Peaches can also be classified by color. For instance, Muir, Lovell, and the original Georgia peach, Elbertas, all have yellow flesh, a trait developed in the United States in the 19th century. The color comes from an abundance of carotenoid pigments, including beta-carotene, which we all like.
There are also white peaches. White peaches have a lower acid content which may make them taste a little less peachy, but also makes them insanely sweet. Some common varieties include the Mountain Rose, Alexander, Old Mixon, and Summer Snow.
Now most peaches are at their peak somewhere between June and September, but once plucked from the tree, the sugar content is locked in and the clock begins to tick. Even with modern shipping techniques, fresh peaches will not last more than ten days to two weeks post-harvest, which explains why it's best to pick your peaches as close to the tree as possible. Now this doesn't mean that you can't get decent peaches in, you know, Utah.* But odds are, those peaches are going to look better than they taste, and that's a shame.
Behold, the physical incarnation of a perfect summer day. Notice the shoulders
are round and full, evidence of sufficient time on the tree. The background
color is yellow-orange, no green. This specimen displays considerable blush
which has nothing to do with ripeness. It's just proof that the fruit has spent
a good bit of time in direct sunlight, except, of course, here [the area around
the stem], where it was shaded by the stem itself.
Now the suture is pronounced, and the cheeks are plump and barely yielding. [in
a Southern accent] Why
I tell you, it's almost too much for a good Southern boy to bear.
Now, if this specimen wasn't perfect, I would park it and its sisters in a paper bag at room temperature for a few days to soften. Notice, I did not say "ripen". That is because "ripen" suggests an increase in sugar development and that is impossible once this device leaves the tree. Time, however, can concentrate flavor components, and allow the flesh to soften, and become more juicy. Now, the only way to keep this peach from marching right past ripeness, to, well, you know, sharks, is to stop the clock, or at least slow it down.
California, South Carolina and Georgia are
the three largest peach-producing states.
GUEST: Lady of the Refrigerator
Cold will slow down the enzymatic action that dissolves pectins in the fruit and that will keep these from getting too soft. Low temperatures also slow the spread of aromatic compounds in the mouth, so always bring peaches to room temperature before devouring. [goes to close the fridge door]
LOTR: Hey. Wait a minute, buster.
AB: [a little bashfull] Oh, it's you.
LOTR: Is that any way to speak to the Countess of Cold?
AB: I, I guess not, um, Miss Refrigerator Lady, Ma'am.
LOTR: How dare you put peaches in here without even mentioning their ability to defy the ravages of time.
AB: Do tell, oh Priestess of Preservation.
LOTR: Have you ever heard of photoaging?
AB: Oh, yeah. That's what makes old snapshots stick together in the family picture drawer. Ha ha ha ha ...
LOTR: [sarcastically] Oh, you're so clever [deliberately knocks over a container inside the refrigerator].
AB: Oh, hey!
LOTR: Photoaging is what the sun's rays do to the skin, and this nasty process is accelerated by horrible things called free radicals in the skin cells. Now peaches and nectarines contain beautiful compounds called antioxidants—more specifically, phenols—that help to block this process. That's why I eat at least three peaches a day, to maintain my youthful and milky complexion.
AB: Really. Wow, and here all along I thought you were just stealing my milk. Ha ha ha.
LOTR: There you go, being clever again. [knocks another container over]
AB: Hey. Unghhh. That's my lunch, lady. You're ... [picks up the container, only to see that Lady of the Refrigerator has disappeared]
Where does she go anyway?
I have always felt that combining of cake and fruit to be powerful magic, especially when the elements in question are kept subtly segregated. A good example of this approach: single-serving peach upside-down cake, which just might be my favorite dessert of all time. I know it's my favorite breakfast. Let's bake, shall we?
|First, hot box [oven] to 350 degrees.||
Now divide two tablespoons of unsalted butter evenly between four six-ounce ramekins. Yes, that's half a tablespoon per ramekin. Next, evenly divide a quarter of a cup of light brown sugar among the vessels. And by the way, that would be one tablespoon per vessel.
2 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
1/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
Now as to the fruit, you will need two medium peaches, each peeled and cut into 12 to 14 slices. Although a vegetable peeler would work on firm fruit, if you have very ripe peaches or a lot of any kind of peaches, you will want to employ the blanch.
BLANCHE: [in a Southern Belle accent]
Whoev-ah you ah-re, Ah-ve always depended upon the kahndness of strangers.
AB: Actually, I meant to bring a pot of water to a boil. Carefully place the peaches inside for 30 seconds, then evacuate to an ice water bath for another 30 seconds, and just wiping the skin off with a paper towel.
BLANCHE: M-ah, you have an impressive judicial air.
AB: Alright, thanks for the literature lesson, lady. We're making a cooking show here, okay?
Sorry. Now deposit the peach pieces on top of the sugar, and then sprinkle each with finely chopped, crystallized ginger. You're going to need about an ounce of that total, and that would be three tablespoons, please.
