Aug 2, 2012

It’s just Peachy!

Summer is a great time to take advantage of the beautiful and flavorful fresh fruit. Some of our favorites are peaches and nectarines.  Their sweet aroma and juicy flesh are so much more enjoyable than the imposters found in fruit markets all winter long.

While it is believed peaches originated in Persia, the true origin of this juicy summer fruit is China, where they have been cultivated for centuries as the favorite of emperors. The Persians brought the peach from China and passed it on to the Romans. The peach arrived in America with Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century and eventually made it to England and France in the seventeenth century, where it was a popular but rare treat. In Queen Victoria's day, no meal was complete without a fresh peach presented in a fancy cotton napkin.

Thomas Jefferson grew peach trees at Monticello, his estate in Virginia; they were considered and elegant addition to every estate garden. However, commercial production did not begin in the US until the nineteenth century. Today the Southern states lead in commercial production of peaches, but they are also grown in California, Michigan, and Colorado.

Today, peaches are the second largest commercial fruit crop in the States, second only to apples. Peaches may also be grown in temperate climates; however, spring frosts will kill the season’s crop if the tree is already in blossom when a frost occurs. Peach trees are second most commonly cultivated tree after apple trees.  

Commercially grown peaches are divided into "freestone" and "clingstone" species, depending on whether the flesh sticks to the seed or not; both kinds can have either white or yellow flesh. Peaches with white flesh typically are very sweet with little acidity, while yellow-fleshed peaches usually have an acidic tang. Both varieties have some red on their skin. While white-fleshed peaches are the more popular in China and neighboring Asian countries, they are increasingly available in American markets. 

Although fuzzy peaches and smooth nectarines are commercially regarded as different fruits, they belong to the same species. Nectarines are often mistakenly believed to be a crossbreed between peaches and plums, or a "peach with a plum skin.” Genetic studies have concluded in fact that nectarines are created due to a recessive gene in the fruit causing it to grow without the fuzz.  Nectarines have actually appeared many times on peach trees.

As with peaches, nectarines can be white or yellow, and clingstone or freestone. On average, nectarines are slightly smaller and sweeter than peaches. The lack of skin fuzz can make nectarine skin appear more reddish than that of peaches, contributing to the fruit's plum-like appearance. The smooth skin also means they bruise more easily than peaches.

Due to its delicious flavor and soft texture the word “peach” was used to refer to anything wonderful, as in “It’s a peach of a day” or “that’s just peachy.”  Nowadays, the expression has lost its popularity but the fruit certainly hasn’t.  

Commercially grown peaches are often harvested before they are fully ripe allowing them to get to the markets before they ripen fully.  Choose firm fruit when shopping for peaches and nectarines but keep them out of the refrigerator at home.  Allow them to ripen and develop flavor at room temperature.  Once soft be sure to refrigerate.  

Many peach recipes call for the peaches to be peeled; often providing instructions for blanching and peeling using a paring knife.  We suggest a serrated peeler—it’s a lot faster and doesn’t dirty another pot.  For those not yet familiar with serrated peelers, we highly recommend trying one on your peaches, plums, tomatoes and any other soft skinned fruit needing peeling.  Once you’ve tried one you’ll be hooked.

1 pound challah, sliced
5 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 cups sliced fresh peaches (8 peaches)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Confectioners’ sugar

 Arrange challah slices in a shallow baking pan. In a bowl, whisk eggs, milk, baking powder and vanilla together and pour over bread, turning to coat evenly. Cover pan with plastic wrap; let stand for 2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Grease a 3 quart or 9”x13” oven-to-table dish.
In a bowl, mix sugar, cinnamon and cornstarch. Gently stir in peaches until well-coated. Spread 3/4 of the peach mixture in prepared pan; place challah slices on top of peaches. Brush tops of challah with butter.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toast is golden and peaches are bubbling. Remove from oven and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.   Serve with the remaining peach mixture.

½ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup water
Peaches and Cream Parfait1 tablespoon amaretto liquor or other fruit liquor
4 large ripe peaches

Combine the sugar and cup water in a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and let the sugar syrup cool. Stir in the amaretto.
Peel and halve the peaches lengthwise and remove the pits. Slice each half lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices and put them in a medium bowl. Pour the amaretto sugar syrup over the peaches and stir gently to coat completely. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let the peaches marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

1-1/2 cups whipped topping, thawed
5 tablespoons honey
1 recipe Marinated Peaches
½ cup cookie crumbs or Vanilla Cookie Crunch*

 Pour the topping into the chilled bowl of an electric mixer.  Whip the cream on medium speed until it begins to thicken slightly.
Turn the mixer off and add the honey. If necessary, scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl to push the honey into the cream. Whip the cream on medium-high speed until it holds soft peaks.
Use a large spoon or a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip to fill 4 dessert bowls or glasses about a quarter full with the honey whipped cream. Sprinkle a little of the cookie crumbs evenly over the whipped cream. Top with a 1/4 cup of the marinated peaches. Repeat. Garnish with a dollop of cream and a sprinkle of any remaining crumbs. Serve immediately.

 Note: this recipe works well in our new push up pops

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