The peaches I pick in the present are unlike those of my past. They are not warmed by the sun but chilled by the produce bin and excessive air conditioning. Yet they do have advantages. Their season is longer, beginning early in June when the first peaches ripen in Florida and Georgia and lasting into early fall as the sun ripens crops all the way up the East Coast; and, with modern agricultural management, they are free of insects and blights.

Like many of our fruits and vegetables, peaches have changed a great deal over the centuries. Peaches originally came to us from China and Persia. The fruit of these early trees was small, pulpy, white and not very sweet. Yet they were favored by the Chinese, who consider them a symbol of long life. Somewhere, somehow, the fruit changed, most strains becoming yellow, soft and very sweet.

The peaches found in our markets are classified as yellow melting. This means that they become soft and disintegrate when cooked. In California, a type of peach is grown called yellow nonmelting, used only by the canning industry. They are cling and freestone peaches available, but they offer little difference in taste. There also seems to be negligible difference in taste between large and small peaches. However, the best peaches I ever ate were bought at a roadside stand in Georgia and were the size of grapefruit.

The best indication of a ripe and flavorful peach is a creamy yellowish background skin. Avoid buying those that are green or shriveled -- they will not ripen to achieve good flavor. But all too often the peaches in the local markets were picked green to get them to market in perfect condition.

This brings them home unbruised but also unpalatable. To further ripen them, try placing five or six peaches in a plastic bag with a ripe banana, keeping them out of the sunlight. The ethyline gases created by the banana will help ripen the peaches. Peaches will not ripen in the refrigerator, but once a peach is at that perfect stage of ripeness it must be refrigerated to keep it from rotting.

Although peaches and cream are wonderful for breakfast, they are welcome at any meal. A fruited chicken salad served with fresh peach halves makes a cool and elegant lunch. Grilled Indonesian lamb tossed with lightly sauteed peaches on a bed of saffron rice works handsomely for dinner. Try serving peach halves sauteed in butter with any meal this summer. d PEACHY CHICKEN SALAD (4 servings) 2 cups chicken, cooked and diced 2 tablespoons minced shallots 1 cup green grapes 1/3 cup slivered almonds 3/4 cup mayonnaise Juice and zest of 1 lemon 1/2 teaspoon curry powder 1 teaspoon salt 4 large ripe peaches Lettuce to line plates 1 cup watermelon balls or cubes for garnish

Place the chicken, shallots, grapes and almonds in a large bowl. In another smaller bowl mix the mayonnaise with the zest and juice of the lemon, the curry powder and salt. Add to the chicken mixture and toss well. Remove the skin from the peaches, which will slip off easily after dipping in boiling water for 15 seconds. Cut each peach in half. Line four salad plates with lettuce. Place the peach halves in the center and heap with chicken salad. Garnish with the watermelon balls. INDONESIAN LAMB WITH PEACHES (8 servings) 3 pounds lamb, cut in 1-inch cubes 2 cups sour cream 1 cup vegetable oil 1 teaspoon powdered ginger 2 teaspoons salt 1 tablespoon paprika 1 teaspoon cardamom 1/2 teaspoon white pepper 1 teaspoon coriander Bamboo skewers 6 medium-size peaches, peeled and diced in 1-inch cubes 4 tablespoons butter Saffron rice (recipe follows)

Cut the lamb in 1-inch cubes and set aside. In a bowl large enough to hold the lamb, mix the sour cream, oil, ginger, salt, paprika, cardamom, pepper and coriander. Marinate the lamb in this mixture for at least an hour, preferably overnight. Place the lamb cubes on skewers. Allow the charcoal fire in your barbecue grill to burn down to the stage where the coals are covered with gray ash. Grill the lamb skewers until browned on each side. Remember, lamb should not be overcooked. While the lamb is cooking, saute the peaches in the butter until heated through. Remove the lamb from the skewers, toss with the peaches and serve on a bed of saffron rice. SAFFRON RICE (8 servings) 3 cups long-grain rice 1 onion, minced fine 1/2 cup butter 2 teaspoons salt 6 cups chicken stock or water Pinch of saffron ground to a powder

Wash the rice in a colander. Saute the minced onion in butter using a 4-quart saute pan that has a tight-fitting lid. When the onion is soft, add the rice and stir. Continue cooking the rice until it is coated with butter and begins to turn a little golden.Add the chicken stock, salt and saffron. Bring to a full boil. Boil until the surface of the rice rises above the water but bubbles still show through. Place a lid on the rice and turn the heat down to the lowest setting. Continue cooking on low for 15 minutes. PEACH MELBA GATEAU 2 9-inch layers genoise or spongecake, or 1 recipe Mock Genoise baked in 2 9-inch round pans (see recipe below) 2 tablespoons water 2 tablespoons peach or orange liqueur 2 tablespoons brandy 2 cups heavy cream, whipped 1/4 cup sugar 5 medium peaches, peeled and halved 3 medium peaches, sliced 2 tablespoons sugar 1 cup raspberry preserves, sieved