2 Medium Peaches, Peeled
1 Ounce Crystallized Ginger,
Now we begin the batter. And the batter begins with the dry team. And the dry team begins with flour; 2.5 ounces all-purpose flour, by weight, goes into the bowl. Then, of course, we have the leavening, beginning with baking powder, a teaspoon will do nicely. Baking soda, an eighth of a teaspoon will do very well. And kosher salt, also an eighth of a teaspoon. Whisk to combine.
2.5 Ounces All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1/8 tsp. Baking Soda
1/8 tsp. Kosher Salt
In a separate bowl, we meld the wet team, beginning with half a cup of buttermilk, at room temperature if you please, one-third of a cup of sugar, one tablespoon of melted, non-salted butter, and one-half teaspoon, just a wee shot, of vanilla extract.
1/2 Cup Buttermilk, Room
1/3 Cup Sugar
1 Tbs. Unsalted Butter,
1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
Now while I'm whisking this together, ponder this: what mixing method are we employing here? Just take a moment. Think about it.
A. Biscuit Method
Very good. It is the muffin method. First, we mix all of the dry team together, then we mix all the wet team together, separate bowls, and then we marry them as quickly as possible.
|B. Muffin Method|
So, liquid goes on top of dry, and I think it's going to take about, eh, 10.2 stirs. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Yes, it's lumpy, but I don't care. Walk away. Just, just walk away. No more stirring or it'll get all tough and you won't like it then.
|1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10|
So deposit the batter evenly on top of the fruit, thusly. Remember, no stirring
is necessary. The batter will percolate gently down into the fruit.
Now you could bake these directly on your oven racks, but it could get a little messy. So I suggest a half-sheet pan. Slide your newly born cakes right into the middle of the oven. Now we're looking for a final internal temperature here of 190 degrees. That's going to take 20 to 25 minutes, give or take a second or two. Of course, it'll help if I close the door.
Dried peaches have up to three times as much vitamin A as fresh peaches.
Look perfect. We've got nice browning. Let's check the temperature. 188. It'll coast the rest of the way. Now the goal is to get these out and let them cool for about five minutes. Then turn them out by simply taking a paring knife, running around the outside just to make sure that the syrup releases nicely. There we go. And grab yourself a plate and out it'll come. Now this is delicious just as it is. But if you hit it with a little whipped cream or perhaps some ice cream, it gets even better. And did I mention the fact that they're just as good at room temperature as they are hot. And oh, I told you about the whole breakfast thing, right? Good.
GUEST: Opera Patrons
[AB is in a balcony box, looking bored] Oh boy, the opera. You know, nothing says "class" quite like a good old-fashioned lung-stretcher.
You know, at the turn of the 20th century, the most famous soprano hailed not from New Jersey, but Australia. Behold, Dame Nellie Melba, diva of the first order. She was famous for three things: her angelic voice, her attention-grabbing persona, and her obsessive adoration of peaches. Now to honor one of Nellie's 1893 performances in Paris, chef Georges-Auguste Escoffier, of the Savoy Hotel, no less, designed this dessert that combined ice cream, raspberry sauce, and poached peaches that would eventually become known as "Peach Melba".
[The Real Dame Nellie Melba]
NM: Yoo hoo. G'day. Did I hear someone mention peaches? Oh, I just love peaches.
They're so sweet [takes a bite out of one], so succulent, so sensual, don't you
AB: I do think they're cute, yeah, um ...
NM: [overtly flirtatious at this point] Like you!
AB: ... and, of course, in a lot of countries, peaches are sort of these metaphors for things, ehm, erotic.
NM: Oh, do tell.
AB: Um, easy there, big girl. Um, Japan, um, China, peach blossoms are symbols of virginity ...
AB: ... and, and, and, and then of course, also, in Japan, peaches are considered very useful in the exorcising of demons.
NM: Exorcising demons? Oh, now that's the only exercise I get. Hah hah hah hah. But I do love to eat a peach. Would you care to join me after the show for a bushel?
AB: A bushel? Um, sure. Gee, I'll just have a little ... [takes Ms. Melba's peach, and drops it from the balcony, as if accidentally] Oops. Oh, I'm sorry.
NM: Oh, my peach! [jumps off the balcony and screams]
AB: [observing the crash] I think that's going to leave a mark.
Traditionally, the peaches in Peach Melba would always be poached in a syrup, such as this one, composed of 3/4 of a cup each water and sugar, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and the guts of one vanilla bean.
3/4 Cup Sugar
3/4 Cup Water
1 Tbs. Freshly Squeeze
Seeds From 1 Vanilla Bean
This is all fine and good. But I do believe that we can up the flavor ante by grilling our peaches first. Here we have four large peaches which have been peeled, split, and pitted, and we're roasting those for about four minutes a side over high heat. About 500 degrees in here. We're going to do that with the shields down. Now while all this works, we can compose a sauce.
