- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 7, 2005

The ephemeral quality of ripe peaches is the stuff of poetry. Peaches are one of the most seasonally specific fruits, meaning that you can taste the difference between fresh and ripe from the local grower and those that have ripened after picking.

From mid-June through mid-August is the best time for ripe peaches in most parts of the country, but for those of us who do not have access, there is hope in the shape of at least one recipe.

First, a word on shopping. Buy peaches that are firm and blemish-free and that yield to gentle pressure. Above all, a peach should smell like a peach, so do the sniff test to be sure. It should have some (peach) color and no visible green.

Green tells us that the peach was picked too early and will not ripen properly. Fuzz on peaches may indicate that they have not been sprayed, although if we want to be sure, it is probably better to purchase organic peaches. Try to buy peaches directly from growers at farmers markets. These will probably be ripest at picking time.

Refrigerate peaches upon the first sign of ripeness, such as softness or peachy fragrance, and eat them as soon as possible. If you miss your chance and the peach becomes overripe, don’t throw it away.

Make the peach crumble recipe that follows. It can beautifully accommodate peaches at any level of ripeness, including under-ripe.

You can also freeze an oversupply of peaches if you’re lucky enough to have one. Peel and slice the ripe peaches, spread the slices on a tray and place the tray in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes.

Then transfer the partially frozen peaches to resealable plastic freezer bags and store indefinitely in the freezer. You can then make peach crumble in November or February, for a welcome seasonal blues-busting treat.

Peaches contain antioxidants, are easily digested, diuretic and low in calories, and have a high water content. They are thirst-quenching and refreshing and, most important of all, they are mood quenching. Better than chocolate.

Peach crumble

This is the dessert to make when the peach season is at its peak.

The recipe is very flexible and almost any combination of soft, ripe fruit (especially stone fruit, such as plums, cherries, apricots and nectarines) will work.

If using frozen peaches, you don’t need to defrost them first. Just dump them right in, and all will be fine.

5 to 6 cups sliced fresh or frozen peaches

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour, divided

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons (half a stick) unsalted butter, melted

Vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or creme fraiche

Place peaches in a medium-large bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon flour and granulated sugar. Transfer to an ungreased 8- or 9-inch square baking pan or an oval or gratin pan with a similar capacity.

Use the same bowl to combine remaining 1 cup flour, brown sugar and salt.

Crumble it together with your fingers until mostly uniform. Pour in melted butter and mix until evenly moistened. Distribute this mixture over the peaches and pat it into place.

Bake in center of preheated 375-degree oven for 30 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and fruit is bubbly around the edges.

Allow to cool for at least 10 to 15 minutes, then serve hot, warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or creme fraiche.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.


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