note: this is the first of a three-part series chronicling a recent romp around Green County in southwestern Wisconsin, aka “Baja Wisconsin” to my family
The sign read: “Chin Drippin’ Peaches.”
How could you resist that?
Ah, Wisconsin. The land of beer, cheese and sausage. (Really, the license plates should be changed to reflect that statement.) A rolling countryside dotted with century barns and spotted cows (more on that later) where wide spots in the road reveal treasure troves in the form of little general stores. A place where hand painted signs advertise summer’s bounty, beckoning drivers to pull into small parking lots and explore.
This year’s annual pilgrimage was no different. Seeing the sign, we pulled into Brennan’s Market and wasted no time grabbing a grocery cart. Moments later, a flat of peaches sat in our cart, the golden blush fruit wafting its sweet summer perfume into the air. No matter the direction you looked, piles of peaches, blueberries, plums, apricots, tomatoes, sweet corn, melons and more piled high against the rough, worn wooden tables. Rows of jams, jellies, relishes and sauces stood at army-like attention against the wall. And just beyond the doors, miles of cheese chilled comfortably in case after case, boasting of Wisconsin’s pride and joy with stickers announcing them as champions of world cheese competitions.
If Brennan’s is a specialty grocer, it certainly doesn’t put on airs. Comfortable and casual, it is a fantastic noshing spot as you hop from one plastic deli container to the next, sampling the goodness hidden beneath each lid. Of course, a sample usually leads to a jar, pint or package being placed into a cart, so sampler beware as you are likely to become a buyer in short order. A sampler I was and in no time, the cart I pushed ahead of me was piled with cheeses, fruit, relishes, and wine.
We packed our purchases into the coolers waiting in the car (we came prepared) and headed off to our next adventure. Despite the copious sampling, stomachs rumbled and we headed off in search of a more substantial meal. In small town Wisconsin, town squares are thriving with boutiques, bars, restaurants, and shops. Monroe, WI boasts Wisconsin’s oldest cheese shop in the form of Baumgartner’s, a rowdy tavern with communal tables, dollar bills on the ceiling, a small menu featuring cheese, cheese and more cheese, locally brewed beers and a mural spanning the length of the tavern with beer steins and wine bottles at war in the countryside.
Highfalutin this is not. A jovial hum permeates the bar with occasional spikes of laughter. Orders were placed (are you brave enough for the Limburger sandwich?) and pints filled with local brews were set in front of thirsty patrons on the thick wooden tables. Suddenly, the hum stops. The fans slowed as the power fails and suddenly the bar is cloaked in darkness.
Someone shouts a wishful proclamation met with cheers, and the laughter and chatter resumes. Soon, candles are placed on the long tables as waitstaff dance in the dark, holding flashlights high above their heads. In the absence of the electricity needed to prepare our orders, our amusing and engaging waiter (name spelled J-o-h-n-n-y D-e-p-p, or so he says) filled the void by keeping the cold brews coming. What else are you going to do in a Wisconsin bar with no power?!
The people of Wisconsin like their beer. They also like their spirits. It is a long, cold winter in this part of the world – might as well have something to keep you simultaneously amused and warm – and another wide spot in the road features a local specialty. The Ding-A-Ling Supper Club (named for a bell, not anatomy) may be known for many things, but I have only known it as a stop for one thing: a brandy Manhattan with pickled mushrooms. This unusual concoction has been the litmus test for men marrying into my family. If you are man enough to down one of these, mushrooms included, you have passed the test and are welcomed into the family. Order a Tom Collins afterwards, however, and you’ll be mercilessly mocked for eternity.
Brandy Manhattans aren’t my cup of (spiked) tea, but the bottles of brandy glimmering in the afternoon sun got me thinking about the brandy peach pie I’d made the summer before and the flat of peaches waiting in the car. Peach ice cream is a local specialty here come late summer/State Fair time, and I couldn’t resist the call of the adult milkshake. The ice cream maker went into the freezer and peach juices dripped off of my cutting board onto the counter as I peeled and diced the golden orbs.
Not wanting to waste a drop of the peaches, I slow simmered the milk and cream with the peach skins and pits to glean every last drop of flavor from the fruits. Already sweet, I macerated the diced peaches with sugar to release even more flavorful juice which I pureed and poured into my waiting peach-infused custard. The diced and macerated chunks of three peaches were reserved to add texture and additional peachy goodness to the ice cream as it churned around and around in the frozen cylinder.
Twenty-four hours later, the blender whirled in anticipation with the homemade peach ice cream and caramel colored brandy (or Cognac, as it turned out). Into a glass it went and in no time, it was gone. How am I doing? Peachy keen. And Grandma, I’ll save you one.
recipe: jb’s pour house
7 ripe peaches (chin drippin preferred)
1 c. sugar, divided
1 ½ Tbsp. cornstarch
¼ tsp. salt
1 ¾ c. heavy cream
1 ¾ c. whole milk
4 large egg yolks, room temperature
¼ c. brandy
Peel and dice peaches, reserving skins and pits. Place diced peaches in a medium mixing bowl and sprinkle with ¾ c. sugar. Mix well and let sit for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours, stirring occasionally. Place peach skins and pits in a large sauce pan. Add ¼ c. sugar, cornstarch, salt, heavy cream and milk to saucepan. Bring to a boil (slowly) over medium heat, stirring often. Do not raise heat as you want to slowly infuse the cream with the peach flavor and you do not want to scald the cream on the bottom of the pan.
Place egg yolks in a small bowl. Once cream mixture has come to a gentle boil, slowly add ½ c. of the cream mixture to the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Slowly stream egg yolk mixture back into the cream, whisking constantly. Cook for about 2 minutes or until the custard coats the back of a wooden spoon (170 degrees on a candy thermometer). Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the custard into a medium mixing bowl, discard solids. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the custard to prevent forming a film and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours.
Using a slotted spoon, remove about 1 ½ c. peaches from the macerated mixture, set aside. Place remaining peaches and juices in a blender and puree until smooth. Add puree to custard and stir well to combine. Using a potato masher, gently mash the reserved peaches. Add to custard mixture.
Prepare an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Pour custard into the ice cream maker (you may need to make two batches, as I did, depending on the size of your ice cream maker) and process until frozen. Remove to a freezer safe container and repeat if needed. Freeze at least 12 hours.
Place ¼ c. brandy into a blender. Using a standard ice cream scoop, add 4-5 scoops of peach ice cream. Blend carefully, just until ice cream begins to form a wall around the walls of blender and a hole forms in the middle. Serve immediately.
All content and photographs © 2010 jb’s pour house