SWEET GEORGIA PEACHES Thursday, Jun 11 2009 

Peaches_014-1

Central and South Georgia are well known for its peach crops in the summer and pecan harvests in the fall. I grew up in Macon County, adjacent to Peach County, home to The Big Peach, a 75′ tall peach mounted on a 100′ tall pole. Peaches are serious in Georgia.

Each summer the women of my family would make “put up peaches”. We’d can peaches, freeze peaches, and make peach jelly. You have never been hot until you have been picking peaches in the middle of a Georgia summer. Rumor has it that hell is cooler. The air is thick and stifling. Gnats and mosquitoes buzz about incessantly. Peach fuzz covers your arms and wrists. The combination of sweat, bug spray, and itchy peach fuzz is an effective blend for guaranteed misery. But, the end result is that each amber spoonful is more precious than gold.

Ripe peaches are soft to the touch. When cut, look for creamy gold to yellow flesh. The red or blush color on the skin is actually a characteristic of the variety, not ripeness. Avoid green or shriveled peaches. Use your nose! Choose peaches with a typical “peachy” scent, slightly sweet and flowery. Never squeeze peaches, as they will bruise. If your peach purchase needs ripening, set them in a single layer on the counter, not stacked, and allow them to ripen for a day or so at room temperature. Once ripe, transfer them to the refrigerator and use within a week.

Georgia produces over 130 million pounds of peaches a year. Some states may grow more, but Georgia is undoubtedly known as “The Peach State”, the result of the efforts of a farmer in Marshallville, Georgia, who bred the Elberta peach from the seed of a Chinese Cling peach in the late 1800s. The peach industry took off, Georgia was tagged with the flavorful nickname, and the rest is sweet history.

Just down the road from Marshallville is home to Al and Mary Pearson. The Pearson family has farmed peaches around Fort Valley, since the late 1800s and pecans, since the early 1900s. Al and Mary, recently joined by their son, 5th generation farmer, Lawton, have survived the tough business of farming by reinventing the family farm. Big Six Farm is the “growing” arm of the company, jointly owned by the Al and his sisters. Pearson Farm, which Al and Mary operate together, is the retail arm, selling both Big Six’s raw produce and products made from it.

According to Al, “Peach season starts for us around May 15 with the variety Flavorich, a clingstone peach and we ship through August with Big Red, a large freestone.” With clingstone peaches, as the name implies, the flesh clings to the stone while freestone peaches can be loosened from the pit with relative ease. Al continued, “In a good year one tree will produce between 100 and 150 pounds per tree. One acre of peach trees will produce 12,500-15,000 pounds.” (In light of Al’s statistics I don’t feel quite so bad about the few bushels I had a pick as a child!)

Peaches are packed with natural goodness. Several major nutrients, including vitamins A, C, and potassium are packed into each peach. Peaches are also a good source of the pigment beta-carotene, which gives them their deep yellow color. Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant that may help slow the aging process and reduce the risk of some types of cancer.

They’re also an excellent and filling source of fiber. And, a plus for calorie counters, a peach contains less than 60 calories. In addition to being low-calorie, like all fruits and vegetables, peaches are cholesterol-free and contain no fat or protein. Peaches also provide natural plant compounds called flavonoids, powerful antioxidants, which research suggests may help prevent cancer and heart disease.

Typical Southern recipes do not often take advantage of the healthful aspects of peaches. They are more often along the lines of Peach Ice Cream laced with eggs and heavy cream, Fried Peach Pies, deep-fried half-moons of biscuit dough filled with sugar and chopped peaches, and buttery Peach Cobber, baked in a cast iron skillet.

Here’s one that marries the taste of those sweet peaches with pork, a marriage made in heaven!

Bon Appetit, Y’all!
VA

BROWN SUGAR PORK CHOPS WITH GEORGIA PEACH BBQ SAUCE
Serves 4

1/4 cup kosher salt
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 cups boiling water
3 cups ice cubes
4 bone-in pork loin chops, (about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium Vidalia onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 one-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
1 ½ cups ketchup
½ cup Georgia Peach jam
2 ripe peaches, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

In medium heatproof bowl, dissolve salt and sugar in boiling water, stir in ice cubes to cool. Add the pork chops, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate to marinate, about 30 minutes. Remove from brine, rinse well, and dry thoroughly with paper towels.

