Summer's end always leads to the peachiest of indiscretions

August 18, 1996|By JACQUES KELLY

THE OTHER EVENING I came home to the kind of recorded telephone message I'd like to hear every night. The voice was from my long-time neighbor, Audrey Eastman. "The peaches are in," she said.

I knew exactly what she meant. The glorious peaches from the tree she and her husband Don raised from a seed are ready for pickup.

Their peach orchard consists of a single tree in a Guilford Avenue back yard. The Eastman peaches are as good as they get, often a touch better than those picked from the legendary Catoctin-Smithsburg-South Mountain orchards west of Frederick, which local peach fans venerate.

August is the month of the peach, a time when I invariably stain whatever I'm wearing with the juice of a squishy but wonderful specimen. Stains on the shirt are but one indiscretion of a devoted peach devourer.

I have another peach confession. As superior as an unembellished peach is, I can't help thinking of it dressed up in a couple of guises. By this I mean two different peach dishes -- Baltimore peach cake, and sliced peaches over vanilla ice cream.

As much as I savor a ripe, juicy Eastman peach, I can't help thinking about this fruit slivered over a bowl of vanilla ice cream. Whoever coined the term "peaches and cream" knew what tastes good. So did this city's old German bakers, who lined up ripe peaches atop sheets of short, sweet dough and ran this blessedly simple confection through a hot oven.

In the old days, nearly every neighborhood baker made peach cake in season, and it was so plentiful here that no one made much of a fuss over it. But peach cake is one of those once-prolific local specialties that hasn't fared well.

Unlike the more popular strawberry shortcake, peach cake on a restaurant menu is rare. It is nowhere in the same league as the chocolate-chip cookie or brownie in terms of dessert popularity or availability.

Peach-cake producers are down to a few tried and true traditional bakeries, the kind of places where clerks still call a bun a bun and not a Danish.

I think of the Woodlea on Belair Road, the Fenwick on Harford Road, Simon's in Timonium, the Kenwood Bakery in Rosedale, Hoehn's in Highlandtown, the New System in Hampden, Herman's in East Baltimore and Bauhof's in Woodlawn.

My little list of Baltimore ovens that turn out peach cake in the summer is down one this year. The Otterbein boys decided to call it quits and bake only the paper-thin sugar cookies that gave them a regional following. Their Loch Raven Boulevard and Northern Parkway bakery is no longer open.

If other local bakers make a peach cake, let me know. I am sure there are customers who have their allegiances to these peach-cake recipes in the same way that I await the Eastman crop from that one tree.

The thing that makes a peach cake special is its simplicity. It's a flat cake, one layer of sweet, raised dough impressed with row after row of opened peaches with the skins left intact. This confection is baked and sometimes dusted with a little powdered sugar. Most bakers also make a sweet glaze for the peaches.

I never had much use for the glaze, but no less a peach-cake authority than Charles Hergenroeder, proprietor of the Woodlea Bakery on Belair Road, told me he has more requests for the glazed peach cakes than the unadorned variety.

I prefer it plain and simple. That is, except for one small addition, my final peach indiscretion. Take a slice of peach cake and add a dip of fine vanilla ice cream.

That is my idea of a rare day in August, when the skies turn blue and clear, there is scant humidity and, come evening, you might need a light blanket for sleeping. And you might need a second piece of peach cake.

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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