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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Canned Peaches

August 24, 2009

My friend David invited me to lunch at his club in Jackson. The club was nicely decorated and comfortable. In one room there was an upscale buffet and in another a salad bar.

I don’t eat at many buffets. Actually, since my neighborhood Thai joint changed hands, I don’t eat any buffets. I have nothing against them; it’s just a personal quirk.

As I was browsing through the club’s salad section, I saw a bowl full of peaches— not fresh peaches, even though we’re in prime summer peach season— canned peaches. I was ambivalent about the salad bar anyway, so I looked at the canned peaches and said— why not?

I skipped the lettuce, chicken salad, slaw, cheese, and creamy dressings, and opted for a small plate filled with peaches.

Back at the table, David looked at my plate, and then looked at me with a quizzical stare. “It’s peaches.” I said

“Yeah, but they’re canned peaches,” he replied.

Note: If you are a chef or a restaurateur, or a cookbook author, or a food columnist, people study what you eat in public places. If you’re all of those things at once, people scrutinize your choices even more. They ask questions like, “Why are you eating here?” To which I reply, “For the same reason you’re eating here.” Some people expect me to eat different foods than most. I don’t. I might eat more, but what I consume on a daily basis is fairly basic.

Back to the peaches.

“I haven’t eaten canned peaches in years, “ I told him. “These taste good.”

As a child, my mother followed the food pyramid of the day and made sure we ate fruits and vegetables. In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in the 1960s, availability of fresh fruit was limited, so we ate mostly canned fruit.

Supper at our house always consisted of one portion of canned pears, peaches, or fruit cocktail. It was automatic, if supper was being served; one of those items was going to be on the plate.

There were no low sugar options back then. It was a can filled with fruit and thick, sugary syrup. I imagine there was some degree of health benefit, but it was probably overshadowed when I was found flopping around on the bed like Linda Blair on a sugar high, trying to go to sleep after drinking all of the peach/pear juice from the can

Canned peaches don’t really taste like peaches, but they taste more like peaches than canned asparagus tastes like asparagus. Canned asparagus tastes nothing like asparagus. It tastes like English peas.

I hadn’t eaten canned peaches in a long time. It took me back to my youth. Our taste buds seem to have a direct line to the cerebrum. I can go decades without eating something and then can be instantly transported back to the last time— or the most memorable time— I ate that dish.

I love fresh peaches. To me, nothing tastes more like summer than fresh peaches. Whether they come from Chilton County, Alabama, Georgia, or South Carolina, they are my favorite fruit. I have spent my adult life waiting for summer, and the peach harvest. That day at the club, I made a vow to extend my summers and eat the fruit of my youth— canned peaches— more often.

Peach Ice Cream

2 cups Peaches, fresh, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

3 /4 cups Sugar, divided

1 Tbl Lemon Juice, freshly squeezed
2 Tbl Peach Schnapps
1 cup Heavy Cream
1 /2 cup Milk
1 /2 Vanilla Bean
2 Egg Yolks

In a bowl, combine peaches, 1 /4 cup sugar, lemon juice, and peach schnapps. Cover and refrigerate 2- 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

Remove peach mixture from refrigerator, drain, and reserve the juice. Return peaches to refrigerator.

Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, and— in a medium-sized saucepan— combine remaining sugar, heavy cream, and milk. Heat just until just boiling.

In a separate bowl, vigorously whisk egg yolks. While whisking, slowly add 1 /3 of the boiled cream mixture. Stir well. Add remaining egg mixture to cream mixture. Return to low-medium heat and continue stirring for 5-7 minutes. Just as it begins to simmer, remove from heat and strain into a bowl set over ice. Add the reserved peach juice. Stir well until completely chilled.

Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. After the ice cream begins to stiffen, add the peaches and continue to freeze until done. Remove the ice cream from the ice cream maker and store in an airtight container in the freezer until ready to serve.

Yield: 8 servings

Frozen peaches can be substituted

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