Using a medium sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 45 to 60 seconds.

Add the ketchup, peach jam, and peaches. Reduce heat to low and simmer until sauce thickens, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add vinegar, season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat, set aside to cool.

Pour half the barbecue sauce into a shallow baking dish, reserve remaining sauce. Add pork chops, turning to coat both sides.

Prepare a medium-hot grill or grill pan. Grill chops until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side, basting chops with barbecue sauce. Remove from grill, let stand 5 minutes before serving. Serve with remaining sauce.

PHOTO CREDIT: ELLEN SILVERMAN

VIRGINIA WILLIS CULINARY PRODUCTIONS, LLC © 2009

Sugah Bear, How ‘Bout Some Brown Sugar Shortcakes? Monday, Jun 1 2009 

 

Brown Sugah Shortcakes

Brown Sugah Shortcakes Photo Credit: Kim Jameson

The word “sugar” often becomes “sugah” in the South. The dropping of the r, really pretty unnecessary letter it seems to many. Sugah isn’t just sugar, it’s “Sugah Bear” to a loved one. I recently called my sister that and she questioned my sanity. “Sugah, how ’bout some more coffee” from the waitress with the closer the hair the closer to G*d hairdo. “Come give me some Sugah” meaning a not so favorite smoochy kiss from and aunt or uncle. “Sugah Bowl” is the SEC football game held at the Superdome, and of course, as a graduate from the University of Georgia, aka UGA, “You can’t spell Sugah without UGA” is still a popular bumpersticker.

Sugah and the Southern sweet tooth is a powerful force. It is more than an ingredient in the South. It falls somewhere between condiment and food group. We have desserts at birthday parties, holidays, and special occasions. Mamas calm crying babies with sugar. (Mama dipped my sister’s pacifier in yes, Karo syrup; she finally put a stop to it when Jona was old enough to reach the bottle on the dresser herself.) We drink tea so sweet it will make your teeth hurt, slather jam and jelly on biscuits, eat ham cured in sugar and salt, often put a pinch of sugar in slow-cooked greens, and finish up the meal with a sweet wedge of pie.

Some food historians claim that the Southern fascination with sugar is a practical one. In the hot, humid South, sugar was originally a means of preservation. That’s why we have sugar-cured ham and bacon, sweet pickles, and boiled icing to protect cakes.

Another reason for sugar’s importance is that the crop was tied to slavery. Sugar production is undeniably backbreaking work and very labor intensive. Sugar cane followed the movement of African slaves through the islands of Caribbean and into the plantations of the South where it was grown. The mothers and sisters of the men working hard in the fields were in the kitchen, making the food that eventually evolved into Southern cuisine.

When transportation of goods depended upon horses and wagons on iffy roads, it could take months for sugar to travel from the sugar growing state of Louisiana to hill and mountain country. Sugar was a precious commodity then, kept under lock and key, and Southern craftsmen created a specialized piece of furniture known as the “sugar chest”. These strong and decorative boxes were built throughout the South, most notably in Kentucky and Tennessee. Finally, with the advent of steamboats and improved shipping, sugar prices fell in the 19th century and sugar became more widely available throughout the region.

Forget fancy gènoise or sponge cake; in the South, a shortcake is really just a sweet biscuit. Granted, this recipe is a step above, flavored with orange zest and sprinkled with raw sugar that sparkles like amber on the golden tops. At Martha Stewart Living Television, we served miniature versions of these buttery brown sugar shortcakes filled with peaches, strawberries, and blueberries at a luncheon attended by President Clinton.

In the past, brown sugar was semirefined white sugar with some of the molasses left in. Two popular types of raw sugar are the coarse-textured dry Demerara sugar from the Demerara area of Guyana, and the moist, fine-textured Barbados sugar. Turbinado sugar is raw sugar that has been steam-cleaned. The coarse turbinado crystals are blond colored and have a delicate molasses flavor. Now, for the most part, regular brown sugar is white sugar to which molasses has been added. The color, light or dark, depends on the amount of molasses added. Dark brown is slightly stronger in flavor than light brown, but otherwise interchangeable. When brown sugar comes into contact with air, the moisture evaporates and causes the sugar to lump together and become hard. Prevent this by storing brown sugar in a sealable plastic bag or in an airtight container. Also, storing brown sugar in the refrigerator will help keep it fresh and soft.

