and sugar (about 1 1/2 cups sugar to 4 lbs prepared fruit). Except later in the evening, it all went onto the stove to cook. About 45 minutes later it was starting to jell when it hit a cold plate, so I stirred it in some fresh lemon basil from the garden and ladled the hot glop into sterilized canning jars. The jars went into a boiling water bath for 15 minutes and voila, summer in jar (5 half pints total):

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Meanwhile, If I’m in the kitchen working on one project, I might was well be working on two. Peach season coincides with tomato season, which coincides with cottage cheese season. Fresh ripe tomato on slightly salty cultured cottage cheese – sublime. And at this time of year the house is always at the required 76 degrees needed to culture the milk properly, so no elaborate bowl swaddling needed. I think cottage cheese is actually easier than yogurt when the weather is cooperating. So, a half gallon of un-homogenized whole milk (the same milk I use for yogurt making) is poured into a preheated glass bowl. When it has warmed to 76 degrees F, I stir in a 1/4 cup buttermilk, cover it and forget about it for 24 hours.

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The next day, I scrape off the now-cultured cream that has risen to top (some decadent, no added trouble, creme fraiche for that fresh peach I set aside) cut the curd and heat very slowly over a water bath. Stir every 5 minutes until the curds are 120 degrees F, have firmed slightly and separated from the whey. Drain in butter muslin, rinse, stir in some salt, done. Well, you could drizzle a little cream over the dry curds, should you choose. I get about 2 cups of dry curds from a half gallon of milk, but as you can see, spoons dig around in the jar frequently, and it doesn’t last too long.

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