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When the poet Wallace Stevens writes: "With my whole body/I taste a' these peaches," we know what he means. Peaches have something for all the senses, from the enticing red-gold blush and soft down of their flesh to their summer-warm smell and juice dripping tart-sweetness.
The fascination with the peach (whose Latin name, Prunus persica, means "plum of Persia") has literally filled volumes. U.P. Uedrich, in The Peaches of New York identifies more than 2000 varieties, while Edward Schaefer, in The Golden Peaches of Samarkind, explores their importance on Chinese mythology. The stories of Marco Polo's travels in China include descriptions of peaches weighing several pounds apiece.
The two basic categories of peach are freestone and cling. Of the several thousand varieties now cultivated, the pale white Babcocks and Georgia Belles are often singled out for particular excellence. In this country thirty-five states provide us with peaches, though most of the crop comes from California. In the days of ethylene-gassed produce, a healthy-looking color may not assure the sweetest fruit. More important are ripeness when picked and treatment in transport; peaches do not sweeten after harvest and cold storage results in a wooly texture.
Fresh peaches are always a good excuse for ice-cream and vice versa and are sunny additions to morning cereal, blended yogurt drinks and salads. They are delicious macerated in champagne and served under a veneer of glistening strawberry puree. Peaches can be cooked into cobblers, dumplings, puddings mousses and every kind of pastry.
Consumer and Cooking Guide
The best and most common varieties of peaches for eating and cooking include: O'Henry, Fay Elberta, Elegant Lady, June Lady, Georgia Belle and the white fleshed Babcock. Avoid green-hued, hard peaches. They should have creamy or golden color background color and yield to gentle pressure.
June through October; peaking in August
May be kept for 2-3 days at room temperature.
Cinnamon, nutmeg, mint.
1 pound = 3 medium peaches
1 pound = 2 cups, sliced
Good source of vitamin A, 50 calories per medium peach.
makes about 2 cups
4 pounds peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup honey
In a large pot, combine the ingredients with 2 cups of water. Cook over medium heat until peaches are very tender, about 30 minutes. Puree the mixture and return it to the pot. Cook over low heat, partially covered about 2 hours or until very thick. Let cool and refrigerate in airtight containers. Spread on toast or crackers.
makes 1 dozen
2 peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced in eighths
8 sheets phyllo dough
1/2 cup melted butter
1/4 cup ground almonds
1 cup cottage cheese
3 ounces cream cheese
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
Prepare the filling by combining the cheeses with the egg yolk, sugar and lemon zest until smooth. Set aside along with the peaches. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place one sheet of phyllo lengthwise in front of you. Keep the rest from drying out by covering them with a towel. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with some almonds. Place a second sheet on top and brush again with butter. With a sharp knife, cut into three equal strips lengthwise. On the left-hand corner of each strip, place 2 tablespoons of the cheese, followed by 2 peach slices. Fold down the corner as you would a flag; continue folding, flaglike, until you have a many-layered triangle.
Place it on the baking sheet and brush with butter. Continue in this manner with remaining ingredients. You should have twelve peach pockets. Bake for 18 minutes or until golden brown and puffed. Let cool before serving.
Smoked Chicken Salad with Peaches and Arugula
6 cups arugula leaves
12 ounces smoked chicken or turkey, cut into strips
3 ripe but firm peaches, pitted and diced
1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon chopped shallot
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
In a medium bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients. In a large bowl combine arugula, chicken, peaches and pecans. Toss with dressing. Salt and pepper to taste.