The name “peaches” has been attached to many things – movies, music, a wrestler, a sports announcer, a music store and various characters though time. In the Urban Dictionary under “peachy” is also the definition: a cute arse, resembling a firm, tasty and supple peach.
But we are here to talk about the fruit. Native to China, where peaches still grow wild, they eventually made it all the way to the United States. In fact, in the 1870s they became a cash crop planted to help diversify mono-crop cotton that was being destroyed by a little bug called the boll weevil (like “peaches” the boll weevil is also very popular in music, movies, sports, etc.).
Peaches can be grown in many different climates, depending on the variety, anywhere from the California coast to the East coast, and from as far north as Michigan to as far south as Florida. They come in three main categories –
Cling – meaning that the flesh actually “clings” to the pit. These tend to ripen in May.
Semi-freestones – cling, but not quite as much as “cling” peaches. They ripen a little later, in June.
Freestones – the pit is separate from the flesh. Freestones will ripen from June into July.
Because of the need to ship peaches, as they were planted to be a cash crop, the most popular varieties in the United States tend to be hybrids, with a large round shape and firm flesh. The peaches are harvested before they are completely ripe so that they can be packed and shipped with minimal bruising. It’s not hard to imagine that the most sweet and delicious peach is not going to be one bought after enduring these conditions.
Peaches have also made it to the top 10 list of items to always buy organic. In a study by the USDA, Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group, 93.7 percent of peaches sampled contained pesticides. In another test by the USDA, even after washing, non-organic crops often still had pesticide residue!
Another hardship for the peach is being associated with OAS, Oral Allergy Syndrome, which leaves a person with itchy or swollen lips, tongue, throat, and/or roof of the mouth. The good news is that if you cook the fruit, the allergen is destroyed. Cooked peaches are as much a treat as raw.
So while peaches have been commercialized, chemically sprayed and sometimes avoided due to allergies, REAL peaches are still available and still in demand!
Peaches ripened on the tree are the best you will find — juicier and more delicious than their commercial counterparts. Buying a local peach from a farmers’ market, or getting a peach in season from your CSA, will allow you to enjoy the fruit as it is supposed to be savored.
Peaches are naturally low in calories, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, and naturally high in vitamin C, fiber, vitamin A, niacin and potassium. They are wonderful eaten fresh, but also have many culinary uses in both sweet and savory dishes. Peach cobbler comes to mind right away, but they can be used in salads, salsas, and chutneys too. At the height of their ripeness, just in time for the summer barbeque – toss them on the grill and serve them as a side dish with grilled pork, or as a dessert with ice cream. Experiment with these with these fuzzy fruits; no one will be disappointed!
This was originally posted on The Daily Table blog.