Mix the water, peach liqueur and brandy. Brush it onto the surface of the cake when it is cold. Whip the cream until stiff, and sweeten it with 1/4 cup sugar. The best way to peel the peaches is to dip each one in boiling water for 15 seconds. The skin should slip off. This leaves the peach halves smooth and attractive. Mix the 3 sliced peaches with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Use a pastry bag or a spoon to make a rim of whipped cream on the bottom layer of cake. Fill the center with the sliced peaches. Drizzle on about 2 tablespoons of the raspberry preserves. Spoon on a little more whipped cream. Place the second layer on top. Arrange the peach halves on the top. Melt the raspberry preserves in a saucepan until they are runny. Spoon the preserves over the peach halves so that they are covered. Use the pastry bag fitted with a number 6 star tip to pipe whipped cream around the edge and down the sides of the cake. This cake should be eaten within 3 hours. It must be refrigerated. MOCK GENOISE 1/2 of a yellow cake mix (not a pudding cake)* 4 eggs, separated 1/2 cup water 1/4 cup sugar

Put the cake mix in a large, shallow bowl. Mix the 4 egg yolks with the water. Stir it into the cake mix and beat well. Place the egg whites and sugar in a bowl and beat until they form a glossy meringue. Don't beat until dry, just until stiff. Fold the egg whites into the cake mix, using a rubber spatula. Work carefully so that you don't lose too much air. Pour into buttered and floured 12-inch tube pan, 2 9-inch round pans or a rectangular baking dish. Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes or until the cake pulls away from the side of the pan. The volume will be more than if you had prepared a whole cake mix.

*Note: I haven't tested this on pudding-recipe cake mixes. There is at least one brand of cake mix that packages the mix in two sections for your convenience; I recommend using it. There is another brand that makes small one-layer cake mixes, which work perfectly for this recipe. You may also use this recipe with chocolate cake mixes. Peach Butter 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar 1/2 medium peach 1/2 teaspoon powdered citric acid*

Place the butter in a food processor. Turn on and work until smooth and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar. Cut the peach into pieces and add to the machine. Add the fruit preserver to keep the peach from turning brown. Scrape into a bowl and serve with english muffins, fresh biscuits or french toast. Don't try to refrigerate this; it loses it's appeal when hard.

*Note: Powdered citric acid is sold under several brand names. You will find it with the canning supplies. It it very useful with fruits that turn brown on sitting. It keeps the color bright. PEACH AND PECAN BREAKFAST COBBLER (9 servings) 2 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon plus 3/4 cup granulated sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon baking powder 1/3 cup butter 3/4 cup heavy cream (you can substitute milk, but it's not as rich) 4 large peaches, peeled and quartered 1/2 cup packed brown sugar 1/4 cup butter 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 cup pecan halves

Mix 1 3/4 cup flour with 1 tablespoon suger, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Cut 1/3 cup butter into the dry ingredients, using a pastry cutter or your fingers. Stir in the cream. Stir until just dampened. Spread in a buttered and floured 8-inch-square cake pan. Toss the peaches with 3/4 cup sugar. Arrange the peach quarters in four rows on top of the dough. In another bowl mix remaining 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup borwn sugar, 1/4 cup butter, cinnamon and pecans. Work together with your fingers until crumbly. Sprinkle over the peaches. Bake at 425 degrees for 35 minutes or until the topping is crisp and browned.Serve with butter. PEACH ANGEL (10 servings) 1 large angel food cake 2 cups heavy cream 1/3 cup dark brown sugar 4 ripe peaches, diced (if they are not sweet enough, add sugar) 1 whole peach, sliced, for garnish 1 camellia leaf, for garnish

Slice the cake in 3 layers. Mix the cream with the brown sugar and chill for at least 30 minutes.Whip until it forms peaks. Fold the diced peaches into the whipped cream. Put 1/3 of the mixture on each layer of cake. Decorate the top with the peach slices. Add a camellia leaf for garnish if you have them in your yard. PEACH AND WALNUT CHUTNEY 10 cups diced, firm, fresh peaches 2 cups white raisins 1/2 cup chopped preserved ginger 2 cups chopped onions 2 cups walnuts 4 cups sugar 1/2 cup water 2 cinnamon sticks 15 whole cloves 1 tablespoon whole cardamom seeds 2 cups cider vinegar

Dice the peaches and set aside. Add the raisins and ginger to the peaches.

Place the onions and walnuts in a saucepan with 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water. Place the spices in a piece of cheesecloth, tie it and add to the pan. Simmer the walnuts and onions until the onions are soft and the syrup is thick. Place the contents of the small pan in a large stockpot or dutch oven and add the remaining 3 cups of sugar and the vinegar. Bring to a boil. Remove the spice bag. Add the peaches, raisins and ginger. Simmer 5 minutes. Place in canning jars, top with lids and boil in a water bath for 20 minutes. CURRIED CHICKEN WITH PEACH CHUTNEY (4 servings) 1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts, skinned and boned 4 tablespoons butter or more 2 tablespoons flour 2 tablespoons mild curry powder or to taste 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 2 cups light cream 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 tablespoon sherry 1 teaspoon lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon worcestershire 1/2 cup peach chutney (see recipe above)

Cut the chicken breasts into 1-inch cubes. Heat a saute pan and add the butter. Saute the chicken breasts until done, about 5 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan, leaving the butter. If no butter remains in the pan, add 4 tablespoons. Add the flour, curry powder, salt and nutmeg to the pan. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, stirring, without letting it brown. Stir in the cream and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Lower the heat. Add the remaining ingredients. Return the chicken to the pan to reheat. Serve with rice and more peach chutney on the side.