These still, languid days bring one of summertimes singular pleasures: peaches. A mound of peaches in the supermarket forms a surprising still life, and at roadside stands, farmers' markets and orchards baskets of the handsome fruit tempt us.
We believe the Spaniards brought peaches to America, and Columbus is said to have had peach seed and saplings aboard his ship. We know for sure that wherever Europeans settled, they planted peach trees. The trees flourished in temperate climates, and today many hundreds of varieties are grown by home gardeners and commercial orchards in the United States.
Besides sunny weather, peaches like sandy soil and mild winters. They are prima donnas in a way and require much coddling, cultivation and judicious pruning. They blossom early in the spring, so a late frost is apt to kill an entire season's crop.
There are a number of orchards within reach of the Washington-Chesapeake Bay area... At many orchards, peach-lovers may pick their own.
Orchards advertise what kind of peaches are ripe, hours for picking and prices. Picking your own peaches can be fun, but it is advisable to call before you go. Take baskets or other containers and ask the orchardman about his best variety for eating, freezing or preserving. When picking peaches, remember that they bruise easily. They should not be yanked off the tree.Grasp the fruit lightly in the fingers, twist gently and a ready-to-pick peach will separate easily from the twig.
Probably you will encounter freestone peaches. The flesh of freestones separates readily from the pit. Clingstones, used primarily for commercial purposes, have flesh more tightly to the stone, as their name implies. Peaches have yellow or white flesh, and skins that vary from pale yellow to deep red. Some are very fuzzy, others nearly fuzzless. There will be variations in size, color, texture, juiciness and flavor, too.
A word of caution about storing peaches: although they are sun-lovers while on the tree, once picked, they should be stored in a cool, shady place. After picking, the ripening process continues naturally from within the fruit. Thos firm peaches you buy at the supermarket have been picked underripe to prevent bruising in shipment. When you bring them home, do not put them on a sunny windowsill. They will spoil quickly if you do. Simply put the firm peaches in a plastic bag and put the bag in the refrigerator. They will ripen satisfactorily in a day or two.
Freshly picked peaches should be put in a cool storeroom, or under refrigeration. If stored where it is too warm, they will deteriorate rapidly. For home use, it is easier to buy or pick only what you can eat or prepare within a short time.
To aid in the pleasurable quest, here is a mixed-basket of peach recipes to try.
DEEP DISH PEACH PIE
(Makes an 8 inch pie)
Pastry: 2 Cups whole wheat flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 3/4 cup shortening 5 tablespoons cold water
Place flour and salt in bowl. Cut in shortening until mixture crumbles. Stir in cold water with fork. Chill for at least 1 hour, Roll out 1/8-inch thick on lightly floured surface. Cut into 1-inch strips.
Filling 1 tablespoon flour 1 cup sugar 8 large fresh peaches, peeled and sliced 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon nutmeg 1/4 cup butter or margarine 1 cup heavy cream, whipped Sugar to taste 1 teaspoon almond extract 5 tablespoons warm water
Lay one-third of strips crisscross fashion, on bottom of an 8-by-8-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon flour and 1 tablespoon sugar. Put in half the peaches, sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg and 1/2 cup of sugar. Cover with another third of pastry strips; add remaining peach slices and sprinkle with remaining sugar. Dot with butter or margarine and add 5 tablespoons warm water. Cover with remainder of pastry.
Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 20 minutes longer. Serve warm, topped with whipped cream flavored with almond extract.
PEACH CHIFFON PIE
(Makes one 9 inch pie) 3/4 cup sugar 1 1/2 cups mashed, fresh peaches 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin 1/4 cup cold water 1/2 cup hot water 1 tablespoon lemon juice Dash of salt 1 cup heavy cream, whipped 1 baked, 9-inch pie shell
Add sugar to peaches and let stand 30 minutes. Soften gelatin in cold water and dissolve in hot water. Cool. Add peach mixture, lemon juice and salt. Chill until partially set. Fold in whipped cream. Pour into baked pie crust and chill thoroughly.
(Makes 4 quarts) 4 quarts peaches (about 24 large peaches) 3 pounds sugar 3 cups cider vinegar 4 sticks cinnamon 4 teaspoons whole cloves
Put the peaches in large strainer and dip into kettle of boiling water for 30 seconds. Rinse with cold water and remove skins. Boil the sugar, cinnamon and vinegar together for 20 minutes. Place about 5 peach in syrup at a time and cook for 5 minutes or until just tender. Pack into hot, sterilized jars, placing teaspoon of cloves in each jar. Fill jars with hot syrup, adjust covers and seal at once.
Combine 4 cups water, 2 cups sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a large saucepan. Bring syrup to a boil and allow it to cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Add peeled peaches and poach gently, turning occasionally, until tender. Time will depend on size and ripeness of fruit. Cool in syrup. (Excellent with softened vanilla ice cream.)
Marinate 6 peeled, halved, pitted peaches in 2 tablespoons orange liqueur and 1/4 cup honey. Refrigerate. When ready to serve, place 2 peach halves in each of 6 champagne glasses and add champagne to cover. Garnish with fresh strawberries.
(Makes 4 to 6 pints) 3 cups sugar 2 cups water 5 pounds small peaches Brandy
Bring water and sugar to boil, stirring down crystals from sides of pan. Cover peaches with boiling water, let stand 1 minute, cool quickly under running water. Remove skins and put peaches in pan of slightly salted water to prevent browning. Do not let stand more than 15 minutes.
Add 8 to 10 peaches at a time to sugar syrup. Simmer 10 minutes, or until tender. Lift out peaches and put in hot, sterilized pint jars, filling to 1/2-inch from top. Put lids on to keep peaches hot. Bring syrup to boil. Spoon 2 to 4 tablespoons brandy into each jar. Fill jar to top with hot syrup, readjust lids and seal.
PEACH CONSERVE 2 pounds peaches, peeled and pitted 1 cup raisins, cut in half Juice of 1 lemon Juice of 1 orange 1 whole orange, chopped, skin and all, but no seeds 1 pound sugar 1 quart water 1 pound walnut meats
Cook peaches, raisins, fruit juices, orange, sugar in water until thick and clear.
Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Add nutmeats and pour into sterilized jars and seal. CAPTION: Picture, no caption, By Doug Chevalier - The Washington Post