For a couple of years now, I've been the "parent" of a fruit tree in Central California. It's a lovely arrangement. I adopt the tree in the winter and it gets nurtured until it bears fruit in the summer when I get to harvest the bounty. This genius plan is the brain-child of David Mas Masumoto of Masumoto Family Farms. The Masumoto's, who have been farming in the Central Valley since 1948, specialize in organic and sustainable peaches, nectarines and grapes for raisins. The "adopt-a-tree" program came about as farming automation killed demand for the delicate Elberta peaches and Le Grand nectarines that grow in their Del Rey, CA orchards. (You can read all about it in the pithy Epitaph for a Peach by David Mas Masumoto.)
I got introduced to the program by Staci Valentine. Staci is a dear friend and the talented photographer who took the pretty pictures for The Perfect Peach, Recipes and Stories from Masumoto Family Farms. In the past, Staci and I shared a Le Grand, and this year, my brother joined our team and we added an Elberta tour our nectarine tree.
The fruit is truly amazing. The nectarines have so much flavor. They are super sweet, but have such a good acid balance. They're best when extra juicy and tree-tender-ripe, but if picked a little firm-- they're still tasty--a bit crunchy and sweet-tart. The Elbertas are tender with delicate flavor and a rich texture. I love having both varieties. The nectarines ripen really quickly, have a thin, colorful and tasty skin and pits that hold on to the fruit flesh for all it's worth. The peaches ripen more slowly and keep for a good while. The peaches have extra fuzzy skin that is not pleasant to eat but peels away easily. Because the Elberta is a free-stone variety, the pit comes out cleanly, leaving that pretty red stain at the center.
The challenge of the tree adoption program is the onslaught of quickly ripening fruit. My portion of the bounty was about 20 lugs of fruit. I share the fruit with friends and family, make some jam (I don't LOVE peach and nectarine jam - I prefer more assertive conserves, such as plum, apricot, berry- but this years version, made with rose geranium is pretty darn good!) I bake pies galore, churn ice-cream and sorbet, blend yogurt smoothies, toss the fruit into salad, put a few slices in iced rosé as an evening refresher- but mostly I enjoy the fruit fresh, eaten out of hand or sliced and savored piece-by-piece.
This year my discovery is the frozen pie! I mean, people buy frozen pies at the supermarket, and those pies bake up fine. (Well, fine for what they are...) Why can't I assemble a pie, freeze it and bake it later? I can! The pies take a little longer to bake and the top crust tends to crack, but I just put a few pats of butter and a healthy sugar sprinkle on the frozen crust before baking and the pies are just as delicious as when they are baked when freshly made.
Peach (or Nectarine) Pie with Whole Wheat Crust
Just a hint of the spices cinnamon and cardamom make the peach and nectarine flavor sing. When I remember, I like to add some whole grain flour to my pie crust, but this recipe is equally delicious made with unbleached flour. Citric acid is available wherever canning supplies are sold. I add it to the filling when I plan to freeze the pie to keep the fruit from turning brown. You can skip it if you plan to bake your pie right away.
Makes 1 Pie!
6 cups sliced peeled and pitted ripe peaches (about 3 pounds)
1/2 teaspoon citric acid
1/2 cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon, divided
3 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pie dough disks (2)
2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
Toss peaches and citric acid in a large bowl to blend. Mix in 1/2 cup sugar, flour, cardamom and cardamom. Roll 1 dough disk out on lightly floured surface to 12-inch round. Transfer round to 9-inch diameter pie pan; trim dough so there is an even ½ inch overhang. Spoon filling into crust. Dot peaches with butter pieces. Roll second dough disk to 12 -inch round. Drape dough over filling and trim dough so there is a 1 ½ –inch overhang. Fold top and bottom dough under, pressing to seal. Crimp edges decoratively. Cut one 2-inch “x” in top of crust to allow steam to escape. (Pie can be made ahead. Freeze uncovered until firm. Wrap in plastic, then foil and keep frozen up to 2 months.)
Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat oven to 400ºF. Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet. Dot the frozen pie with butter and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake until the crust is golden brown, peaches are tender when pierced with thin sharp knife and juices bubble thickly in the center, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool until warm.
Pie Crust Dough
Makes 2 disks, enough for 1 double crust or lattice topped pie or 2 single crust pies
21/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour OR 1 1/2 cups unbleached flour mixed with 1 cup whole wheat flour
11/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
½ cup frozen non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening or lard, cut into pieces
5 tablespoons ice water
Process flour, sugar and salt to blend in food processor. Add butter and shortening and blend using on/off turns until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Using fork, stir in ice water. Gather dough into two even balls; flatten balls into disks and wrap in plastic. Chill at least 20 minutes and up to three days.