Monday, July 20, 2015

The Fruit Plate: Peaches

 Do I dare to eat a peach?

                                                 ---T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Peach season has begun here in the Northeast. There is a peach tree just down the street from me that blossoms profusely year after year and goes on to produce beautiful peaches. It does all this without any attention from its owners. The ripe peaches fall and are eaten by wildlife.

My own relationship with peach trees is considerably more intense. When we lived in Hamden, Connecticut, I planted a white peach tree in front of our house. I watered, fertilized, weeded, sprayed. It was happy to bear and soon was showing lots of tiny green peaches the size of marbles. I slept blissfully, dreaming of the harvest.

One morning I went out to inspect the tree and the little green peaches were gone. A few telltale leaves lay on the ground. Squirrels. The peach, I was forced to conclude, is at the pinnacle of the garden, and everyone wants a piece of the action.

Truly ripe peaches do make fantastic raw eating. The trick is in knowing how to buy them. A white peach, like a Puccini heroine, is a refined and beautiful thing that responds very poorly to the least hint of change. You move a ripe white peach a millimeter on the kitchen counter and before you know it there's a big ugly bruise crying "Signore, ascolta!" Rather than risk being accused of such cruelty, many grocery stores sell white peaches when they are rock-hard, so that the ripening happens on someone else's time. The problem with this is that peaches tend to become mealy under such conditions. If you can find white peaches with a bit of give, buy them and eat them straight away; they have an exquisite flavor, with overtones of raspberry and rose.

Yellow peaches, easy to find and to ripen at home, are even better, in my opinion, a little overripe, when the skin has begun to shrivel and the sugars beneath the skin concentrate. At this point, the weather is so hot that you don't want to fuss with complicated desserts that involve heating the oven, and you don't need to. Just slice a yellow peach into your wineglass.

Copyright (c) 2016 Anna Bendiksen