The Succulent Peach

Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Kitchen Gardener Cook 

My special harvest-Zephyr squash, borage blossoms, sorrel and Malabar vine spinach

 

The other day I was putzing in my kitchen garden when a neighbor plus dog made their daily turn. The comment was that my garden is charming. I realized that was the adjective above all others that tickled me. No huge sprawl of rows… certainly not produce-enough to impress crowds and sell at market. Not really any specific rules either, except some divine inspiration from a thoughtful farmer/gardener or two and wise words from Gene Sumi. The ‘vertical’ growing style I find extremely interesting for the sake of making the most efficient use of small spaces. My real challenge is to grow some specialities which thrived in my Santa Cruz cafe kitchen garden such as sorrel, borage, figs, pears and vine spinach.
 On to the succulent peach for the 4th of July, for a martini and throughout the summer!
The Succulent Peach


 

In China, where peaches originated, the peach has mystical attributes, and supposedly brings luck, abundance and protection. Originally growing in North China in areas of erosion and overgrazing, peaches became a symbol of fertility and of affection. Peaches were reproduced in porcelain and sung about in verse. Dumplings shaped like peaches were special for birthdays. Even the wood of the peach tree was carved into amulets. Today, brides in Japan and China carry peach blossoms which are also used to celebrate the New Year. 

Although many states claim prize peach production, there are no peaches quite as good as the ones picked ripe and sold at a roadside stand. These are summer memories, but in winter we have frozen or canned peaches, and the good news is that their nutritional value remains high. 

Peaches are sensitive souls. They bruise easily, and should be handled with care. If they aren’t ripe, let them ripen at room temperature out of direct sunlight or store them in a paper bag, in a single layer. Refrigerate if ripe, for up to a week depending on the degree of ripeness. For full succulence, bring them to room temperature and then enjoy both flavor and aroma. 

Care and Handling 

There are two basic types of peaches. One is the clingstone. As the name implies, the flesh clings to the stone. The chances are that you will never buy a fresh clingstone peach, as the canning industry takes them ripe from the fields and processes them within 24 hours of picking. 

The other variety is the Freestone, which can be loosened easily from the pit. When selecting peaches, don’t look at the blush on the sides, but direct your attention to the area close to the stems. Here is the tell-tale green or creamy yellow color. Green indicates that they may have been picked too far before their prime to ripen properly, while creamy yellow promises ripeness. 

To skin a peach 

Score the bottom with an X, drop the peach in boiling water for 15 seconds, then plunge it immediately into ice water. The skin should peel easily from the flesh. 

  

Homestead Gardens has the just picked peaches, mixes to incorporate those peaches and lovely peach jams and butters to spread on top

 

Peach Martini with Garden Chiles 

Serves 6 

Fill six martini glasses with ice, then water; let stand until glasses are very cold, about 5 minutes (or chill them, empty, in the freezer). Meanwhile, for each drink, push 1 or 2 slices ripe white peach and 1 slice fresh hot chile (try a red or green jalapeño or a Thai chile) onto a small skewer or toothpick. Sprinkle peaches lightly with kosher salt. Empty glasses and pour 1 to 2 teaspoons dry vermouth into each. Swirl to coat glass, then pour off and discard most of the vermouth. Fill a 3-cup martini shaker with ice cubes and add 1 1/2 cups top-quality gin or vodka. Seal and shake until cold, 4 to 6 times. Strain into glasses. Garnish each with a peach-chile skewer. 

Serve this martini with freshly shucked Chesapeake oysters and warm olive bread smeared with a soft blue or gorgonzola cheese. 

Peach Pistachio Sweet Bread 

Makes 1 loaf 

Serve as breakfast, with lunch or dinner, or as the highlight of tea. 

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 2 cups fresh sliced peaches
  • 2 tablespoons undiluted orange juice concentrate
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup raw pistachios, chopped

Preheat oven to 350° F. 

Cream butter, adding sugar slowly until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well. 

In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and clove. Stir in the butter mixture and the peaches, alternating as you incorporate. Stir in orange juice concentrate, orange zest, vanilla and pistachios. 

