Peaches: Morning, noon and night

Summer's juicy fruit delivers a burst of flavor all day long

July 19, 2006|By ELINOR KLIVANS | ELINOR KLIVANS,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Peaches are made for summer. They have a long, lazy season that begins in mid-May and lasts right into September, so there is plenty of time to enjoy peaches at their dripping-with-juices best.

The first peaches arrive from the warmer climates of California, Georgia and South Carolina. As summer heats up, the peach season heads north.

This year, my peach season began on a warm February morning in Australia, where February is high summer. There, peaches are the fruit stars.

I woke up to peach pancakes and smoothies and platters of freshly sliced peaches swimming in their own juices. Every lunch salad was sweetened with peaches, while dinners paired main dishes with peach salsas, chutneys and glazes. Desserts featured peaches in cozy crumbles and sophisticated tarts, trifles and meringue cakes.

It was a peach lover's paradise, and I returned home bursting with new ideas for using peaches. But I had to wait impatiently for our summer crop, which is now happily in full season.

Handle peaches with care. They bruise easily and any bruise will turn into a soft brown or moldy spot on a ripe peach. It is a good idea to avoid those giant bins of peaches at the supermarket. Even the best peaches are bound to get battered when piled on top of each other.

Instead, look for peaches that are carefully boxed in one or two layers and sold from these cartons. The best peach plan is to visit a local farm stand and buy tree-ripened fruit or take a drive to an orchard where you can pick ripe peaches from the tree, and enjoy a few while you pick.

The Web page pickyourown.org/MD.htm lists Maryland orchards and their peach-picking availability.

Every so often, a gorgeous peach will be mealy and dry when you bite into it. This occurs when a peach variety is picked too late in its season or has unfortunately been left in storage. Look for the freshest varieties as they appear throughout the season. It is fine to ask the seller questions about the peaches you are buying.

Avoid peaches with a greenish color. They were probably picked too soon and seldom ripen properly. Even if a peach is not quite ripe, it still should have a cream or deep-yellow color. Some will have a rosy "blush," which looks nice, but does not actually affect the quality.

Peaches can ripen at room temperature for a couple of days, but once they do they should be eaten as quickly as possible. They can be refrigerated for a day or two. If peaches have been refrigerated, let them come to room temperature before eating them.

Peaches that are used in dessert often are peeled, but most other recipes use unpeeled peaches. The easiest way to peel peaches is to plunge them into boiling water for about 30 seconds, then transfer them to a large bowl filled with ice cubes and water. A slotted spoon works well for transferring them. As soon as the peaches are cool enough to handle, peel them. The skins will slip right off.

For a gorgeous wake-up call, try a double-layered smoothie that pairs peaches with strawberries. Peaches and glazed hazelnuts will sweeten and add new textures to a colorful summer salad.

Peach salsa seasoned with onions, ginger and mint turns out to be a made-for-each-other combination to accompany roast pork that also will work nicely with lamb. The flavors improve if the salsa is made several hours or even a day ahead and refrigerated.

A multilayered peaches-and-cream trifle can be put together with store-bought poundcake. This no-bake, do-ahead dessert makes a super easy and luscious summer finale. Just be sure to choose a good-quality poundcake from your favorite bakery or supermarket bakery section.

Peaches-and-Cream Trifle

Serves 10

3 cups cold heavy (whipping) cream

1 tablespoon amaretto or other almond-flavored liqueur

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

one 12-ounce poundcake, ends trimmed, cake cut into about eighteen 1/3 -inch-thick slices

6 medium (about 1 1/2 pounds) peaches, pitted, peeled and sliced

Beat the heavy cream, amaretto, vanilla extract and confectioners' sugar in the large bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed until firm peaks form.

Line the bottom of a 2 1/2 - to 3-quart glass bowl with cake slices. Spread one-third of the whipped cream evenly over the cake. Place one-third of the peach slices over the cream. Add a layer of cake.

Spread another one-third of the whipped cream and one-third of the peach slices over that. Add a layer of cake and the remaining whipped cream. Arrange the remaining peach slices over the top. Chill at least 3 hours or overnight.

Serve cold. Use a large spoon to serve the trifle, digging down through all of the layers for each serving.

ELINOR KLIVANS

Per serving: 413 calories, 4 grams protein, 33 grams fat, 20 grams saturated fat, 27 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 173 milligrams cholesterol, 163 milligrams sodium

Peachy keen

Still have peaches? These almost-instant ideas don't even require a recipe:

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