- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

It’s summer and the peaches are ripe. A peach used to be just a peach, an Elberta peach, to be exact. Well, OK, it was also a freestone, and there were cling peaches, too, the former preferred for eating out of hand because the pit easily fell free of the soft flesh.

Later, there were firmer cling peaches, chosen for canning purposes. That was good enough. But then came white peaches, seeming somehow more ethereal than earthly.

Funny, flat Donut peaches showed up a decade or two ago and continue to entertain us. On the Internet, if you look for peach varieties, you’ll find nearly 100 types of peach trees for sale.

If you don’t want to grow your own, taste a drippy sample of an orchard-ripened peach, such as Elegant Lady, Sun Crest, Flamin’ Fury or Last Chance, at a farmers market stand, and it may mark the end of hard-as-a-rock peach purchases at the supermarket.

For a good summer read about growing peaches, David Masumoto’s “Epitaph for a Peach” (Harper San Francisco) will make a peach lover drool. He doesn’t give a single recipe for cooking with peaches, but of his central California farm, he says: “My dust is a fine powder. The soil is a sandy loam that would be a chef’s delight. Add water to the earth and create a rich roux, thick but pliable. Stir, and the air will be filled with a rich aroma of turned earth. Beat the ground with a disk, and the topsoil stands like sifted flour awaiting flavoring. … My land is balanced, and her dust complements my labor the way a subtle dry wine adds to a meal. … Good peaches are more than just dirt, manure, and ditch water.”

Mr. Masumoto obviously loves growing Sun Crest peaches, which he describes as having “a buttery flavor that melts in your mouth, smooth and sweet with the message of summer in each bite.”

This old-fashioned peach is not just fuzzy, but furry, and it’s so juicy you have to lean over to take a bite.

In another story, a Chinese legend says that peaches bestow immortality. Seems like a good reason to eat a peach. But the best reason is just how they taste.

For those who like the taste but not the tingle of peach fuzz on their palates, or for cooking purposes, peaches are easily peeled if they are first placed in a pan of boiling water for 1 or 2 minutes.

Plunge the peaches into cold water to stop the cooking, then slip the skins away. Then lean over and take a bite, or make one of the recipes here, whether you use an Elberta, a Sun Crest or one of the many other peach varieties available today.

Peach and basil salad

This recipe is from “A Return to Cooking” by Eric Ripert and Michael Ruhlman (Artisan)

6 peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into ½-inch wedges

2 tablespoons grappa

2 tablespoons sugar

7 basil leaves, sliced thinly

6 tablespoons creme fraiche, optional

Place peaches, grappa, sugar and basil in a bowl, and allow the fruit to macerate 30 minutes in refrigerator. To serve, divide peaches among 6 dessert bowls and, if desired, top each with spoonful of creme fraiche. Makes 6 servings.

Easy peach ice cream

3 pounds ripe peaches, peeled and pitted

½ cup brown sugar, packed

3/4 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon almond extract, optional

Place peaches, brown sugar, sour cream and almond extract (if using) in a food processor. Process until smooth. Transfer to bowl, cover and chill, preferably overnight. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Makes 8 servings.

Peach and raspberry streusel

3 tablespoons butter, chilled, plus butter for greasing skillet

1/4 cup flour

1/4 cup uncooked oatmeal

½ cup brown sugar, packed

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

5 cups peeled, pitted and sliced peaches

1 cup raspberries

½ cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, optional

Lightly butter 10-inch cast-iron skillet. In bowl, rub 3 tablespoons butter into flour, oatmeal, brown sugar and nutmeg, using fingers. Mixture should be crumbly. Set aside. Combine peaches, raspberries, granulated sugar and cornstarch. Pour into prepared skillet.

Sprinkle oatmeal topping evenly over peach mixture. Bake in preheated 400-degree oven until bubbly, about 30 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired. Makes 6 servings.

Roasted peaches with ricotta

3 large peaches, peeled, pitted and cut in half

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup ricotta cheese

3 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted

Arrange peaches, cut sides up, in glass baking dish. Sprinkle with sugar, and dot with butter. Bake 30 minutes. With slotted spoon, transfer peaches to individual plates. Reserve juices.

In bowl, mix ricotta and honey. Stir in reserved juices.

Pile ricotta onto peaches and sprinkle with almonds. Makes 6 servings.

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