Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


Peach Wine In Memoriam

We are gathered here today in remembrance of Peach Wine. We watched her birth and development with loving anticipation, but unfortunately we weren’t able to see her mature into adulthood. She was taken from us too soon, before she could even be bottled.

With a few precious moments of free time, I decided to try and bottle my Peach Wine. As soon as I picked the jug up, however, I saw something terrible: the water in the airlock had evaporated down past the point where a seal could be maintained. The wine had been open to the air, for how long I do not know.

I went through the motions anyway. I tossed in a campden tablet and stabilized with some potassium sorbate, and did some tests with backsweetening to see if it could be salvaged. Unfortunately it was too far gone and the whole batch needed to be tossed. The off-flavors were severe, a mixture of paint thinner and rubbing alcohol. It tasted bitter and miserable. So, it’s gone now.

I’ll definitely do another batch this year, as soon as the early peaches come in at the orchard I’ll snatch up a bunch and start another batch of wine with them. I’ll be sure to keep a much closer eye on the airlock this time.


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Peach Wine

This has been a real slow summer in the kitchen and garden, for a variety of reasons. I didn’t really work on too many garden or kitchen projects this year, and I definitely haven’t been updating my blog with the few projects which I did do. Shame.

I did make a gallon batch of wine from yellow peaches, but I didn’t keep any notes about it and I didn’t jot down a draft blog post at the time either (I typically draft posts long in advance, and then forget to publish them until much later. It’s a system, just not a good one.). From the best of my notes, here is what I did:

  1. I took about 8-10 lbs of peaches, “measured” in a very haphazard way because I don’t own a food scale. I stood on our bathroom scale, and then started picking up peaches until our total weight went up by about 10lbs. Of course, the scale gives a different number every time you get on it, swinging 5lbs in either direction depending on its mood. So the real amount of peaches I used could have been much larger or much smaller.
  2. I rinsed the peaches and sliced them with skins on. I added them to a pot with some water and boiled until soft
  3. When cooled, I dumped the peaches into a bucket along with enough water to bring the total amount to 1.25 gallons
  4. I added some sugar (I think it was about 3 cups, but we will never know for certain) to the mix, yeast and yeast nutrient.

One day the fermentation was going great, and the next morning (after a relatively cold night where we had the windows open) it was dead stopped. I assumed that it was stuck because of the cold crash, so I ran down to the brew store for a packet of rescue yeast and a hydrometer. I checked the wine with the hydrometer and it was indeed finished. So, needing nothing else, I racked it to secondary.

One problem that I ran into was that the soft, cooked peaches and sediment were clogging up the siphon. A large amount of sediment also made it into the secondary container. I need to find a way to filter that out at some point. Maybe I can get some cheese cloth or muslin or something. Here you can see the magnitude of the problem:


One other problem I had was that the total amount of liquid was less than a gallon when all the siphoning and straining was done. The peaches made up much more of the volume than I expected and I didn’t add nearly enough water to it.

When I racked it the wine did have a very pleasant peachy flavor. I’m looking forward to tasting the completed product.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Keep notes.
  2. Use a fermenting bag to hold the peaches, so they can be strained off easily and won’t clog the siphon.
  3. Maybe consider not cooking the peaches, or not cooking them as much, if they’re going to create a lot of soft sediment.
  4. Write blog posts when you do the project, not weeks later when memory is fuzzing and other projects are demanding my attention.


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Simple Peach Jam

Did you help me pick the peaches? Did you help me skin the peaches? Did you help me chop the peaches? Did you help me cook the peaches? Did you help me make the jam? Did you help me can the jam? Will you help me eat the jam?

I sure hope so, I made way too much of it.

Last year we gave away jars of apple butter as gifts and favors for the holidays. This year we decided to do peach jam instead. I ran down to the orchard at the beginning of August and picked 30lbs of big yellow peaches. Then, in mid-September we rushed up there to grab another 45lbs before they were done for the season. I ended up with three batches of a simple peach jam for gifting (and a few other things as well).

