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Good news from Hill Country peach growers

Addie Broyles

If you love peaches, it’s going to be a good summer.

In today’s food section, I chat with two Hill Country peach growers, Armin Engel and Paul Pehl, about their crop this year, which is much better than last year, when there was hardly a crop at all, and pulled recipes for a peach icebox pie, a grilled peach panzanella and a chicken peach orzo from a trio of recently published cookbooks.

Engel and Pehl have more than 100 years of growing experience combined, so I also asked them the best way to store peaches so they don’t rot on the kitchen table or lose all their flavor when you try to preserve them.

Here’s what they had to say:

  • Like tomatoes, peaches are best stored stem side down and in a single layer on a table. “Put a cloth over them, so the air conditioning doesn’t shrivel them up,” Engel says.
  • Once they hit peak ripeness (you’ll smell it when they do), eat within a few days or store them in the produce crisper on a paper towel in case one turns before the others. They should keep for several weeks, Engel says.
  • Freezing is the best storage method for one month and beyond. You can put them up in a pressure canner or water bath, but they lose a noticeable amount of flavor in the process. Peel the peaches, cut them in half and place in a freezer bag. You can dust them with citric acid, which is available in the spice section of the grocery store, to help them keep their color.
  • You can peel peaches by dropping them in boiling water for a moment and then shocking them in an ice water bath, but that can also draw out some of the sweet juices.

I don’t write about peaches every summer, but it shouldn’t surprise you that this isn’t the first time I’ve waxed poetically about how much I love this particular stone fruit. This 2008 column on my grandmother’s peach pie, which published six years ago to the day, was my second column on the food writing beat. I’ve had plenty of memorable peaches since then, but nothing beats Gaga’s peach pie.

Peach Pie

This recipe calls for 4 cups of fresh peaches, but feel free to combine blackberries, strawberries or any other fruit, so long as the total amount of fruit is about 4 cups. Also, good peaches contain lots of juice, so my grandmother recommends a deep-dish or 10-inch pie pan for this recipe. She also puts a baking sheet on the rack below the pie to catch any juice that bubbles over. The dough makes four crusts, so if you use two crusts for one pie, you can freeze the rest of the dough in a ball.

For crust:

3 cups sifted flour

1 1/2 cup shortening

1 egg

1/3 cup water

1 Tbsp. vinegar

pinch of salt

For filling:

4 cups sliced peaches

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

2 Tbsp. corn starch

Sugar, to taste

In a large bowl, cut the shortening into the flour with a fork or pastry blender (also known as a pastry cutter). In another bowl, mix egg, water, vinegar and salt. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the flour and shortening, and mix using your hands or a pastry blender. Once combined, refrigerate for one hour.

For filling: Slice peaches and add lemon juice to preserve color. Mix in corn starch. Start with a few tablespoons of sugar and keep adding until filling reaches desired sweetness.

Remove dough from refrigerator and divide into quarters. On a floured surface or pastry sheet, roll out dough into four 1/4-inch thick circles. Place one circle on the bottom of pie pan. Pour fruit filling over dough. Place another dough circle on top of filling, pinching the edges shut and cutting a few holes in the top to allow steam to escape. Bake in 375-degree oven for about 45 minutes or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly.

— Carolyn Cook