Sugah, hope you enjoy these shortcakes!
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Brown Sugar Shortcakes
Makes 8 to 10

31/2 cups  all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoons  baking powder
1 teaspoon  fine sea salt
3/4 cup (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
Grated zest of 1 orange, or 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1 cup  heavy cream, plus more for brushing
1/2 cup  whole milk
Turbinado, Demerara, or raw brown sugar, for sprinkling
Berries and Garnish
2 pints  strawberries, hulled and quartered lengthwise
Juice of 1 orange
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Whipped cream, for accompaniment

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking sheet or parchment paper.

To prepare the shortcakes, in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle, combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt on low speed. Add the butter and zest, and mix on low until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 2 minutes. Add the cream and milk and increase the speed to medium; mix until the dough comes together. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface, lightly knead a few times, and shape into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick.

Cut out dough circles using a 3-inch round cutter. Place the circles on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops lightly with cream and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Bake until the shortcakes are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Meanwhile, to prepare the berries, place the strawberries in a bowl. Add the orange juice and granulated sugar. Set aside.

To serve, halve the shortcakes horizontally with a serrated knife. Place the bottom halves on individual serving plates, top each with a dollop of whipped cream, then some berries, and another dollop of whipped cream. Cover with the tops of the shortcakes and serve.

The shortcakes can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Memorial Day & Pork Nirvana: Coca Cola Glazed Baby Back Ribs Thursday, May 21 2009 

Pork Nirvana: Coca Cola Glazed Baby Back Ribs

Pork Nirvana: Coca Cola Glazed Baby Back Ribs

Memorial Day is the start of grilling season. I want to share with you an absolutely unbelievable rib recipe. I taught these all over last summer and the combination of sweet and heat is soooooooo positively off-the-charts good.

I want to give a shout out to the National Pork Board for contributing the pork for my event for The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts a week or so ago. We raised 21K + which equals 100,000 meals! We served these ribs and everyone loved them. I know you will, too.

I made some changes to my website. There are a passle of new recipes to try out. Please click on the link to check things out.
www.virginiawilllis.com

Here’s to a safe and happy weekend. Wear your seatbelt and if you are on the water, your life jacket. Seriously.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Coca-Cola–Glazed Baby Back Ribs
Makes about 20 pieces

Coca-Cola is to Atlanta as Guinness is to Dublin. Pork has a natural affinity for sweet, rich caramel flavors. These “nouveau” Southern ribs are by no means traditional, but they are lip-smacking good.

Scotch bonnet peppers are intensely hot, but their fire is tempered by the sweetness of the sugar and Coke. To tone down the heat, substitute jalapeños instead.

1 cup Coca-Cola Classic
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
11/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2 Scotch bonnet chiles, chopped
2 racks baby back ribs (3 pounds total)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the glaze, in a small saucepan, bring the Coca-Cola, vinegar, brown sugar, and chiles to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until syrupy, about 10 minutes. Decrease the heat to low and keep the sauce warm while the ribs cook.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Liberally season both sides of the ribs with salt and pepper. Place the ribs on a broiler pan and bake for 30 minutes, glazing the ribs occasionally with the Coca-Cola mixture. Turn the ribs over and continue to cook for an additional 30 minutes, glazing occasionally, or until the ribs are tender and the meat is starting to pull away from the bone.

Or, if grilling, simply treat the oven as a grill. Cook the ribs at a moderate heat, 325°F and bake with the grill covered for 30 minutes, glazing the ribs occasionally with the Coca-Cola mixture. Turn the ribs over and continue to cook for an additional 30 minutes, glazing occasionally, or until the ribs are tender and the meat is starting to pull away from the bone.

When the ribs are cooked through, set the oven to broil or place on the hot side of the grill or increase a gas grill to high. Liberally spoon half of the remaining glaze over the ribs and broil until glazed a deep mahogany brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn over; repeat with the remaining glaze, an additional 5 to 7 minutes.

Serve immediately with lots of napkins.

Photo credit: Jeanine Dargis. Adapted from Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press.

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