In my book, Christine Ferber has a recipe for a jam made from “vineyard peaches”. Information about vineyard peaches is hard to come by. Even Wikipedia doesn’t seem to have any reference to it.  Searching the interwebs, I’ve found two possible explanations for the origins and uses of these fruits, neither with much corroborating evidence:

  1. Vineyard peaches have a natural weakness to mildew, which made it an excellent bellwether for vineyards. These peaches would be grown on the outskirts of the vineyard to help alert farmers to the impending approach of mildew.
  2. Rows of vineyard peaches are grown in vineyards to help separate distinct grape varieties, and their presence actually improves or modifies the flavor of the wines grown from the nearby grapes.

In the first case it would seem to be a specific cultivar of peach grown for it’s particular “mildewiness”, while in the second case it would seem to be any cultivar of peaches so long as they are grown on the grounds of a vineyard. Regardless, I’ve never found a store or farmstand which will sell me a “vineyard peach” or a peach which has been grown on a vineyard. (Although, the orchard we go to does have some grapes, which, I suppose, qualifies).

In lieu of the mysterious vineyard peach, I’ve used the big, bright, sunny globes from our local orchard to make a simple, but wonderful, holiday treat.

Simple Peach Jam

  • 2.5lbs Peaches, net
  • 3 cups Sugar, divided
  • 1 box Pectin Sure-Jel low-sugar pectin
  • Lemon Juice [1]

Peel, pit and finely chop the peaches [2]. Add to a stockpot with lemon juice and 2 cups sugar. Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, pour the mixture into a nonreactive bowl [3] and refrigerate overnight.

Next day, add the peach mixture and the remaining sugar to a large stock pot. Bring to a boil. Add the pectin and boil hard, stirring, for 1 minute. Ladle into prepared jars and process in a boiling water bath [4].


I kept the chunks of peaches a little big on purpose. The set of the jam seems to be nearly perfect, and the flavor is fantastic. It’s bright and sunny, just like the peaches it’s made from. This recipe is simple but it’s definitely a winner.

We made several batches of this jam to give away as gifts this year, and the 2-day process actually worked out very well. I end up only having to work with one batch of peaches per day, which is great if they aren’t all ripe at the same time. The first day I process and refrigerate the first batch of peaches. The second day I finish the first batch and begin the second batch. Continue like this until all the peaches are gone.  Each batch made about 7 half-pint jars, so I made three batches to give away.

Dana bought printable labels, and put the jars together as nice gifts.



I hope the holiday season went well for everybody! It’s a fun time of year, but I’m definitely looking forward to the warmer and more garden-productive months ahead. Here’s a picture of another holiday food treat, that requires no explanation:



  1. Juice of 1 lemon or equivalent amount of store-bought juice. I used juice from the store, because it’s more consistent and safe for such a big batch.
  2. Peel peaches easily by cutting an X in the bottom, floating them in boiling water for 30 seconds, then dunking them quickly into a bowl of ice water. In theory, if they’re properly ripe, the skins will slide right off. In reality I’ve found several varieties that are still not easy to peel even after this hot-cold treatment. This current batch has been about 95% easy to peel, the rest just get chopped up and eaten.
  3. I used glass.
  4. I processed for 10 minutes.

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White Peach Juice and Syrup

We bought a bunch of peaches with the intention of making some jam and peach butter. Making peach butter is easy because you don’t have to peal the peaches first. Pealing the peaches isn’t difficult per se, but it is time consuming and what I haven’t had in abundance lately is time.


The next weekend when I finally had the time to prepare jam, the peaches were starting to descend into over-ripeness. Making Jam from over-ripe fruit is worse, perhaps, than making it from the under-ripe ones. In emergency mode (I end up in that mode quite often)  I decided instead to do something new: peach jelly.

I started looking around the internet for recipes for peach jelly. The ones I found mostly start with the words “take X cups of prepared juice…”. Well, that doesn’t help when I don’t know how to prepare the juice. So I had to look for recipes for peach juice, before I could find one for peach jelly.

But then again, considering my jelly didn’t set (for reasons I’ll describe below), I’m calling the result more of a “syrup”.

