Tuesday, August 24, 2010

National Peach Pie Day and Individual Peach Crumbles

According to my Twitter feed, today is National Peach Pie Day. What I'm about to tell you might lead you to believe I'm a hater who harbors a weird childhood-trauma-induced grudge against peaches, pies and food "holidays." Au contraire. I adore all of these things (er...the peaches, pies and food holidays, not hate, grudges and childhood trauma), and used to work the peach and apricot harvests at a family farm during summer breaks from high school and college. (I practically lived on still-warm-from-the-summer-sun-and-so-juicy-I-needed-to-change-my-shirt-after-eating-them peaches. Bliss.)

But you should know (and you probably already do -- I'm not reporting the news here) that National Peach Pie Day is the invention of an industry advocacy group, most likely the National Peach Council, and is intended to increase peach production. You see, I used to be a PR flack who worked on campaigns for food industry clients hawking everything from frozen vegetables to those disgusting who-do-they-think-they're-fooling powdered egg substitutes used in food service.

True story: I once accompanied an actor dressed up as a giant slice of pizza on a statewide media tour to promote "Real California Cheese on Pizza Month." The annual assignment was given to every rookie account coordinator during his or her first year on the job, and was part of an ongoing marketing campaign so successful it's become the subject of a case study at Columbia University's Graduate School of Business. We'd get the Governor of California to officially declare October "Real California Cheese on Pizza Month," hire said actor to don said pizza costume and become "Cheesy," the "official spokes slice" for Real California Cheese, and travel around the state delivering pizza and talking points to morning radio DJs in major media markets. Oh the glamour.

While I loved working with recipe developers, food stylists and photographers on news bureaus and such, I was conflicted about my work with commodity food associations funded mostly by factory farms (and their federally-subsidized surpluses). Not that trade advocacy groups are so wrong in theory, but in practice they're much more interested in winning ADDY Awards than, say, bettering the lives of farm workers and animals.

So I "celebrate" National Peach Pie Day with a hefty dose of skepticism. (Although according to my limited research, the National Peach Council is pretty grassroots and has a minuscule budget, which may explain why it's National Peach Pie Day and not Month.) But let's not throw out the baby with the bath water. Local farmers markets are teeming with late harvest varieties such as Sweet September and Autumn Flame, so pick up a dozen (preferably organic) peaches, make something simple like individual peach crumbles, and savor the last sweet bites of Summer.

Individual Peach Cobblers
Makes 4 to 8 servings depending on ramekin size

For the filling:
12 medium peaches, peeled* and cut into large chunks
1 tablespoon granulated sugar (or to taste)
1 tablespoon brown sugar (or to taste)
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour (wheat or gluten-free) OR 1 tablespoon corn or tapioca starch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the crumble topping:
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (wheat or gluten-free)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter or vegetable substitute, very cold, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange oven-safe ramekins on baking sheet and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine the peaches, sugars, flour or starch, cinnamon, ginger, salt and vanilla. (Depending on the sweetness of your fruit, you may need more or less sugar.)

3. In a medium bowl, combine the oats, flour, walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Rub the butter into the mixture with your fingers until it resembles a coarse meal.

4. Spoon peach mixture evenly among the ramekins, filling each about 2/3 full. Top with the oat mixture and bake on center oven rack for about 30 minutes or until the filling is bubbling. Allow to cool slightly and serve with ice cream, yogurt, whipped cream or creme fraiche.

*Most recipes will instruct you to dip peaches in boiling water to loosen the skins. I find this to be unnecessary (and messy) with ripe peaches, which I peel with a paring knife or vegetable peeler.

Note: Peach crumbles are my husband's favorite dessert and I always have some on hand in the freezer. They keep, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and/or aluminum foil, in the freezer for a month or two. Reheat in oven at 350 degrees F for 30 to 40 minutes (or until filling is bubbling) or in the microwave for 2 to 4 minutes.

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