The Saline Courier Weekend

The Peach: A classic sign of summer


Ah, the peach; a classic sign of summer, a staple in warmweathe­r recipes, and anticipate­d at farmers’ markets and stands across the country from June through August. We love this sweet, juicy fruit, but how much do we really know about its history, nutritiona­l value, or even how to cook with it?

Cultivatio­n of peaches began in China as early as

2000 B.C. By 300 B.C. Greeks and Persians were enjoying peaches.

In the first century A.D.,

Romans began cultivatin­g peaches.

From Italy, the cultivatio­n of peaches spread throughout Europe and to the Americas, where the early settlers planted them all along the eastern coast. By the mid1700s, peaches were so plentiful in the United States that botanists thought of them as native fruits.

One large peach has only 68 calories, 17 grams of carbohydra­tes, 3 dietary fiber and 2 grams protein. They are fat free, cholestero­l free, sodium free, a good source of vitamins A and C.

Fresh peaches should be available in our area until August. You’ll find the tastiest fruits at local farmers markets, roadside stands and u-pick farms, where they are likely picked the day before being brought to the market or stand. Those purchased at supermarke­ts may not be as tasty, due to the fact that they are often picked before they are fully ripened and shipped to the store.

If you want to make it ripen more quickly place the fruit in a single layer in a large paper bag. Fold the top down and check it every day to see if it is ripe. Peaches should not be refrigerat­ed before ripe because this could cause them to lose flavor and have a mealy texture.

There are two basic types of peaches, clingstone and freestone. With clingstone peaches, the flesh “clings” to the “stone” of the peach, making it difficult to separate, and thus more suitable for processing and preserving into jams, jellies and preserves. This variety retains its flavor and soft texture during processing.

The pit of freestone peaches “freely” separates from the flesh, making it ideal for fresh consumptio­n. Freestone peaches are generally larger than clingstone­s with a firmer, less juicy texture. While most commonly eaten fresh, these peaches may also be frozen and dried.

Once you have chosen the type of peach, look for a yellow or creamy color. The amount of rosy “blush” on the surface is characteri­stic of the variety, not ripeness. Remember that peaches bruise easily, so handle them carefully.

To test them for ripeness, press the fruit gently with your finger. The fruit should feel firm, but have a little give. Most will have a sweet fragrance. Avoid peaches that are too soft, unless you plan to use them immediatel­y. These are often overripe and will spoil quickly.

Fresh peaches make great desserts, and quick breads. Instead of peeling, remove the skin by dipping the peach in boiling water for 20 to 30 seconds. Then immediatel­y dip into ice cold water and the skin will slip right off. Riper peaches need less scalding time to loosen the peels.

Remember peeled peaches brown rapidly when exposed to air. To prevent this, soak halves or slices for 5 minutes in 1 quart of water with 3 tablespoon­s lemon juice and 2 crushed 500-milligram vitamin C tablets.

Peaches are very versatile and can be tossed in brown sugar and added to waffles and pancakes; add slices to cereals, both hot and cold; put them in salads or smoothies, or puree them and add to homemade ice cream.

For more informatio­n on peaches, including recipes, contact me at the University of Arkansas Division of Agricultur­e, Saline County Extension in Benton, e-mail or call 501-303-5672. You can also get great tips on Facebook at UAEX Saline County Family & Consumer Science or uaex. edu..

This Peach Pound Cake recipe is the same one for Blueberry Pound Cake, I just changed the fruit. It is always a favorite and the sugared pan gives it a wonderful crust.

Peach Pound Cake

1 cup butter, softened

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking powder One half teaspoon salt

3 cups flour (divided)*

2 cups (approximat­ely 1 pound) fresh peaches, pitted and chopped

*2 cups of flour in batter, use 1 cup to dredge peaches

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla. Mix in baking powder, salt and 2 cups of flour. Fold in peaches that have been dredged in 1 cup flour. Pour into 10-inch tube pan which has been buttered and sprinkled with sugar. Bake at 325 degrees F for 60 to 70 minutes. Allow to cool in pan for 10-15 minutes before inverting onto wire rack to serve completely. This cake is great served alone or can be served with a dollop of whipping cream. Serves 10-12.

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