Summer is just peachy in Oklahoma

Food columnist Sherrel Jones celebrates Oklahoma peaches.
BY SHERREL JONES Modified: July 24, 2012 at 4:31 pm •  Published: July 25, 2012

I was 10 years old when I decided to try my hand at canning peaches for the Carter County Fair. I picked the prettiest southern Oklahoma peaches just shy of being ripe so they would hold their shape stacked and packed into quart jars. Some even retained a bit of the pink blush that is so enticing on the peeling.

Canning was an all-day process: picking, washing, submerging the fruits in boiling water, followed by an ice water bath then carefully peeling away the skin after cutting around the seed. I arranged them in the jars pit side down so that each peach cupped over the top of the peach half below it. They nestled beautifully all the way up the sides.

Ascorbic acid in the form of powder like today's Fruit Fresh was added to the sugar syrup before it was poured over the peaches to preserve their lovely yellow color. The rims were thoroughly cleaned, lids and rings boiled and placed on the top of each jar before they were ready to process in the canner. It was a precarious operation even for a determined little girl.

My peaches often won blue ribbons in the 4-H division at the fair, but it was the pleasure of enjoying them again for Thanksgiving and Christmas that made me swell with pride. Even my grandmother thought they were almost “too pretty to eat.” I attributed the success of my canning operation to my mother's peach trees. Even though my dad had helped plant and tend the trees, it was mother's bees that helped pollinate the beautiful pink blossoms in the spring.

My parents dug deep into organic gardening during my childhood. Much of our table talk was farm and garden talk. An important space in the freezer was parceled out to peaches from our “orchard” that consisted of a row of trees between our house and the adjacent pasture.

Canning during the summer heat of southern Oklahoma proved more challenging than simply coating the peaches with ascorbic acid and sugar and packing them into freezer bags. We made some peach jam, plenty of fresh peach cobblers and ate a fair share of the fruit before processing them for the freezer.

I can almost taste those icy sweet peaches straight from the freezer. Mother would thaw a bag of them when we were having homemade ice cream or for Sunday dinner. As they began to thaw, you could break off an icy sweet slice of peach bliss.

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Fried peach pies

Almost like your grandmother or great-grandmother made, these pies made smaller make a great little treat anytime or to finish a camping-out meal. Topped with cinnamon-infused whipped cream, they get a “wow” every time.

This recipe makes about 16 miniature or 4 to 6 larger fried pies.

FILLING:

2½ cups Oklahoma peaches unpeeled and cut in ½- to ¾-inch chunks (peaches can be peeled, but the peel adds texture and color to filling when cooked)

2 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon Hiland, Braum's or Wagon Creek butter

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon sugar

¼ cup Shawnee Mills all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon almond extract

DOUGH:

2 cups Shawnee Mills all- purpose Flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup shortening or Braum's, Wagon Creek or Hiland Butter

½ cup ice water (slightly more if needed to make dough pliable for rolling out)

To prepare filling: Wash peaches, rubbing lightly under cool running water to remove fuzz from surface. Cut in half, remove seeds, and slice, then cut into chunks leaving peeling intact. Sprinkle peaches with 2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice.

Combine sugars and flour. Sprinkle over peaches and stir until peaches are well-coated with mixture. Add extract and stir to combine. Melt butter in small saucepan and add peach mixture. Stir constantly over medium heat until mixture begins to bubble and juices clarify. Let mixture cool and chill in refrigerator until very cold.

To prepare dough: Blend dry ingredients together. Cut in shortening until mixture crumbles evenly. Make a well in center and pour in ice water. Bring crumbles into ice water and lightly knead together until mixture forms a ball. Wrap and chill for about 30 minutes.

Roll out dough approximately 1/8-inch thick. Cut into circles about 4 inches, or 6 inches for larger portions. Use a large glass or saucer to outline pastry.

Alternatively, divide dough into 16 parts, roll into balls then roll each ball to form pastry circles. For triangles, cut pastry into squares before filling and crimping edges together.

Place filling into center of pastry (by tablespoons up to a half-inch from edges) and fold over to form half circles, rectangles or triangles as desired. Crimp or press edges together. Don't worry if some filling escapes, as most will be captured inside the pastry during frying.

To cook: These little pies can be fried, preferably in peanut oil at 350 degrees, for about three minutes per side, or until golden brown. Or, bake in 375-degree oven on the middle rack for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Turn the pies as they become golden brown.

Serve warm with cold cinnamon infused whipped cream (1 teaspoon cinnamon to each pint of whipping cream).

Cook's notes

Want the taste of peach pie without the fuss of frying? Simply cut the pastry into discs, bake like cookies on a baking sheet and serve with the peach filling. Add a scoop of ice cream, of course. Freeze the assembled pies for frying or baking ahead for easy preparation later. They keep well in the freezer for six months.

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