Produce of the Week - Peaches
sponsored by Coleman Farms
There's something funny about "peach": roughly half the web search returns have nothing to do with the botanical, ranging from Princess Peach, the game character formerly known as Princess Toadstool, and her feminist avatar Super Princess Peach, through various things having to do with popular music and such to personae frankly masculinist. Here, though, we're exclusively concerned with Prunus persica.
The scientific name suggests the peach is a cousin of the prune (a.k.a. plum), and while this is generally accepted, and naively supported by the similar construction of the fruits, sometimes the peach is put together with the almond in a separate genus, which the similarity of the pits gives some support to. The scientific name also suggests Persia as the home of the peach, and this was their source for the Greeks and Romans, who spread the fruit throughout Western Europe, but it is generally agreed that the tree and fruit were developed thousands of years earlier in China. Like maize and the brassicas, the peach as we know it has no obvious wild counterpart.
The broad range of "peach" on the Web is equalled by the fruit's culinary versatility. It's hard to beat a fresh really ripe peach, with it's complex flavor combining flowers, berries and honey enhanced by an aroma reminiscent of an old-fashioned rose and flowing with sweet but slightly sour juice. Their flavor, texture and color, together with a zucchini-like superabundance in season has resulted in a vast range cooked dishes based on or including peaches. Their sweet and sourness suits them to sauces or glazes for meat or fresh, slightly cooked or poached as an accompaniement to savory dishes. An omelette filled with really ripe thin sliced peaches together with some ricotta or mascarpone might be a surprise, but a nice one. At the other end of the meal, peaches could appear in fruit salad, in cake, cobbler or pie, in or over ice cream or sorbet. You might even have peach pie a la moded with peach ice cream.
Peaches at the Santa Barbara Farmers' Markets mostly come from the San Joaquin valley. They're sold by a number of vendors, and you're sure to be able to find nectarines, the old standard yellow peach and the increasingly popular white peach, as well as the somewhat bizzare 'doughnut peach'. Sample aromas and flavors if you can; aroma is an indication of ripeness and the different varieties differ in complexity of flavor, degrees of sweetness and sourness and in texture. These properties also vary to some extent depending on growing region, weather history and how far along the season is.
If you have botanical questions about peaches (for example, the truth about nectarines), this week's first link is very useful, while the michiganpeach page links to useful information concerning practical matters such as selection and storage of the fruit, as well as to recipes.