A Tale of Fresh Peaches and Peach Leaves

“My peaches aren’t doing well this year,” my friend tells me.
“Did you spray them?” I ask.
“No,” she says, with a tinge of regret.
“Well, that’s great! Can I come over and pick some?” 
She rolls her eyes.  It's the silver lining to the cloud, as I see it. 
Heartland cooks who lived far from a grocery store (and way before you could order online) used fresh peach leaves as flavoring for custards, sauces, and syrups, and this use-what-you-have-in-your-own-backyard mentality deserves a comeback. 
The sugar-crisp almond flavor these fresh peach leaves impart is more delicate and well, natural, than bottled flavorings.
Get your unsprayed peach leaves from a neighbor's tree or order them ahead from an organic U-pick orchard or a farmer's market vendor. 
Try to get the best and ripest Midwestern regional varieties of peaches you can find, like Red Haven, Glow Haven, Briscoe, or Summer Pearl—or whatever variety is best in your area.

Tip: If, try as you might, you can’t find fresh peach leaves, you can still make the pouring custard. Simply bring the cream to a boil in Step 1. Then proceed to Step 2. Whisk in the almond extract at the end of Step 2. 

Fresh Peaches with Peach Leaf Pouring Custard
Serves 4
1 cup half and half
12 fresh peach leaves, rinsed and patted dry (or ½ teaspoon almond extract)
3/4 cup sugar
5 large egg yolks
Lemon juice to taste
4 ripe peaches, peeled and sliced

1. In a saucepan, bring the half and half and peach leaves to a boil.  Remove immediately from the heat, cover, and set aside to infuse for 30 minutes. 
2. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until well blended.  Strain the cream onto the egg yolk mixture (discarding the peach leaves) and whisk to blend.  Pour the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan and whisk constantly, over medium heat, until the custard coats the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes.  Do not boil or the custard will separate.  Taste the custard and add lemon juice (and almond extract) if necessary.  Remove from the heat and cool. 
3. To serve, arrange fresh peaches in bowls or glass dishes and spoon the pale yellow custard over them.


MWC said...

Could I use nectarine leaves? I have no peach trees, but do have a nectarine that produced no fruit this year. I would love to get something out of it.

Judith Fertig said...

I've never tried nectarine leaves, but why not? You can try infusing them in water first to see if you get a mild almond aroma. Just add about 24 well-rinsed leaves to 1 cup water and bring to a boil in a saucepan. Remove it from the heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes. When you remove the lid from the pan, you'll know if you have an almond aroma or not.