The good peach season is short—so now is the time to make those succulent pies, cobblers, drinks, ice-cream or just to stand over the sink and eat them plain, letting the juice run down your chin.

Here we go again—when I was young…  But truly, the peaches were more dependably good then.  I can even remember when they started shipping fruit that could withstand the treacherous journey—it was hard, wooden and juiceless.  The ads said to put them in a paper bag and let the ethylene ripen them—but even doing that didn’t always work.  Some just rotted before they ripened.  Now, however, MOST of the time, the peaches are good.

The peach is the third most important fruit crop in the United States coming in after second place orange and first place apple.  Its close cousins include the cherry, apricot, plum and the almond, all members of the Prunus genus.  Peaches are often confused with nectarines which have smooth skins, while the peach sports a fuzzy, velvety one.  Actually the nectarine is a variation of the peach and both fruits can occasionally be found on the same tree.

Poets and artists have dwelt on the charms of the peach.  In China, where the peach is native and has grown for thousands of years, its fruit and flowers are used extensively in decorative art and porcelains painted with a peach blossom are given as birthday gifts to express the wish for many happy years.

Here in America, though, I believe we reach one of our culinary highpoints in peach pie, followed closely by peach cobbler and peach ice cream.  Even so, peaches are delicious served fresh, canned (they are unusually good), or dried. They can be stewed, baked and even grilled. They are fantastic in jam, conserves, nectar, and mixed fruit compotes.  They make wonderful smoothies and other drinks such as peach daiquiris.

When you purchase peaches, be very careful to select fresh, firm peaches, free from blemishes.  Avoid any with a green-tinge; they will not ripen.  Bruises are common and should be avoided.  I like to apply a little pressure (not much, you don’t want to be the bruiser) and good peaches should give ever-so-slightly.  Peaches which will reward you with good, sweet flavor and plenty of juice always smell heavenly.

To remove the fuzzy skins, carefully put the peaches into a large saucepan that will hold them in a single layer.  Cover them with cold water and put them over medium-high heat.  When they come to a boil, time them for 1 minute, remove them immediately from the heat and put them into cold water.  The skins should slip off easily.

Here are my favorite peach recipes:

Peach pie

Double crust for 10-inch pie, using standard pastry recipe but substituting cold peach nectar combined with 1 Tbsp. cold lemon juice for the ice water

1 ¼  cups peach nectar
½  cup plus 3 Tbsp. peach jam
2 Tbsp dark rum

½ cup sugar (depending on the sweetness of peaches)
¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 ½ Tbsp. cornstarch
8 medium peaches (about 2 and one-fourth pounds)
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp. salt

1 egg, beaten with 2 tsp water

Prepare crust and refrigerate, covered, for at least 30 minutes

For Glaze:  Combine all ingredients in small saucepan and stir to blend.  Cook over medium heat until reduced to about three-fourths cup, about 45 minutes.  Strain and cool slightly.

For filling:  Combine sugars and cornstarch in small bowl and mix well. Transfer some of sugar mixture to large bowl.  Peel peaches and cut into one-fourth inch slices.  Arrange layer of slices on top of sugar mixture in large bowl.  Repeat layers with remaining sugar mixture and peach slices.  Toss gently to blend.  Sprinkle with lemon juice, spices and salt and toss again, blending thoroughly.

To assemble:  Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 425.  Roll dough out on lightly floured surface into a circle one-fourth inch thick.  Put into 10-inch pie pan.  Press dough into place and trim, leaving one-half inch overhang.  Reserve trimmings.  Brush bottom and sides of pastry with glaze.  Layer filling neatly in pastry.  Gather dough trimmings together and roll out into circle one-fourth inch thick.  Cut one-half inch wide strips of dough.  Arrange in lattice design atop filling, pressing ends into edge of crust.  Crimp.  Brush lattice and edge with beaten egg mixture.  Cover edges of pie with foil.  Bake 20 minutes.  Remove foil and continue baking until golden, about 20 to 30 minutes.  Cool slightly. Serve warm with ice cream.

Peach Ice Cream with Fresh peach compote

1 ½ cups whipping cream
1 cup half and half
¾ cup sugar
5 large egg yolks
1 pound peaches, peeled, sliced
¼ cup light corn syrup
½ tsp. vanilla extract

4 large peaches, peeled, sliced
½ cup Essencia (orange Muscat wine) or late-harvest Riesling
½ cup sugar
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

For Ice Cream:  Bring 1 cup cream, half and half, and one-half cup sugar just to simmer in medium saucepan.  Whisk yolks in medium bowl; gradually whisk in cream mixture.  Return mixture to saucepan.  Stir over medium heat until custard thickens and leaves path on back of spoon when finger is drawn across, about 4 minutes (do not boil). Strain into bowl.  Refrigerate custard until cold, about 3 hours.

Place peaches, corn syrup and one-fourth cup sugar in medium saucepan.  Stir over medium heat until peaches are heated through, about 4 minutes.  Mash to coarse puree.  Cool completely.  Stir into custard along with vanilla and one-half cup cream.  Process custard in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

For Compote:  Mix all ingredients in medium bowl.  Let stand 10 minutes and up to 1 hour.  Serve over ice cream.

Peach ‘n Berry Cobbler

1 Tbsp. cornstarch
¼ cup brown sugar
½ cup cold water
2 cups sugared sliced fresh peaches
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 cup flour
½ cup sugar
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ cup milk
¼ cup soft butter

Mix first 3 ingredients; add fruits.  Cook and stir till mixture thickens.  Add 1 Tbsp butter and lemon juice.  Pour into 8 ½ x l ¾ inch round cake dish. Sift dry ingredients.  Add milk and butter all at once; beat smooth (can use electric mixer).  Pour over fruit (or spoon in dollops if too thick to pour).  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.  Serve with cream or ice cream.  Serves 6.

Grilled Peach Melba

Heat grill to medium.  Halve and pit 2 large ripe peaches; prick skins with a fork.  In a bowl, stir together 2 Tbsp. each melted butter and light-brown sugar; brush butter mixture over peach halves, coating entirely.  Grill on both sides until fruit is tender, 5 to 10 minutes.  Serve warm, topped with ice cream and drizzled with Raspberry Sauce

Raspberry Sauce
In a bowl, toss one-half pint raspberries with 2 Tbsp. sugar; let sit 5 minutes.  Pass through a sieve into another bowl, pressing with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible; discard solids.

Some peachy ideas:

Toss sliced fresh peaches with 2 Tbsp. lemon juice, then fold into sour cream.  Flavor with orange liqueur.  Serve on thin slices of pound cake.

Cover and bake peeled peaches in syrup of 1 cup port wine, 1 cup sugar, juice of 1 lemon and one-half tsp. cinnamon in a 350 deg. oven for 45 minutes.  Serve chilled, topped with crème fraiche or sour cream.

Beat 1 quart vanilla ice cream to soften, then mix in one-fourth cup anise-flavored liqueur.  Serve over fresh poached peaches and garnish lightly with chocolate curls.

To make peach butter, put one-half cup peeled, sliced peaches, 1 cup butter and one-half cup powdered sugar in blender or food processor.  Whirl until smooth.  Chill and spread on crepes, then fill with fresh peaches and heat.  (This butter is also delicious on toast or with muffins, waffles or pancakes.)

Bon Appetit

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