Fresh is always better than frozen, canned, or freeze-dried. A pea picked straight from the garden, a tomato off of the vine, a fruit pulled from the tree, or a fish fresh from the water are always preferred to their counterparts in cans, bags, or freezer-proof boxes. At our restaurants we always use fresh, local seafood and produce when it is available, and these days the availability is better than it has ever been.
That point being known, and my fresh-at-all-cost credentials being well established, I have a caveat: I love canned peaches.
That, in no way, is to denigrate fresh peaches. My love of that particular summer fruit is well documented. Fresh Chilton County, Alabama peaches are, by far, my favorite item of produce, and I have stated that in dozens of columns over the past 18 years. Nevertheless, a canned peach holds some sway in my culinary canon.
That theory doesn’t hold true with all canned fruits and vegetables. Canned asparagus is bad. There is nothing about canned asparagus that even comes close to fresh asparagus. Actually, canned asparagus doesn’t even taste like asparagus. Canned asparagus is mushy and tastes like canned English peas. You’ll never catch me eating canned asparagus, not so with canned peaches.
A few weeks ago I was meeting a friend at a restaurant that had a salad bar. I am typically not a fan of the salad bar for many reasons I won’t get into here. But I occasionally find myself at a salad bar, and the results are always the same— I fill my salad plate with peaches.
It has always puzzled me a little as to why peaches— like chocolate pudding— make an appearance on a salad bar, but I don’t question it too much because I like to eat them. Decades ago, when I frequented salad-bar concepts more often, I would fill half of the plate with salad and the other half with peaches. But the salad dressing always got on the peaches and I usually left some salad on the plate. There were never any peaches left on the plate. On this recent occasion I just opted for the peaches.
I sat there with my wife, son, and friend and commented, “I love canned peaches. I don’t know why I don’t eat them more often.”
My passion for canned peaches is an infatuation that has lasted over a half of a century. My mother always offered some type of canned fruit with supper. As I remember we alternated between pears, fruit cocktail, and peaches. I tolerated the other fruits, but loved the peaches.
Pears are good. These days my pear exposure is mostly with the poached variety. As a kid I would drink the pear juice left in the can. My grandmother served a canned pear half on a lettuce leaf and put a dollop of mayonnaise in the center. I always ate around the mayonnaise, which in my opinion, has no business being anywhere in the same vicinity as a pear.
Fruit cocktail was probably served at my childhood home more frequently than pears or peaches, but it doesn’t hold a place of prominence in my memory banks. What I remember most about fruit cocktail was that my brother and I would fight over who got most of the cherries. One of my main gripes with canned fruit cocktail was that the fruits were cut into smaller pieces. Canned pears and peaches are best when served in halves. Mother’s Restaurant in New Orleans used to put fruit cocktail in their bread pudding. They still might.
Peaches were, by far, my favorite canned fruit at supper. As I stated earlier, fresh peaches are always preferable, but canned peaches are good. Frozen peaches, on the other hand, have no purpose other than daiquiris or pies, and even still, fresh are preferred there.
Canned peaches are my Rosebud. There is something about a canned peach that connects to my childhood and takes me back to that supper table on Bellewood Drive. Not many foods do that. The dilemma is: If I love canned peaches so much, why don’t I eat them more often? They make me happy every time I eat them.
From this day forward I vow to eat more foods that make me happy. I’m starting with canned peaches (at least until the fresh ones arrive).
Grilled Peach Shortcake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbl sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 Tbl baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks, diced)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup heavy cream, chilled
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
Egg Wash (1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water or milk )
6 Large, Fresh, Ripe Peaches, peeled and halved
1/4 cup melted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp vanilla
Peach Ice Cream
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Sift the flour, 2 tablespoon sugar, the baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Blend in butter at the lowest speed and mix until the butter is the size of peas. Combine eggs, heavy cream, sour cream and vanilla extract and quickly add to the flour and butter mixture. Mix until just blended. The dough will be sticky.
Dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Flour your hands and pat the dough out to 3/4-inch thick. You should see lumps of butter in the dough.
Cut biscuits with a 3-4-inch cutter and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment.
Brush the tops with the egg wash. Sprinkle with sugar and bake 18-20 minutes, until the outsides are crisp and the insides are fully baked. Let cool on a wire rack.
Prepare the grill. Brush the peaches with melted butter. Cook peaches, flat side down, over direct medium heat, for 10 minutes. Rotate the peaches a quarter turn after three minutes, then turn them over once after 6 minutes of cooking. Remove the peaches from the grill and toss the in a bowl with the sugar, lemon juice and vanilla (the excess liquid will be used as a syrup topping). Cover and keep warm until needed.
Split shortcakes in half, top each with a scoop of peach ice cream. Place a warm peach half on the ice cream and top with the remaining shortcakes half. Drizzle the syrup from the bowl with the peaches over each shortcake and serve immediately.
Yield: 6-8 servings