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Microwave tricks–When the peach doesn’t ripen

What if you’re stuck with supermarket peaches or nectarines that looked good, were on an incredible discount, smelled like they had potential if you left them out on a counter for a couple of days, and then when you did, they somehow never really ripened? Just turned mushy or the texture of a pale yellow sponge inside, with a lackluster taste to match, and developed an ugly, gelatinous brown layer near the pit? And to make it worse, you’d enthusiastically bought five or more?

Spongy peaches in need of rescue

Spongy peaches in need of rescue

I’ve discovered–the hard way–that all is not lost. As long as they’re only blah, not actually mildewed or spoiled, even failed peaches like these can be rescued and put to work.

Sugaring before microwaving p

Sugaring lightly before microwaving

Sugaring fruit and letting it stand is an age-old trick for bringing out fuller flavor–strawberries are the classic, but it works for peaches and nectarines too. It wasn’t enough on its own to make the peaches edible raw, but I figured if I nuked them the flavor might come up in the cooking, and the texture might be fixed too. So I tried it a couple of ways, one just the peaches on their own, and two other versions mixed with other more flavorful fruit.

Microwave Peach (or Nectarine) Compote or Jam

The first thing to do is wash the peaches well and cut as much usable flesh off the pit as possible. Take a small sliver and taste it–if it’s just bland or spongy but still has at least a tinge of fruit flavor, you can use it.

Chop up the peaches and put them in a pyrex bowl. Leave the skins on–this is where at least some of the flavor is going to come from. Sprinkle on a few spoonfuls of sugar and squeeze some lemon juice over them. Cover the bowl with a plate and microwave on high for a few minutes (3-4 min in a ~1100W oven). When you uncover the bowl, the fragrance should start coming up and the pieces will have turned translucent and produced a bit of pinkish-bronze juice. You can taste and see if that’s good enough for you, or cook another minute or so, perhaps with a sprinkle of cinnamon (very good) and/or a thin slice of fresh ginger. Maybe a star anise pod or a couple of cloves if you’re doing this as a compote and feeling really food glam that day, but I didn’t try these myself, so I can’t vouch for them. Cool, chill, and serve with yogurt or ice cream.

For jam, mash the peaches with a fork before the final minute in the microwave. Once it’s cooled, the mixture will thicken and the cinnamon and/or ginger will play off the peach flavor for a good chunky jam.

Microwave peach compote

Microwave peach compote

Mixed-Fruit Compote or Jam

The second compote/jam strategy calls for mixing the fresh peach or nectarine chunks with another fruit before microwaving. I have two  suggestions here that turned out reasonably successful–one is a handful of chopped dried apricots that have soaked up for about 1/2 hour in boiling water or orange juice, and the second choice, a bit odd perhaps, is sliced strawberries mixed in with the peach chunks.

In both cases I went extremely easy on sugar compared to what’s called for in traditional jam-making.  I wasn’t making a lot, it was going straight into the fridge and I was going to use it quickly. Plus I’d pretty much always rather eat a jam that’s more fruit and less sticky stuff. I know, I know, technically that makes it a “fruit spread” rather than proper jam, but do I care?

For the mixed jam with dried/soaked apricots, I microwaved a handful–15 or so–chopped apricots in water to cover for 2 minutes and let stand covered for half an hour, then put them in the food processor with large raw peach chunks — in my case, the peach was oversized, like a softball, so maybe two normal tennis-ball-sized ones would be about right–and a couple of spoonfuls of sugar and pulsed them just enough to blend fairly well without losing all the texture. Then I squeezed lemon juice on the mixture and poured it back into the pyrex bowl to microwave a few minutes as above. I poured the hot mixture into a very clean hot 1-lb jam jar and screwed down the lid–the lid did suck in as it cooled, but I wasn’t counting on that so I kept it in the fridge and ate it over the next week or so.

Another peach I cut up and microwaved straight with some strawberry slices mixed in because they were the last ones in the pint. Again I don’t think I added more than a tablespoonful or two of sugar and a squeeze of lemon, but what happened was the strawberries, instead of going slimy, gave the warm compote a baked comfort-food kind of taste that I hadn’t expected and looked nicer as well. I’d been thinking cooked strawberries would look as bad as they do in strawberry jam, but they didn’t, and without too much sugar (or corn syrup, in the commercial jams I hate) they kept some of their bright flavor too.

None of these ideas is as satisfying as biting into a perfectly ripe, exceedingly juicy peach (or nectarine) at the height of summer, but all of them are pretty good in their own right, they don’t take long, and they’re handy saves for fruit that turns out to be less than you expected.

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