Alan Tangren: Summer peach delight
Dear Alan: I see many varieties of peaches at the farmers markets these days, but I’d like some help in choosing the best ones. Any tips?
Fresh peaches are one of the true joys of summer. The luscious texture and intoxicating aroma of a perfectly ripe peach, combined with ravishing flavor and abundant juice, are irresistible.
The first of the really good peaches show up at our markets in June, and each week brings new varieties, peaking in late July and August. The season finally winds down in September, but can linger into early October in a good year.
The first peaches of the season are usually clings, meaning that the flesh does not release from the pit. Most later varieties are freestone, which have a softer flesh that separates easily from the pit.
At the market, your nose is your best guide for finding the best quality. The most aromatic fruit will have the best flavor. To avoid bruising, most growers harvest firm fruit when it has developed a concentration of sugar and flavor, but before they soften. So don‘t go around squeezing peaches at the market. Buy the ones that smell good.
Avoid peaches that have any obvious cuts or bruises, or seem soft all over. Check the color at the stem end. The background color should be creamy white or yellow. Do not buy peaches that show any green color. Red skin color varies according to the variety, and is not an indicator of quality.
Mid season brings the best, most flavorful, dense textured fruit, such as Elberta, Red Haven, and Sun Crest. Try also to find Silver Logan, one of the few white-fleshed peaches that have a satisfying balance of sweet and tart.
At home, store firm ripe peaches at room temperature. Check them every day and use them when they begin to soften along the suture, the bulging line running from the stem to the blossom end. Any ripe peaches you can’t use right away may be refrigerated for a day or two.
A perfectly ripe peach is a dessert all its own. Simply peel with a small sharp knife and slice. A sprinkle of sugar is optional. A freshly baked peach pie cooling on the kitchen windowsill is an indelible memory of summer at my grandma’s farmhouse. Peaches and berries compliment each other beautifully in shortcake, crisp and cobblers. The classic French peach Melba does it beautifully, adding vanilla ice cream to a combination of sliced peaches and raspberries.
Peaches can also be part of a savory plate. Spice or grilled peaches add a muted sweetness to grilled or roasted meats, particularly fresh pork or ham.
Peach salsa makes a fresh, summery accompaniment for baked or grilled fish, or spooned into a fish taco. Substitute peaches for the tomatoes in your favorite salsa recipe or just combine diced peaches with a minced jalapeño pepper, minced red onion, lime juice, salt and chopped cilantro. A diced avocado will add extra color and flavor.
Try this fruit cobbler when you have perfect peaches:
3 ripe peaches
2 baskets blackberries or blueberries
¼ cup sugar
1-1/2 Tablespoons flour
1 Tablespoon butter
10 -12 ounces pie dough or biscuit dough, your own or store bought
2 Tablespoons sugar
Peel peaches and slice 1/3 inch thick. Toss peaches and berries in a large bowl with the sugar and flour. Butter a 2-quart baking dish and add the fruit mixture.
Roll the dough a little larger than the top of the baking dish. Place on top of the fruit and tuck the dough edges inside the top of the dish. Cut a few slashes in the dough to allow steam to escape. Sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons sugar.
Bake at 375°F for 40 to 50 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.
Chef Alan Tangren spent 22 years as a chef in the kitchens of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, eight of those years spent as the Chez Panisse forager. He teaches cooking classes and directs monthly Chef’s Tables at Tess’ Kitchen Store, 115 Mill Street in Grass Valley. Learn more at http://www.tesskitchenstore.com. Contact him at email@example.com.
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