At its ripest and best the peach is a food that forces you to adopt a special eating position – bowing forwards at an angle of 30° and with arm raised above the horizontal – to avoid being bathed in peach juice (now there’s an idea…).
Imported peaches can never quite compare with those picked whilst at their peak and eaten at a market in France, Spain or Italy, but they still make a fantastic summer treat.
Native to China, peaches were taken along the Silk Route to Persia and were later spread to North and West Europe by the Romans. The peach is easily raised from seed and is now grown in temperate climates across the globe.
The peach tree (Amygdalus persica) is a member of the rose family and is related to both the apricot and the almond. Hundreds of varieties are available – mostly classifed as yellow fleshed or white fleshed. Nectarines are a smooth skinned variety.
Peaches get softer and juicier after picking but they only develop flavour and sweetness on the tree. Choose fruit that yield slightly to pressure: firmish fruit are fine but hard fruit should be avoided. The amount and depth of pink coverage on the skin varies and does not signify ripeness, but any sign of green reveals fruit that has been picked prematurely.
Scent strength is a very good indicator of the level of flavour.
Firm peaches can be kept at room temperature until soft (storing in a paper bag will accelerate this process). Soft fruit can be refrigerated to help maintain their condition but very ripe peaches go from peak to past it rapidly and need eating promptly.
Allow refrigerated peaches to reach room temperature before eating. If eating with the skin on they should be cleaned by light brushing under running water.
The best way to peel peaches is the same as for tomatoes. Blanch by dropping briefly into boiling water (around 5-10 seconds for soft fruit, 10-15 seconds for firmer ones) before cooling in cold water and draining. The skin can then be easily removed with fingers or a knife.
Peeled or cut peaches will turn brown as they oxidise: rub surfaces with a little lemon juice to help prevent this.
The out of vogue but utterly delicious dessert Peach Melba (peaches with vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce) was originally invented in London by a Frenchman inspired by an Australian and a German.
During the 1890’s the Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba spent some time living at the Savoy Hotel whilst performing at the Covent Garden Opera House. George Auguste Escoffier, chef at the Savoy and a big fan of Melba, created the dish to serve at a dinner hosted by the star singer. The dessert was presented in a swan sculpted from ice, in tribute to a performance of Wagner’s opera Lohengrin (from which comes the well-known Bridal Chorus).
If you love peaches, why not try this recipe for Georgia Peach Cobbler!