To hasten the ripening of peaches, place them in a loosely closed paper bag so the natural ripening gas (ethylene) that is released can be captured and recycled. Leave "breathing" room in the bag by packing the peaches very lightly and only one or two layers deep. If necessary, use several paper bags rather than overfilling one. Check the bag daily and remove the peaches as they soften.

Do not refrigerate unripe peaches, as this can halt any further ripening and may cause mealiness.

Always store underripe peaches at room temperature. Once they are fully ripe, use them right away or refrigerate to extend their shelf life a day or two. For best flavor, let them return to room temperature before serving.

Never store peaches in a plastic bag; it traps too much moisture, which can cause deterioration. As added insurance against excess moisture, avoid washing peaches until just before using.

Quick Tips

* A pound of peaches yields about 11/2 cups peeled and sliced, though this depends greatly on the size and condition of the fruit (the less loss from bruising and blemishing, the greater the yield).

* To help prevent sliced peaches from browning, squeeze over a little lemon juice or toss with several tablespoons of orange juice.

* Should you peel peaches before eating them or using them in a recipe? It depends on the recipe and on personal preference. If it is a recipe where the consistency is relatively smooth, such as a trifle, then the skin may be intrusive; in other recipes, such as a crisp with a crumbly oatmeal topping, the peach skin may be less noticeable.

* To peel peaches, dip in boiling water about 40 seconds, then dip in cold water to cool them. The peels will usually slip right off.

If you prefer to use peaches unpeeled, be sure to wash them thoroughly and then pat them with paper towels, which dries the peaches and also removes some of the fuzz from the skin.

-- Nancy Baggett