Due to luck of the draw, only white peaches ended up in my batch of juice, so I can call these things White Peach Juice and White Peach Syrup without any reservations.

White Peach Juice

  • White Peaches [1]
  • Water [2]

Rinse, pit and slice the peaches. Toss them in a stock pot like you just don’t care. Add enough water to fill the pot about half as high as the peaches. Cover and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Strain the fruit out of the juice using a sieve, and press the remaining fruit to extract all the liberated juice. Put it in the fridge, or drink it, or turn it into jelly or syrup or whatever.


The juice is a beautiful ruby red color, almost reminiscent of cherries instead of peaches. The flavor, however, is all peach. It’s not sweet like bottled juice you’d get at the grocery store, but it’s good and refreshing nonetheless.

White Peach Jelly/Syrup

  • 3.5 cups white peach juice
  • 4.5 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 box Sure Jell pectin for low-sugar recipes
  • Juice of 1 lemon

I mostly followed an existing recipe, with the addition of the lemon juice. Bring the juice to a boil. Add 4 cups sugar and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly to prevent overflow. Add the pectin and remaining sugar [1], stir to mix well, and boil hard for an additional minute. Ladle into prepared jars and process [2]. I processed in the pressure canner at 6lbs for 15 minutes.


Let me just put this out there: This recipe did not set. Instead of a white peach jelly, I ended up with more of a white peach syrup (just as tasty, but we use it in different ways).

Here’s an important lesson that I knew but completely forgot about: Pectin breaks down in high heat.  You can use the pressure canner, but it has to be done a special way: You put the jars in the pressure canner and bring it to a boil, but you keep the pressure regulator off so that pressure does not build up (and the temperature does not exceed 212 degrees). You would process for the same amount of time as you would with a normal water bath, 5-15 minutes depending on a variety of factors.

If you want to make syrup, leave out the pectin (and maybe boil it down a little longer). If you want to actually make jelly, don’t over-process like I did.

Ignoring the problem with the pectin, the end result was very nice. If it were a jelly, it would have more sugar than I normally like, but as a syrup it’s par for the course.

The color of the syrup was the same ruby color as the juice, and it has a great, light peach flavor. It’s sweet and wonderful. Here’s a picture of the syrup (right) with the peach butter from last post:



  1. As always, I mix the last bit of sugar together with the pectin because it prevents clumping and I’m a major opponent of clumping.
  2. I processed this jelly at the same time as my peach butter, and did both in the pressure canner. I processed the jars at 6lbs of pressure for 15 minutes.

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Peach Butter

A day after making the first batch of the Peach and Cherry Jam with my peaches, another wave of peaches came ripe. These included almost all the rest of the yellow peaches, which wasn’t very many. I’ve been wanting to make a big batch of peach butter in the crock pot, and this was the perfect opportunity. I would call it “White Peach Butter”, but because a few yellow ones got involved I feel like the more general title is better.


Crockpot Peach Butter

  • Peaches, pitted and sliced thick[1]
  • Sugar [2]
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Put the peaches into the crockpot. Cover with sugar and lemon juice. Toss. Cook on high for 6-8 hours, or until the butter has reached the desired consistency [3]. Somewhere in the middle, hit it with a blender [4] to make it smooth and chop up any big pieces of skin. Ladle into prepared jars and process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes [5].


…That’s the theory, anyway. The recipe I was following said that you wouldn’t need more than 6-8 hours in the crockpot, on low heat. I had mine on high heat, and cooked the batch for 10 hours before giving up for the day. I transferred the slurry to a sealed container and refrigerated overnight. The next day, I tossed it in a large stock pot and cooked over medium-low heat for another hour or so before it reached the right consistency.

I only used about 1 cup of sugar total, so the butter wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet. I would call the flavor things like “mature”, “deep” and “complex”. I tossed around the idea of adding some cinnamon or pie spices, but decided that the pure peach flavor was more than enough for this particular batch of peach butter (and Dana strongly agreed).