Pour batter into greased and floured 9x5x3-inch loaf pan. 

Bake 1 hour in preheated 350° F oven for 50 – 60 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. 

Let rest in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert, remove and cool completely. 

Gooey Peach Upside Down Cake 

Serves 10 

I like to cut this cake into bite size pieces and put each in a cupcake paper. This way all the prep is done in advance and it’s ready to serve. 

Fruit Layer 

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 1/2 cups fresh sliced peaches

Cake 

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup white cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350°F 

Fruit Layer: Melt the butter. Use melted butter to grease sides and bottoms of a 9 inch square cake pan. 

Combine brown sugar and cinnamon. Spread the mixture evenly in pan. Layer peaches covering the bottom of the pan. Reserve. 

Cake: In bowl, use an electric mixer to cream butter. Add sugar and beat for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, making sure to scrape the sides of the bowl. Add vanilla, beat until well combined. 

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Stir into butter mixture in three additions, alternating with milk. Beat just until well combined. 

Spoon batter over reserved peaches and spread out batter to cover fruit completely, using a spatula or offset palette knife. 

Bake in 350°F oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until cake springs back when touched. 

Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes; then, run a knife around edge of pan to loosen cake; invert onto a platter. Serve with crème fraiche or unsweetened whipped cream. 

Peach Blueberry Tart  

Serves 8-10 

  • 1/2  cup  pecan halves
  • 1/4  cup  whole-wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour
  • 1/4  cup  firmly packed brown sugar
  • 6  tablespoons  butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  vanilla
  • 1  large egg yolk
  • 1  package (8 oz.) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2  cup  sour cream
  • 1/4  cup  powdered sugar
  • 1/2  cup  thinly sliced peeled firm-ripe white or yellow peaches or thinly sliced nectarines
  • 1  tablespoon  lemon juice
  • 1  teaspoon  minced fresh mint leaves (optional)
  • 1/2  cup  blueberries, rinsed and drained
  • 3  tablespoons peach jam (available at Homestead Gardens)

Spread pecans in a 10-inch tart pan with removable rim and bake in a 350° oven until golden in the center (break one to check), 8 to 12 minutes. Let cool. 

In a food processor, whirl nuts, flour, brown sugar, and butter until fine crumbs form. Add vanilla and egg yolk; whirl until mixture comes together in a ball. 

Press dough evenly over bottom and up sides of tart pan. Bake in a 350° oven until deep golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool. 

In a bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat cream cheese, sour cream, and powdered sugar until smooth. In another bowl, mix peaches with lemon juice. 

Spread cream cheese mixture over bottom of pastry. Sprinkle mint on top, if using. Overlap peach slices in circles over cheese. Scatter blueberries over peaches. 

Put jam in a 1-cup glass measure and cook, uncovered, in a microwave oven at full power (100%) until melted, 30 to 45 seconds. Brush over fruit. 

Serve, or chill uncovered up to 1 hour. Remove pan rim and cut tart into wedges. 

 

Chunky Peach-Raspberry-Lavender Jam 

Makes about 3 cups 

Lavender adds a floral note, but you can omit it if you like. Prep and Cook To see whether the jam has cooked long enough to thicken to your taste, put a tablespoonful onto a plate you’ve chilled for 20 minutes in the freezer. Allow the jam to cool and thicken to its final consistency. 

  • 2  teaspoons dried culinary lavender buds
  • 1  pound (about 5) ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 ounces (1/2 pint) red raspberries, rinsed
  • 1 1/2  cups  sugar
  • Freshly grated zest and juice of one lemon

Put lavender buds in a small bowl. Pour 1/4 cup boiling water over the buds and let steep 10 minutes. Strain the scented water into a bowl and set aside; discard buds. 

In a 4-quart pan over medium-high heat, combine peaches, raspberries, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring often, until liquid has the consistency of thick maple syrup, about 14 minutes. Stir in the lavender water and boil, stirring often, another 2 minutes, or until mixture reaches desired thickness (see notes). 

Remove jam from heat and let cool for 15 minutes. Chill, covered, at least 2 hours before using. Jam keeps, chilled, up to 4 weeks. 


 

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