To many Oklahomans, the term “Porter peaches” is synonymous with hot summer days and juicy, ripe peaches. It is often misunderstood by many that a Porter peach is a specific type or variety of peach, but the term refers instead to a peach grown in the small rural community of Porter, Oklahoma.
Peaches have been grown in Porter since before statehood. The fertile farm ground between the Verdigris and Arkansas rivers serves as the perfect backdrop for growing peaches and other crops. Originally part of the Creek Nation allotment, the community of Porter and the surrounding areas boasted some of the most prosperous farms in Indian Territory, with many acres and farms devoted to the much-adored stonefruit.
Most of the early Oklahoma-statehood orchards have faded into history, but the town of Porter continues to produce the majority of the state’s peaches. During July, Porter typically celebrates the legacy and vision of the early farmers and community leaders at the annual Porter Peach Festival.
Due to concerns over COVID-19, organizers this year are instead hosting an “Unfestival,” with a series of events that allow people to savor the bounty of Porter peaches in ways that allow for social distancing. There are still bushels, pecks and buckets of peaches available throughout the area. Livesay Orchards and its retail outlet, The Peach Barn, are the largest peach purveyors in the area, but many small local farms have them as well.
Aside from the always-popular peach cobbler, there are many delicious sweets (and not-so-sweet recipes) that are perfect for using up a bushel of Porter peaches. And speaking from experience, it is always acceptable to simply pull off the road and eat a peach, with the juice dripping down your arm.
For more on where to buy peaches and events for the Porter Peach Unfestival, visit porterpeachfestivals.com.
Picking a Peach: Freestone vs. Clingstone
Peaches are categorized as either freestone or clingstone. The designation applies to whether the fruit “clings” to the pit or doesn’t.
A clingstone peach has fruit that stubbornly clings to the pit, or “stone.” These peaches are fantastic for eating but aren’t the best for canning and freezing because it is harder to remove the pit and prepare the fruit. You’re not likely to find clingstone peaches in the grocery store; the best place to track them down is at the farmers market or local farm stands. These peaches are typically a bit smaller, juicier and slightly sweeter than freestone peaches. Most commercially sold canned peaches are clingstones. Clingstone varieties are available mid-May to early June.
A freestone peach has fruit that falls right off the pit and is perfect for eating out of hand, baking, canning and freezing. Slice the peach down the middle, give each half a twist in the opposite direction, and pull it right off the pit. While they might not be labeled as freestone, this is the variety that is most widely available in grocery stores and farmers markets. Freestone peaches are available mid-June to mid-August.
How to Pit a Peach
Pitting peaches is easy with a sharp paring knife. The easiest way to free the pit is by cutting into the fruit until you hit the pit. Then, slice around the peach, starting and ending at the stem. From there, you can use your hands to gently twist each half of the fruit in opposite directions to separate. One side will hold the pit, while the other will be pit-free. If the pit doesn’t fall right out, slide the knife under the top and then the bottom of the pit to loosen it from the flesh, then pull it out with your fingers.
Freezing peaches is one of the easiest ways to preserve the flavors of summer. The freezing method locks in fresh peach flavor, so the fruit is ready to quickly thaw and use throughout the year.
Start with ripe peaches. These will feel a little heavier than a firm peach and will give lightly to touch.
Using the tip of a paring knife, cut a small X through the skin of the bottom of the peach, taking care to not cut deeply into the flesh.
Place the peach in a pot of boiling water for 10-15 seconds.
Remove from boiling water and place directly into an ice bath to stop the cooking process.
Once cool, use a paring knife to catch the corner of skin at the base of the X and peel up toward the stem. The skin should come off quite easily.
Once peeled, cut the peach in half, starting along the crease of the peach and running your knife all the way around. Twist the two halves to release one from the pit and then use the tip of a knife or fork to pry the pit out from the remaining side.
Slice each half into four to eight wedges, and place in a bowl. Toss with the juice of one lemon for every eight to 10 peaches and ½ teaspoon of sugar for each peach added. The lemon juice will help prevent browning, and the sugar will release juices from the peaches, helping prevent air pockets when freezing.
Place peach slices in a quart- or gallon-sized resealable freezer bag. Measure the peaches as they are added and write the amount and date on the outside of the bag.
Once peaches are added to the bag, press the bag to release all air and seal. Place the bag on a small baking sheet or cutting board (check to make sure it fits in your freezer) and flatten the bag of peaches before transferring to a flat surface or a tray in the freezer. Once frozen, remove the tray and keep peaches frozen until needed. The flat bags will take up less room in a crowded freezer.