The final product is relatively thick, but not as thick as some of the driest butters I’ve seen before. It’s a deep brown color, and could easily be mistaken for apple butter. I got 7 jars (8oz) of the finished product. Here’s a picture of my completed jars of peach butter (on the left) with some jars of Jelly I’ll discuss in a different post.



  1. I used just about enough peaches, a mixture of (mostly) white and yellow, to fill the crockpot. It wasn’t quite full.
  2. In jams, you need sugar to thicken the final product. With butters, you are thickening by boiling away water and cooking the fruit down into a goo. I used about 1 cup of sugar to start. Some sugar helps to liberate juice from the fruit and prevent it from browning. As the peaches cook, taste it and adjust sugar levels as necessary (you can always add it, you can’t take it away). For the entire batch of peaches, which filled the crockpot, we used about a cup or so of sugar.
  3. I’ve seen fruit “butter” be anywhere from a syrup-like consistency down to something thick and firm. The more you cook it, the less “fresh” taste you’ll have and the more caramelized rickness you will have. It’s all about personal preference. I tend to like apple butters thicker, but since I’ve never made peach butter, I stopped a bit earlier.
  4. We have an immersion blender, which makes things very easy. Using a regular blender would require scooping the peaches out of the crockpot, blending them in batches, moving the blended ones into a bowl while you blended the next batch, etc. If you have an immersion blender, use it. If not, definitely price a few out.
  5. I actually did this particular batch in my pressure canner, because I did another recipe at the same time and had more jars to process than would fit in my biggest stock pot. I followed all the instructions from the manual, and processed the jars at 6lbs of pressure for 15 minutes.


Mixed Peach and Cherry Jam

Dana and I went out to the farm to kick off the start of peach season. White peaches are in and yellow peaches are just getting started. In reality we probably should have waited till next week for yellow peaches to really be ripe and ready, but we just couldn’t wait any longer [1]. Last year we didn’t have great luck with white peaches, so we were a little shy to get too many of them again this year. We hoped that the yellow peaches would be ready enough, but when we got to the farm it was exactly like they said: the white peaches were ready and the yellow peaches, for the most part, were not. We were already there and the price was right.

We grabbed 2 buckets of white peaches, then headed over to the yellow peach area and grabbed two buckets of those too. Then, one of the farm hands mentioned that some of the trees in the yellow peach area were actually white peaches in disguise, and were probably more ripe than the yellows were. Everything is all mixed up, but the end result is that the vast majority of peaches we got were the white ones.

Most of the peaches were not quite ripe immediately, so we used them in batches as they became ready.

We had a bag of sweet cherries left over, and Dana had asked for them to be turned into quarts of pie filling. When I picked through, too many were starting to rot and there wasn’t enough left for filling. In emergency mode, I tossed the few cherries we had left into a bowl with the few peaches that were already ripe, and prepared a batch of Mixed Peach and Cherry Jam.

Mixed Peach and Cherry Jam

  • 1.5lbs Sweet dark cherries, stemmed, pitted and chopped [2]
  • 1.5lbs mixed white and yellow peaches, skinned, pitted and chopped [3]
  • 3 Cups sugar, divided
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Dash Amaretto
  • 1 Bag Sure Jell Pectin

Add the chopped cherries and peaches to a non-reactive bowl (glass or ceramic) with the lemon juice and 2 cups of sugar. Allow to macerate for 10 minutes. Dump the fruit mixture into a pot and bring to a simmer. Return to bowl and refrigerate overnight.


Next day, strain the syrup into a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Boil hard for 5 minutes. Add the fruit, sugar, pectin [4], and the amaretto and boil for 1 minute more. Ladle into prepared jars and process for 15 minutes.




For a variety of reasons, the peaches that were ripe immediately included most of the yellow ones. The end result was approximately 50/50 white and yellow.

The jam was a deep crimson red color, almost as dark as a cherry jam but with the noticeable white and yellow chunks of peach. The jam was a little bit too thick, but not terribly so. A little less sugar, a little more fruit, or a little less pectin all might be good ideas for the next attempt.


