Give peaches a chance to display their versatility.
Watermelon may have its place at summertime cookouts, but locally grown peaches have so much more to offer than just eating out of hand with their sweet juiciness running down your chin. Granted, they're not necessarily suited to savory dishes — although you can add some jalapeno peppers, red onion and cilantro to chopped peaches for a spirited salsa — but when it comes to creating goodies for virtually every meal of the day, peaches easily prove their versatility.
And so they should, considering peaches (and their cousins, nectarines) are generally thought to be the third most important fruit crop in the U.S., right behind apples, then oranges.
According to food historians, peach trees are native to China, and were probably introduced to Europe via Persia (Iran). The Spaniards brought peaches (aka "Persian apples") to these shores and they were being grown in Mexico in the late 1500s. French settlers in Louisiana and English settlers in the north were the "Persian Appleseeds" of this particular fruit with the botanical name of prunus persica (there's that Persian connection).
Local peaches are in season now, and whether they're cling peaches or freestones, you can take full advantage of them at the market, at roadside stands and at pick-your-own places. Look for firm fruit that's free of blemishes. Mature fruit has a whitish or creamy yellow under-color. Don't forget that a peach that's red isn't necessarily ripe; it just means that peach is of a variety that blushes.
An average peach contains only about 40 calories, and packs a goodly amount of dietary fiber as well as Vitamin C. One pound of peaches will provide you with about 2 cups of slices or 1 cup of finely chopped pulp.
You can eat peaches "as is," of course. And without much fuss, you can slice them in half and fill them with cottage cheese (now there's a retro diet snack). Or slice them and arrange around the outskirts of the bed of spring greens, then plop some crab, tuna or chicken salad in the center. To keep them from discoloring, sprinkle on a bit of lime juice or spritz with a light balsamic vinaigrette.
To peel peaches, (which we try to avoid), bring a pot of water to a boil, add peaches, bring back to a boil and simmer about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and run under cold water. Skin should slip off fairly easily. Or try roasting them as we do with our peach soup recipe, below.
And when you're seeking a bit more of a culinary challenge, try these.
This light and sprightly quaff makes a nice change of pace from red sangria. And since rosé wine is quite popular these days …
4 firm-ripe peaches, cut into thin wedges, then halved crosswise
1 cup peach schnapps (liqueur)
2/3 cup superfine sugar
2 (750-ml) bottles rosé wine (6 cups)
4 cups chilled sparkling water (or use club soda)
A few raspberries, for garnish
Stir together peaches, schnapps and sugar in a (very) large pitcher (or use two) until sugar is dissolved. Let stand 1 hour. Stir in rosé wine and sparkling water. Pour into chilled, ice-filled glasses. Add three raspberries to each serving. Makes 8 tall drinks.
These are lovely anytime, but especially nice at a summer brunch.
1 3/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup milk (preferably 2 percent or whole milk)
1/2 cup fresh, pureed peaches
1/2 cup finely diced peaches
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Spray coat a muffin tin (12 muffins) or use cupcake papers. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
In a medium bowl, combine well the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and lemon zest.
In a small bowl, whisk together egg, oil and milk. Stir in pureed peaches until well blended.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the egg mixture all at once. Stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in diced peaches. Use a spoon to fill each muffin cup about two-thirds full.
In a small bowl, mix the cinnamon and sugar for the sprinkle. Sprinkle some over the top of each muffin.
Bake muffins about 20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Check muffins after 15 minutes and if browning too quickly, cover loosely with foil.
Remove to a cooling rack. Wait 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of each muffin, remove from pan and cool on racks. Makes 1 dozen muffins.
Scandinavians in particular like to make fruit soups, which can serve as cooling first courses for a summer meal. This same soup can also make a lovely dessert.
One good way to get the peels off peaches (and bring out their flavor) is to roast them. Try it.
6 peaches, halved and pitted (about 4 pounds)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 (4-inch) pieces vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 tablespoons honey
3 cups fresh orange juice (or storebought, not from concentrate)
1/4 teaspoon salt