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Preserve your peaches for a taste of summer all year

Every June, there is a window of opportunity. The price of cherries dips while the quality peaks. In this one month, it’s easy to eat a year’s worth of cherries. So easy, I often do. But alas, June has come and gone, and it’s time to move on to the next seasonal fruit.

Spend enough time in Western Colorado, and you know exactly why the air is filled with the energy of anticipation. The peaches are coming.

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For food preservation questions, or to schedule an annual appointment to test your pressure-canning dial gauge, call (970) 382-6461.

Have patience. Before long, the infamous Palisade peach, perfected by hot days and cool nights, will sit front and center as you enter the produce section of your local grocer or nearby farm stand. If the temptation to buy a whole case beckons you, do it. But only if you can dedicate a few hours, within a few days, for an afternoon of food preservation.

I hate to say it, but at the risk of discouraging you (or myself), canning food is a full commitment. Between the preparation, watching and waiting, and cleaning, those glorious peaches can begin to lose their allure when you hit hour six of food preservation.

Home canning is not all that different from pregnancy and parenthood really. Well, yes it is, but here’s how it compares. At the time, canning is a lot of work and it can be hard to see the return on investment. But, continue to practice patience, and all of your hard work will pay off.

Just this week, the last quart jar of peach halves was pulled from our shelf, cracked open and devoured. They were so good, I almost forgot the pains of labor that went into canning them.

A testament of quality cannot be said of all canned produce, but peaches manage to maintain a comparable flavor and texture to their fresh version. In evaluating what gets my time and energy, preserved peaches make the cut.

It’s a personal preference, but I won’t spend my time pressure canning green beans anymore. I simply do not enjoy how pressure canning changes their texture. It also helps that I’ve never had a bumper crop of green beans in the garden; kind of makes preservation a nonissue.

Peaches remain delightful through a variety of preservation techniques, some of which are considerably less labor intensive than canning.

During a bike ride earlier this summer, a bag of individually rolled peach fruit leather resurfaced from the depths of a camelback. This is when you appreciate food preservation the most. For one, it’s a sweet treat at the end of a long ride. And two, finding fruit leather buried in the bottom of a backpack is way better than blindly dipping your fingers in the moldy remains of a long forgotten mystery fruit. Agreed?

Nature predicts peaches will be their best in August, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying them as soon as they are available. Peach slices on crusty bread with ricotta cheese, arugula, honey and black pepper, yum! Grilled peaches served warm over vanilla ice cream, double yum!

Suddenly craving a peach? You can speed up the ripening process by storing whole peaches in a paper bag on the counter, then transfer the ones you don’t eat to the produce drawer in your fridge. Wash with water before you eat.

Come February, you may wish to relive summer through the sense of taste. PreserveSmart Colorado from Colorado State Universtiy Extension will tell you how. Can, freeze, dehydrate or pickle (not a typo) your peaches, whichever you fancy. By then, you too will have forgotten the time it takes to preserve, and instead, be left with a sense of pride in your work, a smile on your face, and the lingering taste of summer on your tongue.

Nicole Clark is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at nicole.clark@colostate.edu or 382-6461.