The fruit from all the trees in our backyard inspires me to cook the best that I can; to make it really count; to capture the short season before it is gone. It’s usually a balance of making old favourites and having fun exploring new and delicious things. And while enjoying the fruit in the now, I also like to dabble in a little preserving/making things last, even if it’s just putting one small thing in the freezer.
The crop of a peach (or nectarine) tree seems particularly precious to me, as having watched our little Elberta peach grow through a few years now, and getting to know that dreaded condition called curly leaf that can befall these trees in spring, it feels like you just don’t know if there’ll be fruit again next year …
Yes I am learning in more ways than one that having your own fruit trees doesn’t always match the vision you had when you planted them. (Say, of sitting beneath in dappled shade on a summer’s afternoon, teeth sinking into exquisitely flavoured fruit, chin sticky wet.) You may reach this point in the end, but on the way there you might have to (as we did) stand by watching your gorgeous spring blossoms and spurts of green growth unexpectedly turned to bumpy diseased leaves; shoots blackened as if they’re burnt; misformed and scarred fruit. An ugliness you never thought could lurk within, like the shock of Roald Dahl’s witches when they take off their wigs! Eeek.
There – that’s the down side of growing peaches and nectarines. The handsome, unaffected summer growth definitely smoothes things over, and there are things you can do to prevent curly leaf (which I’ll be trying next year).
Our tree still managed a great crop of its big yellow-fleshed, pink-tinged peaches. They surprised us by being ready early, right when we were about to leave on a summer holiday. (Internally I felt like cancelling the trip just so we wouldn’t miss the peaches, but managed to be mature about it! Neighbours and some family staying at our house got free reign, and we were lucky to still get about half of them.)
Peach and Thai basil granita
Peach granita is a new thing I’ve made this year. In fact, granita in general is new to me, but suddenly I like it a lot (since a friend brought some lemon verbena granita to our house). It’s easy to make and I’ve found it actually keeps a long time in you freezer without deteriorating. Thai basil is another thing I love from our garden and which I grow lots of, and I think the combo of peach and Thai basil is great here – fragrant Thai basil flavour at the start, delicious peachyness in the finish. Scroll down for a delicious adult drink made of the same mixture!
¾ cup (165 g) white sugar
100 ml water
1 generous bunch (or 2 small bunches) Thai basil, leaves picked
750 g peach or nectarine flesh (weight after stoning) – I used yellow peaches but think white peaches or nectarines will also work
I find it best to start making the mixture the day before you want to serve the granita. Otherwise, start very early in the morning.
Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Once boiling, remove from the heat and stir in the basil leaves. Let the syrup cool to room temperature, also allowing the basil to infuse. Give the leaves a stir every so often.
Puree the peach or nectarine flesh, then strain in the basil syrup, pressing down on the leaves to extract as much syrup and flavour as possible. Stir to combine, then chill the mixture in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, tip the mixture into a wide tray and freeze for 2 hours, or until a good ring of ice has formed around the edge of the granita (the timing depends on the power/fullness of your freezer, and is fairly flexible if you have other things to attend to). Use a fork to rake the ice into the centre and break down the lumps, then return the tray to the freezer.
After another 1–2 hours, rake and crush the granita again. Repeat this step at least a few more times, until your granita is nicely crushed and frozen. Serve the granita when you are ready – and transfer any remaining granita to an airtight container. If your granita has lived in the freezer for a while, just fork through it to fluff it back up.
Peach and Thai basil sherry cobbler
Sherry cobblers are another newfound love of mine. This one is rather brilliant as all you need to do is steal a little of the peach and Thai basil mixture – either before you freeze it, or when it is already in granita form – as the basis of your drink.
I admit to feeling slightly self-conscious suddenly publishing cocktail recipes and taking photos of them! (Last autumn I posted a recipe for peach leaf prosecco.) It’s all thanks to a brilliant book I edited last year called The Cocktail Garden by Ed Loveday, which is brimming with drinks spiked with all manner of fruit, herbs and vegetables. It flicked on a cocktail switch in my life, making me realise that cocktails can be just as fresh, seasonal and creative as cooking. (Thank you, Ed!) My style tends to be fairly light, restrained and simple – and I should say that soda water is not traditional in a cobbler (you usually fill the glass with crushed ice, but soda is my easier way of getting a similar result as I don’t have an ice-crusher!).
peach and Thai basil mixture – either frozen or not-yet frozen
sherry (I’ve tried Spanish fino and amontillado here, and also quality Australian medium dry sherry, and all of them work)
Thai basil flowers to garnish (optional)
Put 1 heaped tablespoon of the peach and Thai basil mixture in the bottom of a short glass/small tumbler. Add about 3 generous cubes of ice, then a few centimetres of sherry. Stir, then top up with soda water and gently stir again. Garnish with Thai basil flowers if you have them.
(The exact amount of peach mixture, ice and sherry really depends on the size of your glass, and you can adjust to taste. You can also make this drink in a tall glass – the traditional choice for a cobbler – and would just need to use more peach mixture, sherry and ice to suit.)