Barbara Holland’s The Joy of Drinking has provided me with much inspiration, in the form of both words and action. A recipe for peach brandy appears near the end of her book; certainly I could follow such simple instructions, I thought. In Appendix A (Making Your Own), Holland instructs:
“Peel peaches but do not stone. Put half an inch of sugar into a wide-mouth half-gallon jar, then add a layer of peaches. Cover peaches with sugar, carefully filling in spaces. Repeat layers of sugar and peaches, finishing with sugar. Seal, then let stand six months to ripen. Drain and bottle liquid. Peaches may be eaten as dessert.”
During summertime peaches are widely available, and last summer, I obtained the two simple ingredients – whole peaches and granulated sugar – from a quick trip to the grocery store. A half-gallon mason jar was deemed an appropriate container; a short while later it was filled with layers of peeled peaches and white sugar. The layering created moderately symmetrical orange and white stripes and looked somewhat like a high school science project. The jar was sealed, marked with a piece of tape bearing the date it was to be opened, and carefully placed atop the refrigerator. Now it was time to wait.
Six months came and went. Life is busy and I must admit, I held low expectations for the final product and was therefore in no hurry to be disappointed. But finally, I made the time; the jar was opened with equal parts skepticism and optimism. Its contents – whole peaches and all – were poured into a colander sitting on top of a large bowl.
The liquid was a milky peach color, hazy, and speckled with sediment. I lifted the bowl to my nose: the smell of alcohol was there, but it was light and sweet and barely noticeable. From this bowl, I filtered the brandy through cheesecloth into a second bowl. From the second bowl, a funnel guided the brandy into a recently emptied (and cleaned) whisky bottle. I grabbed a lowball glass and sat down to enjoy my creation.
The brandy was, in a word: surprising. It was sweet, full, and carried no hint of alcohol whatsoever. It was light but more viscous than water – almost like a thin syrup – gently coating my tongue and warming my chest. The brandy was both substantive and refreshing; a perfect drink for springtime temperatures that fluctuate between warm and cold – precisely the weather defining Washington, DC in March.
A simple recipe from a favorite book, along with a little patience, resulted in unexpectedly delicious results. Perhaps I’ll be a bit less skeptical next time.