4 Large Peaches Peeled,
Pitted & Cut in Half
And of course, since we're talking about Peach Melba, we're talking about a raspberry sauce. So break out your food processor and dump in eight ounces of raspberry. I find that frozen purée a little better. A tablespoon each of freshly squeezed lemon juice and sugar. Bolt on the lid and take her for a spin. In about 30 seconds, you'll have yourself a nice creamy purée.
8 Ounces Frozen Raspberries,
1 Tbs. Freshly Squeezed
Lemon Juice +
1 Tbs. Sugard
But it is still
full of seeds and the seeds have got to go. So pour that through a sieve. And
you're going to have to push the sauce through with a spoon or a spatula. If you
skip this step, you'll have seeds in the sauce, and you'll have to get out the
floss and the toothpicks and it'll be ugly. This, on the other hand, looks great.
When your syrup has been at a good hard boil for about one to two minutes, turn off the heat and evacuate your newly cooked peaches to a rectangular baking dish. They're nice and soft but they still have a good bit of their structure intact. Now once you've got those down, pour the syrup right on top of them. I want this to soak for probably about five minutes, and just cover it with foil to keep it warm, and let them do, what they're going to do.
To serve, simply lay out a few of your peaches, dole on a bit of ice cream, perhaps, maybe a sprig of mint would be nice, and of course, lots and lots of the raspberry sauce. Ahh. Next step is my favorite step. Hah hah hah hah ...
NM: G'day, my little wallaby. Oh, oh, this looks so good, I think I could
AB: [retreats, puts on headphones, and shields his head with a lid, while Nellie Melba throws a peach at him]
A nectarine is not a hybrid, but rather a variety
of peach with firmer flesh and smooth skin.
When the days grow short, and the winds of Thor are blowing cold, a nice jar of home-preserved peaches sure can crack old Jack Frost's steely grasp. The problem is, even if you've got time for canning, the cooking required for the process saps peaches of their fresh flavor and flattens their meaty texture to a pulp. Bummer.
Ironically, all this summer goodness can easily be preserved by the proper application of the very element we're trying to eliminate. That's right, cold. But, proper prep is a prerequisite for success. Let's say that you had a pound and a half of ripe peaches, peeled and cut into chunks. Now freezing these as is would be a bad idea. Why? Come here.
1 1/2 Pounds Peaches,
Peeled & Diced
I realize that if you are a fan of this program, you've probably seen this demo
at least a dozen times. But hey, some things bear repeating. Let us imagine for
a moment that this [holds up a plastic bag filled with water] is a pulp cell
inside your peach. And let us imagine also that this [holds up a ice pick] is
an ice crystal. When the two come together, it looks something like this. [stabs
at the bag, making holes for the water to leak out] Are we clear? Good. Now,
what are we going to do about it?
The substance that we call sugar is actually sucrose, a disaccharide, or double sugar. Now sucrose is world-famous for being hygroscopic, meaning that it loves to grab hold of water and hold it at the molecular level. By adding some sucrose to our peaches, some of the moisture will be pulled out of the peaches and will create a syrup with the sucrose. Now what's groovy about that is that when the syrup freezes, the sucrose will hold onto some of the water, and that will prevent the ice crystals from getting so big that they poke holes in all the cells, and make us lose all our moisture when the peaches thaw. Got it? Good.
For a pound and a half of peaches, I would think 3/4 of a cup of sugar would be sufficient ... wait a second. Neither sucrose nor freezing cold will prevent these peaches from turning brown with time. For that, we'll need an acid. Now since we're talking about stopping an oxidative process, why not use an antioxidant. That's right. Most of us have a little ascorbic acid, good old vitamin C. And I'd say that's about 500 milligrams should do the trick. That's half of one of these guys [breaks a large tablet in half]. Now just crush that between a couple of spoons, dissolve in three tablespoons of water, and mix into the peaches before you add the sugar. They'll never see brown again.
3/4 Cup Sugar
500 mg Ascorbic Acid
There. Let these sit for 15 minutes, so that a good, thick syrup forms. Then you
may transfer them to the containment vessel of your choice. Mine: zip-top
I like to freeze my peaches on a flat surface before filing them away for long-term storage. It makes them a little bit easier to deal with. Now these are good for 1,001 different purposes. But if you want to cook with them, you can always count on holding back about a third of the total sugar in any given recipe. Or you can count them as you would an equal amount of peaches canned in a heavy syrup.
Well, I think that's enough to keep the sharks of my childhood at bay for at least a couple of months. See you next time, on "Good Eats".
NM: But I just love to eat a peach. Would you care to join me in a bushel after
AB: 'In' a bushel, or 'for' a bushel? Doesn't matter, off you go [takes the peach, and drops it from the balcony]
NM: [jumps off after the peach] Ahhhh.
Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger
Last Edited on 08/27/2010