Wednesday, 12 July 2017 10:45

The time of year when one can be pitted against peaches

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It’s time.

The 20 pounds of peaches on my kitchen counter, which were already sweet when bought a week ago, which sent juicy tributaries running down my wrists when bitten, are now ripe enough to be halved and slipped out of their skins like removing summer jackets.
This is the best month of the year. The tourists have returned to us our valley. All the late summer sunlight has turned to sugar that now hangs suspended from orchard branches, ready to be eaten out of hand, baked into pies and cobblers, sliced into freezer bags and pressed into glass jars.
They could be pressed into glass jars, that is, if my abiding fear of earwigs, with their reputation (however mythical) for burrowing into brains, could be brought under control.
However, ever since one summer, while helping to can peaches in my step-grandma’s farmhouse kitchen in rural Alberta, when an earwig crawled out of a split peach pit and onto my sticky hand, I expect with every peach for another to do the same.
I know. It’s hardly reasonable.
Earwigs there may be.
Earwigs, which scuttle with the look and locomotion of pure evil.
Earwigs, which, according to bug researchers, do not in fact burrow into brains and cause fevers of madness. Though they will, occasionally, wander into ear canals by accident.
As if that isn’t bad enough.
Back in the kitchen, though, I know I’m as likely to find an earwig, wriggling from its peach pit home while I’m canning, as I am to find one when I slice fruit into a pastry crust. Or a pan with a little rum, butter and brown sugar to be served with vanilla bean ice cream. Or into delicate batter for an oven-baked buckle.
And had I once-upon-a-time sought enough desensitizeation therapy, followed by repeated readings of James and the Giant Peach, I might at this very moment be able to stand firm and sterilize an army of Mason jars, lids and bands.
My kitchen would drip with steam. I would have a hundred, not 20, pounds of peaches. Somewhere in the cluttered recesses of my garage would be a bricked-in cold room, where a wall of shelves would stand ready for me to put up enough jars of peach jams and preserves to last until this time next year.
But I didn’t. So I’m not.
The truth is, I’d rather pluck chickens than can peaches. Nothing I didn’t expect ever crawled out of a chicken.
Today, though, gathering up enough courage to bake from this box of perfectly ripe peaches, is what’s in order.
First, I will zip around the first peach’s meridian with a sharpened knife, twist the hemispheres apart, and pray the pit stays whole.
Then, if nothing creepy crawls out, I’ll repeat. Until I have enough peaches, sans earwigs, to fold into buckle batter and slide into the oven.

Peach Buckle
1/2 cup butter (at room temperature), plus more to prepare pan
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 large peaches, pitted, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 cup finely chopped almonds
Butter a 10-inch cast-iron skillet (or baking dish of the same capacity, about 8 cups). In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and 3/4 cup sugar until pale and fluffy. Scrape down sides of bowl.
Add one egg at a time, incorporating each before adding the next. Beat in vanilla.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture to butter mixture, a fourth at a time, until incorporated. Gently fold in peaches.
Spread batter in the buttered skillet. In a small bowl, combine 2 tbs sugar, cinnamon, and almonds. Sprinkle mixture over top of batter. Bake in a 350F oven until a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean and topping is golden, 45 to 50 minutes. Set aside to cool for 20 minutes before serving.

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