Makes 2 quarts
Just because fresh peaches are only in season a few months of the year does not mean you can’t enjoy peaches all year long. Canning peaches is easy to do — simply place the peeled peaches in syrup. You can eat canned peaches right from the jar or utilize them in dessert and salad recipes.
9-10 fresh peaches, peeled, halved and pitted
1 quart water
Juice of one lemon
2 cups sugar or honey
1. Prepare syrup by bringing water and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then stir in lemon juice. Keep hot while preparing peaches.
2. Meanwhile, sterilize canning jars and place peaches in the jars, packing them in tightly. Fill the jars with hot syrup, leaving ½ inch of space at the top of the jar. Using a clean, damp cloth, wipe the top rim of the jar to remove any residue. Screw on lids and process jars in water bath or pressure cooker according to jar manufacturer instructions.
EASY PEACH SORBET
Makes 1 quart
There’s no easier trip from fruit to dessert than sorbet. Especially this one, which is also kind to frozen peaches, and doesn’t even make you remove the skins.
3 pounds fresh or frozen peaches (about 8 whole), diced (leave peels on)
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed juice from 1 lime (see note)
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1. Combine peaches, lime juice and sugar in a food processor and purée until very smooth with no large chunks. You should have about 1 quart of purée. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into an airtight container and add salt to taste. Press a piece of plastic wrap against surface of purée and chill for 2 to 3 hours, or until very cold.
2. Churn in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a container and chill in freezer for 2 to 3 hours, or until firm.
Note: I used frozen peaches and pureed the mixture in a Vitamix mixer until it was very frothy. I skipped the ice cream maker and poured it directly into a loaf pan. It turned out just as delicious, but you’ll need to let the loaf pan sit out for a few minutes to soften before scooping.
— Adapted from Serious Eats
PICKLED PEACH RELISH
Makes about 2 cups
Spoon this sweet-tart relish over grilled pork, chicken or fish. Be sure to use firm, ripe peaches for the relish or else they’ll get mushy during pickling.
1 cup white wine
vinegar or apple cider vinegar
¾ cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 large ripe but firm peaches, pitted and cut into ½-inch dice
½ sweet onion, diced
1. In a large saucepan, combine white wine vinegar with water, sugar, mustard seeds, bay leaf, 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns and 2 tablespoons salt and bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar.
2. Put the peaches and onion in a large, heat-proof bowl and pour the hot brine over them. Let the peaches stand for 1 hour, then refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.
— Adapted from Food & Wine
HEIRLOOM TOMATO, PEACH AND CORN SALAD
This fresh salad combines three of my Oklahoma summer favorites — homegrown tomatoes, Porter peaches and sweet corn. If you are feeling a bit daring, crumble in some good quality blue cheese, such as the one from Maytag Farms in Iowa. When you use fresh corn, there is no need for cooking, but if it’s not available, use frozen corn that has been boiled or sautéed until heated through.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¾ teaspoon coarse salt, divided
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
3 large peaches (about 1 pound)
2 large red tomatoes
2 large yellow tomatoes
1½ cups assorted cherry tomatoes
2-3 ears freshly picked sweet corn, kernels cut from cob
½ cup fresh basil leaves, torn
4 ounces blue cheese, optional
1. Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a small bowl; set aside.
2. Halve and pit peaches. Cut each half into quarters and set aside. Core out stem end of large tomatoes and slice into ¼-inch-thick rounds. Arrange peaches, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and corn on a platter.
3. Season with remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper and drizzle with vinaigrette. Sprinkle with basil leaves and blue cheese if desired and serve.
PEACH BARBECUE SAUCE
Makes about 2 cups
When you’ve had your fill of ripe peaches eaten out of hand, peel the rest for this fruity-tangy sauce. Brush it on grilled pork or chicken toward the end of cooking and serve extra on the side. And who could say no to a dab of leftover sauce on a cream cheese-topped cracker?
1 pound fresh peaches
1 tablespoon canola oil
¾ cup chopped sweet onion such as Vidalia
1 jalapeño pepper, minced, with seeds
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup bourbon
2½ tablespoons mild honey
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
¾ teaspoon light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon chili powder
⅛ teaspoon dry mustard
1. Cut an X in bottom of each peach, then blanch in a medium saucepan of boiling water 10 seconds. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice and cold water and cool. Peel peaches and coarsely chop.
2. Heat oil in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook onion, jalapeño and kosher salt, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add peaches and remaining ingredients and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until peaches are very tender, about 30 minutes.
3. Purée in a blender (use caution when blending hot liquids).
Note: Sauce can be made 3 days ahead and chilled, uncovered, until cool, then covered.
— Adapted from Gourmet magazine