The flavor is very good and very peachy. Dana said that she really couldn’t taste the cherry in it, but I could taste it. It is definitely a more complex flavor than just a peach jam, even if the cherries aren’t screaming at the top of their lungs. In the future mixing in some tart cherries, or a splash of a cherry liquor (kirsch, if I don’t have any homemade extracts available) might help balance the flavors a little bit more.

Possible Modifications

  • Tart cherries are just barely out of season. Apricots, are in along with some varieties of nectarines and plums. Any combination of stone fruits could be used here, in place of the existing ingredients or in addition to them.
  • Use vanilla extract in place of the amaretto. Use a cherry liquor instead.


  1. Dana could wait, and Xander couldn’t care less. I was the one who was busting at the seams. Next time, I may sneak out of the house in the morning and go picking before they even get out of bed.
  2. Approximate. We had a bag that was about 2.5lbs according to my fuzzy memory of what Dana may or may not have said when she bought them. A little more than  half of those, according to my untrained eyeballs, were usable. For the scientists in the audience, we’re not even up to a single significant digit. The real amount of cherries used could be anywhere between -5 lbs  to 10 lbs.
  3. There were more white peaches than there are yellow peaches. I tried to use approximately the same amount of peaches, by volume, as I had cherries. Of course, the cherries were already in the bowl with the sugar and lemon macerating, so my estimation may be off. Way off. Again, I could have used anywhere between 0-10 lbs peaches.
  4. I always mix some of the sugar in with the pectin, to prevent clumping. But then I read the box of pectin and saw that “Dextrose” (a sugar) was the #1 ingredient in the package, which means it’s probably already mixed enough. Whatever. Old habits die hard.

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Fruit Trees: Part 2

Last time I talked about some of the fruit trees I was looking at, and discussed some of the problems. Today I’m going to list out a few specific tree configurations and talk about the pros and cons of each.

  • Two Sweet Cherry Trees: I like darker sweet cherries more than the lighter ones. I could get two varieties like Bing and Black Tartarian, or similar. I’d have to do a lot of work in early spring to keep these trees safe, but I’d probably end up with a good early harvest of lots of plump dark cherries.
  • One Cherry, One Peach: I’d need a self-fruitful Cherry, like a combination or a Stella. The peach could be any one of a number of freestone yellow varieties, preferably something with disease resistance. I’d have to do a lot of work to protect the cherry, and would have to hope that the birds and the bugs leave me enough at harvest time to actually do something with.
  • One Cherry, One Apple: Again, I’d need a self-fruitful cherry, and I’d need a combination apple (I don’t know of any tasty self-fruitful varieties). Since I can’t pick which few varieties of apple I’d want on the tree, this is actually not a great option.
  • Two Apple Trees: There are a few varieties of apples I really like: Gala, Honeycrisp, Stayman-Winesap and Granny Smith. However, they don’t all flower at the same time so an early variety (Gala) might not pollinate a later variety (Granny). Also, I think the Staymans like to have at least 2 separate pollinators, which I wouldn’t have. A Gala and a Honeycrisp tree would make for great picking in August and early September. Honeycrisp and Granny Smith would push the harvest time from September through October instead. This is a very good option, if I can figure out which varieties I want.
  • Two Pear Trees: We like pears a lot, but two trees full of them might be more than we can really deal with. We love turning apples into sauce, jam, apple butter, pie filling, etc. I’d also like to start making apple juice, cider and cider vinegar, if I can get the resources together. However, not all of those recipes work well with pears (especially the softer, more delicate varieties), or we wouldn’t want to do them as much with pears as with apples. Pears are known for being among the easiest fruit trees for the backyard gardener to grow, however, so I can’t rule this option out completely. This option is definitely in the running, because of the ease of growing them.
  • One Peach, One Apple: The peach would pick early, the apple (a 3-on-1) would pick later. Like the “One Cherry, One Apple” combo above, I wouldn’t have as much control over the particular apple cultivar used which makes this option less attractive.

We do have good sources of pick-your-own apples and peaches nearby, so that has to factor into our decisions to buy any trees. Next time I’ll talk about which of these possibilities we’ve decide on.